I’m obsessed with escapism. I’m obsessed with how escapism provides fantasy and quenches desire. Female desire is the very heart of my poetry, and settings and images such as Japanese love hotels, decadent heart-shaped tubs in hotel rooms, and nurse costumes show up in my work constantly. And we all have different fantasies—they’re an extension of our sexuality. At the same time, my speakers are mostly strong alpha female types with tough exteriors that mask a certain vulnerability. But, it’s also unfair to classify speakers so hastily. My speakers are direct. They’re loud. They’re brash. It may feel that they are revealing everything at once to the audience, metaphorically putting everything on display on the table; but I’m going to argue that they’re withholding enough for themselves. This withholding keeps them both vulnerable and a little mysterious. My desire is to keep the audience desiring more, both in my poetry and in real life. Who the “audience” is depends on the context.
My love of otome (meaning simulation games or visual novels primarily targeted at young women because of their romantic, slice-of-life plots) games started when I was in college. I became obsessed with Japanese popular culture after visiting Tokyo for the first time, the summer after my freshman year. I know that this all sounds very otaku. Coincidentally, I recently came home from East Asia, and during my trips to both Hong Kong and Tokyo, I revisited My Forged Wedding. Playing this otome game again made me feel sentimental, partially because my first trip to Tokyo was the first trip I took both overseas and alone, when I was nineteen—Tokyo makes me feel like a kid again. I also love the illustrated settings of the game, and these pictures take me back to that longing I felt when I was nineteen, experiencing the peaceful city for the first time.
My Forged Wedding is hilarious. It’s based on the premise that your unnamed (at first), everywoman (at first) female protagonist from the Kyushu countryside arrives in the big city of Tokyo for the first time, to visit her “Uncle” (not a blood relative) Kunihiko, an eccentric, handsome, womanizing (seemingly), businessman who seems to have too much time on his hands and runs a bar called “Long Island” (no joke) on the side. Your protagonist just graduated, and she’s jobless. She needs Kunihiko’s help, and the first thing he texts her upon her arrival is, “Oh, actually, can you pick up some things for me at the store? I’ll email you a list from the store.” So you know he’s quirky, and things don’t stop there. This game has a ridiculous premise.
You then arrive at Long Island Bar, where you meet “Uncle’s” friends: Yamato, the hot and hot and cold physics teacher at an all-girls school; Saeki, the sexy and teasing screenwriter; Ren, the very quiet scientist who hates broccoli and who is actually a prince of a small country in Europe (On a side note, isn’t it funny how every time popular culture needs a prince, he’s always from a “small country in Europe” that is most likely Monaco? Remember when Blair married Prince Louis on Gossip Girl? I guess everyone wants their Grace Kelly moment.); Takao, the stable yet boring lawyer who I would probably friend zone in real life (I’m #sorrynotsorry, but being boring is seriously a crime); and Yuta, the baby-faced comedian who’s about to hit it big and who makes a fun drinking buddy. Kunihiko tells you he’ll help you find a job if you help out one of his friends. Apparently, you’re the only person in the world who can help them.
So, what do they need your help with? The “evil” thing is you have to pick one first of them first before that’s revealed, and that’s where the “route” options in this otome game come from. Again, your routes, meaning romantic choices are Yamato, Saeki, Ren, Takao, Yuta—and Kuniko’s a route, too. You pick one of them and then it’s revealed that you have to pretend to be that person’s wife for a period of time, hence My Forged Wedding. Spoilers Ahead: Yamato needs your help because he’s a male teacher at an all-girls school that requires all their male teachers to be married, Saeki needs your help because he’s writing a TV script about a married couple and wants to “experience” married life, Ren needs your help in saving his country, Takao needs your help because his grandmother’s last wish was to see him married, and Yuta needs your help with his comedy routine. On a side note, I think it’s hilarious that all the men say they have the biggest problem, but there’s very clear degrees of separation between many of these problems. Like, if I choose Saeki, does this mean Ren’s country is now failing?
Anyway, I’ve spent many hours playing My Forged Wedding in my life. My favorite routes are Saeki’s, Yamato’s, and Kunihiko’s. I think I gravitated to Saeki first because he’s also a writer (go figure), and he’s got a playful, sadistic sense of humor. His apartment is also super messy, and he’s into fashion, but in a really weird way: he only wears white shirts and his socks have to be in funky colors.
Other funny highlights from the game:
- Yamato is such a great chef he can cook a (non-frozen) shrimp pilaf for seven people in five minutes or less. He claims that cooking is about efficiency.
- All the men play on a baseball team named the “Long Islands.”
- Most of the men live in apartments with a perfect view of Tokyo Tower.
- Kunihiko is really into fortune telling, and he straight up says that Yuta will be friend-zoned (Spoiler: half-true, depending on whether you get the Super Happy Ending or the Happy Ending).
My Forged Wedding is great escapism for a few hours. The graphics are pretty, and the storyline is so ridiculous that it just works. I also love how there’s both a “Happy Ending” and a “Super Happy Ending,” depending on how good you are at making choices during the times you “Select One.” Oh, and spoiler: Yuta’s route is the only one of the original six that can end in a friend zone. But I’d never friend zone you, Yuta. I’d only friend zone Takao.
Dorothy Chan is the author of Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, April 2018) and the chapbook Chinatown Sonnets (New Delta Review, 2017). She was a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Academy of American Poets, The Common, Diode Poetry Journal, Quarterly West, Blackbird, and elsewhere. Chan is the Assistant Editor of The Southeast Review. Visit her website at dorothypoetry.com.