The “Definition” of a Visual Novel

You might have read a short interview by Kai to me (it’s the last one) and thought, “Wow, Kastel, is your definition of a visual novel that vague? Anything with text? Really? Go back to reporting Clannad Man, you noob.”

Well, I like to retract my previous stance on the definition of visual novels. Instead, I offer you this new one: Visual novels do not have a definition. #wittgenstein #tractatus #derrida #deconstruction #yolo

Moogy-heika-dono-sensei told me that, in Japan’s eyes, Touhou is considered a visual novel. “Anything that looks like an ADV is a visual novel,” he writes. And he cites EroGameScape as a source.

Think for a second.

What does this mean? Does the word “visual novel” mean anything? Is it some made-up Western categorization bullshit?

It’s true the term, “visual novels”, are coined by Japanese publishers. However, it must be noted these publishers were referring to what we now call as NVLs, any VN that has text on top of their graphics (ex. Fate/Stay Night, Kira Kira, Umineko).

Today, Japanese VN players don’t give a shit about the word. There is, in fact, no distinction between the medium and video games. EGS thinks Disgaea is a visual novel. How do they know what you’re talking about? If you say the magical word, “eroge”, they will know you’re talking about Sharin no Kuni, not Disgaea.

Which brings to question the mindset Western VN players have. On Reddit’s /visualnovels/ subcategory, there is a silly rule planted on the sidebar:

Mark links with an [NSFW] tag if 18+ material is contained in the linked page. Adult games without literary value go in /r/eroge, not here.

It seems we, the Western VN player community, believe there is a distinction between visual novels and eroge when there is none. Similarly, academia believes there is a difference between literature and… books. And anime vs. cartoons is a similar non-distinction (after all, many Japanese anime fans call Walt Disney’s cartoons ‘anime’). And ad nauseam.

So it’s strange to see my fellow VN bloggers and Reddit’s dumb rules state that some form of “literary value” is needed to decide the fate of Imouto Paradise and Harumade, Kururu. Both are porn games, the former being about awful imoutos and the other a speculative fiction harem story. Other than that, there isn’t much difference in terms of technical specs: you have to install on, god forbid, Microsoft Windows, they have porn, and there’s text.

As an aside, VN blogger RussoTuristo also argues that “a visual novel has to be Japanese or Japan-influenced.” I respectfully disagree; that would be called “Japanese art”. It’s silly to restrict a medium to a nationality, I feel.

He also writes,

“Indeed, if we decide to consider that, say, old LucasArts titles like the Monkey Island series are in fact visual novels (they certainly are in the broadest sense), we open a whole can of worms and ultimately end up broadening the term way too much.”

I think that’s ok. We’ve already broadened the definition of video gaming when Dear Esther and similar ‘art games’ have been released. I don’t find walking around a room exciting, but that’s a game.

So it’s pointless to discuss the definition of visual novels. If anything, the definition of visual novels will have to be “games with text”. Visual novels don’t need stories; they can just be good ol’ porn (i.e. nukige). It’s silly to have a discourse on a non-existent definition.

I mean, the Japanese VN community doesn’t seem to care. Their definition of visual novels are broad enough to have — and this is real — Atelier Totori as a visual novel. I do not mind calling that cute game as my favorite visual novel of all time.

So why do we Western VN players feel the need to define visual novels? Beats me. I can only think of “well, eroge sounds like we’re playing porn games (which we are but we’re ashamed)”. But that answer doesn’t satisfy me. There’s probably more.

But whatever, who cares. Visual novels don’t have a definition; they’re just games with text.

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11 thoughts on “The “Definition” of a Visual Novel

  1. But without definitions, how will we classify things into categories and judge people on the basis of what categories they like or don’t like!?
    Stop, Kastel, you’re making the world make less sense.

  2. Pingback: Distinguishing Visual Novels: Bonus Part – Interviews | deluscar

  3. Pingback: Long Live The Queen Review » 瘁ノ空2

  4. Pingback: 今日は信じても » Review: Long Live The Queen

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