Why Do So Many Dating Sim and Narrative Games Take Place in Schools, Anyway?
Are high school or college overplayed as game settings…or a perfect fit for relationship-driven genres?
As yet another summer and set of graduations kick off, it got me to thinking about how often I’ve seen schools as settings in dating sims, visual novels, and other games with friendship, romance, and story elements.
Why is school such an ubiquitous setting for this kind of game?
Is it just a vapid obsession with youth? Mostly younger game developers writing what they know? I got a couple theories about this as both a long-time player of these games and someone who’s been in game development almost a decade!
The Genre is Rooted in Pursuing Your Classmates
The game said to be the first dating sim was Dōkyūsei, which means “classmate” in Japanese. Visual novels for computers and consoles were a staple genre in Japan in the early-mid 1990s, with incredibly vast titles like Desire (Haitoku No Rasen) outshining thinly-veiled hentai games other publishers were releasing at the time.
I covered the origins and evolution of dating sims and games with sexual subtexts for Game with Your Brain a while back. But Dōkyūsei is agreed upon by most studied developers and aficionados to be the first dating sim even though developers in other parts of the world likely heard of True Love and Seasons of the Sakura first thanks the JAST USA ports that were circulated in a very cloak-and-dagger manner before things like Limewire and The Asenheim Project existed.
Nevertheless, Dōkyūsei entailed having the summer off to chase your classmate and other girls who may or may not attend your school. It ended up creating an entire genre of games where school just became this de facto setting for countless Japanese games afterwards. Then for the first crop of western visual novels in the 2000s, and the dating sim boom of the 2010s, the pattern simply continued just like how medieval fantasy became the default for adventure games after we got our fill of King’s Quest for years…