it comes to girlfriends, perhaps people will soon need to add the
clarification "in real life" (IRL). Japan is blazing
bravely into undiscovered territory, pioneering
the world of digital relationships.While the nation still
hasn't perfected an android "lovebot", its video game
companies have launched a deluge of romance simulators aimed at young
men. The most popular of these games is "Love Plus"
which is produced by Konami.Now a special resort experience
has been created, offering fans of these digital romances a virtual
getaway with their "sweetie". The new getaways
are staged at the resort town of Atami, within a quick bus ride
southwest of Tokyo.While the town's sun-drenched beaches are
home to real females, many of the Japanese men arriving aboard tour
buses aren't interested in those livebloods. They scamper off
to various locations about town that feature special 2D barcodes,
compatible with the"augmented
reality" (AR) software on their iPhones.When
they take a picture with the barcode, they get to feast their eyes on
a generated image of them with their Love Plus sweetheart. Shu
Watanabe, 23, is in love with Rinko, an attractive girl who attends a
local high school. But Rinko only exists in the digital
world."Look, it's like I'm in a snapshot with her,"
Watanabe elates showing off the iPhone image created using the
augment reality software.There are 13 locations in which
Watanabe and others can get shots of their digital sweetheart.
They can also buy a variety of Love Plus-themed souvenirs, from
good-luck charms to steamed buns and fish sausages -- and even
special Love Plus towels. They even have special hotel rooms
with two futons, one of which has a barcode on it. When the
young men snap a picture, they see their virtual lover sprawled
sensuously across the bed in a "flattering" summer
kimono.Konami spokesman Kunio Ishihara says that the game
isn't just about one-liners and easy romance -- like real life
romance, it takes work.
He states, "In conventional love games, you went up stages to
make a virtual girl fall in love with you, so that she would accept
you as a boyfriend or express her love for you. But players of
Love Plus are in a scenario where they are a high school boy who is
already dating one of the virtual girls. The goal is to see how good
you can be to her and to build a relationship."Naoyuki
Sakazaki is enamored with the game and was among the love tourists in
Atami. He describes, "With earlier love simulation games,
we only scored girls, as bad as that sounds, and that was it.
Love Plus is fun because the relationship continues forever."So
far the hotel has received 200 guests, and over 2,000 Love Plus
visitors have made the pilgrimage to the town this summer alone.
That's great news for the resort, which has seen business traffic
decline by 40 percent since the 1970s.At least one Japanese
man has even married his digital sweetheart in a formal ceremony.
Konami's Ishihara, though, stresses that the company has no
plans to allow users to "go all the way" with their virtual
hotties. He states, "The virtual girls can kiss you as a
way of communication, but nothing happens when she sleeps next to you
at the hotel. We have no intention of trying to sell a product
with pornographic elements. I think Love Plus fans would get
offended if somebody tried to disrespect his girlfriend like
that."While the virtual romance craze sweeping Japan,
South Korea, and even Taiwan may seem a bit strange, perhaps it's
just another form of sexuality in a growingly permissive era.
Freed from the confines of acceptability and morality, Japanese men
are finding themselves free to find their own version of happiness
and romance. And for some, that happens to be on a digital