Get Your Head in the Game: The Medium of Visual Novels

What exactly qualifies as literature? A century ago, the answer to that question was pretty straightforward: novels, plays, short stories, poetry, creative nonfiction – basically any form of creative writing. Nowadays, many people (including myself) would argue that that list should be expanded to contain more modern forms such as movies, television, comics, and even video games, but humanity as a whole has yet to come to a consensus on whether or not these media belong in the same category as the works of history’s most revered writers. But the controversy doesn’t stop there; the line between what is and is not literature has recently become even more distorted with the advent of a new art form: the visual novel.

If you’ve never heard of visual novels, don’t worry; you’re not totally out of the loop. Right now, visual novels are not very well-known in the English speaking world due to the vast majority being produced in Japan, although in the past few years, more and more have been getting English localizations through the gaming website Steam, and others have fan translations that can be easily downloaded. What exactly is a visual novel, you ask? It’s a type of game, usually released for computers, but often available for platforms like Playstation and Xbox systems and mobile devices as well. The game tells a story, usually from the first person point of view, through text providing the narration and dialogue (which is often voiced), as images of the scenery and characters (generally in an anime art style) are shown on the screen and background music plays. Here’s a sample of what a visual novel might look like:

From “Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Onikakushi-hen” (07th Expansion)

While some visual novels have linear storylines, most play similarly to a Choose Your Own Adventure book; the player, taking on the role of the protagonist, makes decisions which affect the ending of the story. These visual novels are intended to be played multiple times so the player can see each possible ending. This is what it looks like in Key Visual Arts’ “Rewrite” when the protagonist is asked whether he would rather change the world or himself:

Some visual novels focus almost entirely on the story and are really not much like video games at all, whereas others include gameplay elements as well. For example, my personal favorite visual novel, Key Visual Arts’ “Little Busters!”, is about a high school baseball team, and it includes a minigame in which the player can practice batting:

And then there are more traditional video games which include visual novel content as a secondary aspect of the experience, like KLab’s “Love Live! School Idol Festival,” which is primarily a rhythm game, but allows the player to unlock new chapters of a story upon completing gameplay-related goals.

So are visual novels literature, or is it misleading for them to even be called novels? It’s really a matter of personal opinion, but I think there’s something to be said for the fact that many visual novels evoke emotional responses in their players just as intense as the ones felt by the readers of traditional novels. Regardless of where you stand on the matter, it can’t hurt to try one out if you have some spare time.

Such Language. Much Grammar. Wow.

Ah, technology! Destroying young people’s ability to use proper English for generations! Kids these days don’t even know the difference between “to” and “too”! It’s only a matter of years before our entire language has degenerated to acronyms and LOLspeak!


…Or maybe that’s just a paranoid overreaction. Sure, we’ve all seen things like this too many times to count…

Facebook Mocking Grammar

…but perhaps the reason such faux pas have seemingly become more prevalent with the advent of social media websites isn’t a matter of causation, but rather a case of the internet bringing these issues to light. There is no reason to believe that these people wouldn’t be practically illiterate in a world without the internet; it’s just that the web allows us to see their crimes against grammar in action, whereas in the days before Facebook and Twitter, the only witnesses were the poor, underpaid teachers grading their papers.

It is also important to keep in mind that there is a colossal difference between posts like the one pictured above and intentionally poor English. In fact, the latter may even be having a positive effect on our linguistic capacities. Take a look at this picture:


For those of you who have been living under a rock without WiFi for the past year, that is an example of the internet meme “doge,” a type of image featuring a Shiba Inu surrounded by grammatically incorrect phrases in colorful Comic Sans. How could something so idiotic possibly be good for the human brain, you ask? Well, memes like doge are an example of something linguists call language play, which essentially means taking language and having fun with it through means like puns, crossword puzzles, and the elements of poetry – activities generally agreed upon to be partaken in largely by linguistically gifted individuals and beneficial for learning. This particular brand of language play involves its own set of rules, as linguist Gretchen McCulloch notes; there is a right and wrong way to use the language of doge. It involves a certain grasp on the English language to understand why “such flowers” would be viewed as correct doge-speak and “many flowers” would be viewed as incorrect, don’t you think?

Here are a few more example of how the medium of internet memes provides language players with a new outlet for their creativity:


hammer time

lolcat bible

doge romeo and juliet

So if you’re worried about the internet bringing about a linguistic apocalypse, relax! The English language seems to be in good hands.