Steam Game: Higurashi When They Cry Hou — Ch. 5 Meakashi

This morning, I came across Higurashi When They Cry Hou — Ch. 5 Meakashi at the top of Steam’s Popular New Releases.

Manga is not my thing. My son went through a phase in his early teens and all I could see in it was sophomoric preoccupations and choppy story-telling. So I was ready to move along, but decided to at least watch the video trailer for this…game?

The gameplay trailer displays subtitles over images with background music and sound effects. The narrative was a compelling; a conversation between two friends’ returning to their home-town after a long absence. Very relatable and intriguing.

But what kind of game is this? After some research (Wikipedia) I discovered that Japan has a fan-fiction software phenomenon Dōjin soft sound novels. Until recently, these video games were mostly produced by circles of fan hobbyists using game engines like NScripter. Often, they ignored copyrights, and borrowed liberally from games and manga. It seems like publishers tolerated this usage as a way to promote their products and build a larger fan-base. However, these fan hobbyists also created original content. Either way, the genre has became popular enough that some creators have gone pro; publishing complete series that became cross-over successes as manga books and TV animation series.

Manga Kamishibai

Although Manga comic books and TV animation are the direct antecedents Dōjin soft, I recognize elements of Manga Kamishibai. From the 1920’s to the 60’s, storytellers with bicycle-mounted picture-theaters would visit neighborhoods and villages. Clapping a pair of boards to announce their presence, they sold snacks and sweets, followed by the dramatic telling of an illustrated story with live music and practical sound effects. Like Dōjin soft, and perhaps like the ancient puppet theatre or traveling theatre troupes, these creators borrowed liberally, creating mashups from popular fiction, entertainment, and current affairs, adapting content for different genders and age groups. Also in contrast with Manga and Anime, they were able to create interactive fiction. By calling out and responding to their audiences, by adding touches of improvisation, and by fine-tuning their storylines over time, these storytellers altered their content and plot-lines of their stories and created interactive fiction.

Back to Higurashi… I was pleased to discover something that I didn’t know about yesterday. I always like it when consumers become creators, or at least have the option to become creators.

I think it’s interesting that the story is set in the early 80’s. Based on my 16 yo daughter’s comments, it seems like a lot of young people today look back on the 80’s as a sort of golden age; an optimistic relatable and modern era when families still hung out in living rooms and ridiculed each other (Married, with Children) instead of staring into the blue abyss of smartphone non-connectedness. It’s almost like they imagine the 80’s as a time when the world was swathed in a warm peachy glow, before we knew or cared about climate change and started seeing our demise in every other weather forecast.

I can see how the 80’s might seem like a nice decade…if you’d forgotten or never heard about the Cold War, acid rain, and the crack and AIDS epidemics. Woody Allen, in Midnight in Paris, put it best: “Nostalgia is denial — denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is golden age thinking — the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in — it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”

In Higurashi, the plot-line reminds me of a Scooby Doo cartoon: A group of teens returns to a village with a string of unsolved murders. It turns out that the swamp upon which the village is built harbors some sort of organism that drives individuals to temporary murderous insanity. The only anachronism in Higurashi is the characters’ penchant for hair coloring, a fad that didn’t show up until a couple of decades later. No biggie, though.

Dōjin soft offers smartphone-carrying teens an expanded form of fiction: non-linear stories that let the player choose which character’s point of view they prefer. Moreover, Dōjin soft confronts the audience with modest challenges to complete or puzzles to solve before they can advance. I don’t know if this is true for Higurashi specifically, but in some cases the player can control outcome of the story. It seems like an ideal format for short quick entertainment: A few minutes on a bus or train, between classes, at the dinner table, just pick up where you left off and continue the adventure.

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