Ok. What I wanted to talk about in this post are visual novels. I will assume that most of you have not only never touched one of them but also have totally wrong preconceptions. Everyone who has never seen an Anime probably thinks all Anime is just cartoon porn. It's pretty much the same with visual novels, only worse - for two reasons. 1: Far less people have ever played/read a visual novel than seen an Anime, also for the reason that only a very small number of visual novels ever have been translated from the Japanese original. 2: Niney Percent of visual novels do include sex-scenes which kind renders all prejudices accurate. Even though the focus of almost all of them is still the story and the characters - the fact that a sad few fans buy them for the existent sexual content does sadly make them very, very hard to appreciate for people who might be offended or embarrassed by this kind of content.
What visual novels actually are is just novels, enhanced by what capabilities of today's media do offer. You basically read a book, only that it is enhanced by backgrounds and anime-style characters with voice overs bettering the overall experience. They do share some of the things that do make games what games are, most prominently interactivity - but should they be regarded as games or not? After all, most of the time you only read a story and listen to characters partaking in it. I myself am not sure about the answer to this question...but the fact that I deemed them worthy to be blogged about on a gaming website probably speaks a bit about that as well.
The fact of the matter is that many of those visual novels do tell stories that are a hell of a lot better than anything told in any "actual" game ever. They also have characters that no game ever created does even come close to. As seen in the image above, I don't think anything I've played in any actual game has ever even come close to the eerie world that Saya no Uta has created. There are slight spoilers ahead if you haven't played it - but the premise is that the main character does perceive everything differently from everybody else. Everything in the world looks, smells and feels like blood and guts to him. Everything - except for one being - who is actually (perceived as?) a monster by everybody else. While I'd want to go into detail about the things that happen (some of the both most gruesome and most beautiful stuff I have ever come across) that isn't what I wanted to write about in this blog.
What I believe is keeping many people from appreciating this work of art is the sexual content. I am not saying that I don't like it or that I don't think it should be there - most of it does actually ADD to the value of the work and does make a lot of sense in the context of it. The problem is just that many people will be turned off of it by only that one thing. It just bothers me a fair bit that a considerable bit of folks won't even try this great work of art (which it is!) only because it does contain content that they might be bothered by.
Tsukihime is another example of the same phenomenon. While both critically and universally acclaimed (and translated into English), it still was hardly played by anybody ever outside of Japan. Which is a shame, since it is one of the most descriptive, visceral, alive and AWESOME stories ever told in a modern medium - and it still never reached a mainstream Western audience. There even is an anime-adaption - which basically is shit compared to the original work - and yet reached many, many more people simply because of the medium. This is happening all the time - films simply have a bigger audience, even if that is simply due to their rather short length compared to the original. Visual novels don't have those capabilities - though I tried exploring some of the shortcomings here in reaching a mainstream audience in the end I cannot really tell. "Games" as well as "Visual Novels" do have undeserved connotations, I believe.
Right now this very captivating medium still gets too little attention in the West. And if it does, it is, in my opinion, often the wrong titles, for the wrong reasons, by the wrong audience - which isn't that different in Japan either.
That's the problem in the first place, I guess. Currently the whole medium is marketed towards the otaku-crowd; which is the reason the majority of titles rely on sex and pretty girls. This stigma now sticks with all visual novels and a change of marketing and introduction to a wider audience will surely prove very difficult.
What I am saying is this: don't ignore visual novels. Don't ignore them because they contain sexual content most of the time. Many of them might be some of the best experiences with media you'll ever have. I am not exaggerating here. You'll never experience a world more creepy than Saya no Uta. You'll never see a character more fleshed out than Haru in G-senjou no maou. Surely people not capable of reading Japanese might have difficulties here - but there are more than enough of those grand games translated to get English-speaking people converted to this glory.