So, apparently there has been some discourse in the otome games community—I mean, when is there not drama—concerning using the term “otome” for more inclusive titles. There have been some folks in the fandom who are upset that folks are using otome as a catch all term for any game that fits the otome mold, ie. a protagonist who romances pursuable characters. Some, use otome to encompass idol and card-raising mobile games, like A3!, and more recently Tears of Themis. While others feel that LGBT+ indie games to be otome.
This is not the first time this issue has cropped up over the years and it most definitely won’t be the last, but I think this new wave of discourse is just disheartening. Times have changed, games are becoming more inclusive and more people are seeing media that speaks to them and their truth, so it only makes since that the language we use should grow and change with the media. So, today I’m going to talk about what makes an otome an otome and where I stand on including LGBT+ games within that otome umbrella.
Is this Otome? – Joseimuke vs Otome
Is this otome? Is a question that I have seen come up quite a bit over the years, and not gonna lie, it’s a valid question. From LGBT+ indie games to boys love games to generic dating sims to mobile games like Tears of Themis and Obey Me, hell, I have seen publishers on Steam abuse the “otome” tag to get their game more visibility, even if their game is very clearly not an otome. And, with the very clear over use of the term it makes sense that people are a bit confused about what an otome game actually is, so here’s a very general definition:
Otome games (乙女ゲーム), literally translated to ‘Maiden Games’, are a subgenre of narrative-based games that are primarily made for and by women. Sometimes shortened to ‘otoge’, these games share a lot of similarities with reverse harem media, in which a single female protagonist can date/romance a group of super mega foxy hot men, known as bishounen.
It’s very barebones and on paper, this can encompass a lot of games—like, is a game still considered an otome if there is one female romance option? What about if the game lets you choose your pronouns or gender? Where do we draw that line between what is an otome and what isn’t considered an otome? The genre of romance games has evolved to be much more inclusive than it was ten or even five years ago, which has blurred the “otome” line. Games that once never would have been considered otome games are now being included within the otome umbrella, and that’s more or less because it’s a convenient and recognizable term. However, that said, there is actually a more fitting term to use and that’s Joseimuke ( 女性向け).
Unlike otome games that focus specifically on a female protagonist romancing hot guys, joseimuke is a much broader term that encompasses all media targeted towards women. It covers everything from boys love media to card-raising games, and yes, even otome games. But, what’s great about joseimuke is that it can be used for things like shojo manga and anime as well.
Joseimuke is a catch all term, so it’s much more fluid in how it can be used or interpreted—with the only hard and fast rule being that the media in question has to have been created with a female audience in mind. But, that’s not to say that only women can enjoy the media. Defining something isn’t meant to facilitate exclusion or gatekeeping, but rather as a way to help people find media that appeals to them quickly and efficiently. For example, someone looking for an otome game, with branching routes and a focus on romance isn’t going to be thrilled with games like A3! where gameplay is focused on actor training and any romance is implied (and there’s even some suggestive BL content).
But, even with all these terms and definitions, there are still a few games that fit into more than one category. Games like Ayakashi Romance Reborn feature card-raising elements AND branching romance routes, which makes it both an otome and a joseimuke, if we’re going with the above definitions. And then there’s non-Japanese games inspired otome games—where do those fit in?
Can an Indie Game be a Joseimuke or Otome?
Technically, yeah. In my opinion indie games can be considered joseimuke—there are plenty of indie games that are targeted towards a female audience. Indie otome games and Boys Love games are plentiful, and in fact on both Steam and Itch.io there is a tag for otome games. But, on that note, there isn’t one for joseimuke. It could be because the term isn’t as commonly used in the Western fandom as otome, but, I kinda think it’s because indie games tend to be more fluid with their content, whether that’s choosing your gender pronouns, LGBT+ romance options, and more. I’ve said this before, but indie games are much more inclusive than otome games (or even joseimuke) which gives them more mass appeal than either genre.
Indie stats-raising game Royal Alchemist is marketed as an otome/boys love hybrid, because it gives players the chance to play as a female or male protagonist—depending on your choice, it can technically exist as either a joseimuke or an otome game. Or what about games like Corona Borealis and Backstage Pass where you play as a female protagonist and romance male and female love interests? Is a game still an otome if it has female LIs? Some will argue no it’s not, but the reality is it’s really a matter of personal preference. LGBT+ positive games can be targeted towards women and many focus on romance, which hit on the main “rules” for whether or not something is consider an otome. Queer women play otome games too, so why not appeal to that demographic? Why should they not get a seat at the table? This purest mentality is exactly what is causing so much division among fans, which for a niche fandom like ours is more harmful than helpful.
With indie games, you’re taking terms like, otome and joseimuke, that were created to define Japanese media targeted at a largely Japanese audience, and using it to define something that was created by and for a Western demographic. It’s the same as when folks call animated shows like Avatar the Last Airbender anime, while the show itself while heavily inspired by Japanese media is targeted at a Western fanbase. People still argue about that to this day and we’re not going to get into that here—but, the fact that the argument even exists is the main reason we need to have this discussion today! What I’m seeing on the r/otomegames subreddit is just another attempt to exclude and control the otome narrative and I’m tired of seeing it. Where do we draw the line?
So is [insert game] an Otome?
So, for the TLDR; Get with the times people! The otome fandom is not a homogenous group, we all come from different backgrounds and walks of life and we need to be more fluid with how we see things. The world is not simply black and white, but a gradient—times have changed and more people are playing otome games than ever before and the terms and “rules” that once dictated the fandom don’t fit. If the boys love fandom can reclaim the word fujoshi, then the Western otome fandom can do the same with otome. Otome is what you make it and if that includes games outside of the heteronormative titles in the mainstream market then I don’t see a problem with that! Otome games may have been made with a female audience in mind, but anyone can play an otome game.
So, can we check the privilege at the door and do away with divisive ideologies on reddit… please?
Evolving with the Fandom – Using “Amare”
So, while I was sleeping there was a pretty huge development within the current otome/joseimuke/indie games discourse and it’s pretty freakin’ amazing! The state of the otome and even the larger gaming community is in constant flux, ever changing and evolving to keep up with an expanding audience and yesterday the community rose to the occasion by proposing a new term, “amare”. As I said, “otome” is much more restrictive in it’s scope and focus, and it doesn’t always fit within the context of the western indie otome fandom. This new term is meant to expand the boundaries of the otome genre to create a much more inclusive space!
Some, voiced their concerns about my use of the word “reclaim” when discussing the use of “otome” in the western otome fandom. My intent was not to erase the cultural significance of the word or re-appropriate it, rather to highlight the need for going beyond the original confines of the genre to keep up with the ever changing audience—and I do feel that the creation of amare is a phenomenal leap in the right direction. For more details about amare refer to the infographic below: