On the Response to the “Ironic Pseudo-Dating Sim” Article

Over the past few weeks, many people have read my article on what I call Ironic Pseudo-Dating Sims. It is one of the most influential articles on the discourse about how journalists and critics should treat visual novels and dating sims. In most typical situations, the writer who finds their articles being talked about should enjoy the limelight they are getting; this much attention isn’t easy to get and it’s fine to bask in the reputation boost a bit.

Unfortunately, I am pretty pissed about how this article is being received and used by writers all over the web. In order to explain why, I am going to talk generally about the articles I have seen that refer to my post and how they miss the fucking point.

The Intent Behind the Rebranding of Colonel Sanders

Many reviews of the recently released KFC “dating sim” tend to note how Colonel Sanders is now a hot anime hunk you can date and he is different from the usual stuffy mascot who appears in the chicken buckets. He is also very different from the real Colonel Sanders who hates KFC’s guts. This anime Colonel Sanders is eye-catching and different from the older versions and mascot brands too. So the question becomes “why did they attempt this bizarre stunt?”.

The answer is simple: KFC wants to look cool to audiences. It is infiltrating a subculture in order to make itself look wacky and young. Colonel Sanders looking like he’s some ikemen is not just some accident. The dating sim concept, Orientalized as it is, is wacky enough to Westerners to make people believe KFC looks human and approachable. This work is the “hello, fellow kids” meme except it actually did attract young audiences to the corporation.

And so, many articles do well at documenting the more blatant elements of advertising in the work. The work embraces the nonsensical premise and likes to mention the various food items in KFC’s menu. However, only pointing these out neglects the more covert strategies used to market the KFC brand. These elements are intentionally blatant because the advertisers know that this is what people will be talking about. If people stop and ask why the writing is so crappy or the UI design looks like garbage, then they may realize that all of the “bad” elements are intentionally added by advertisers to shock people. They are toying with the appeal of camp here. What if KFC is doing a so-bad-it’s-good work intentionally? If that is the case — and it definitely is because that sparks controversy which means more attention to be had — then most critical engagements of the work will fall short. By writing a negative review that merely points out the mechanical flaws of the work, reviewers may be unintentionally reproducing the shlock appeal of the work!

That’s why the rebranding of Colonel Sanders in this ironic pseudo-dating sim is effective. He looks hip because the marketing team knows he can appeal to camp and people who like wacky and bad stuff. The worse the “””dating sim””” looks and reads, the more attention it gets. Bad publicity is still publicity. The Colonel Sanders here is manufactured to attract bad publicity and defuse it as something funny and silly. In fact, that’s what corporate mascots are supposed to do. Negative reviews can fuel the irony meter for this work and make it even more appealing. There needs to be some reflection on what writers and editors can do in order to properly criticize an advertisement that preys on the weaknesses of video game journalism; else, they become part of the marketing machine without realizing it.

How People Use My Post

Many articles tend to mention that I am a “critic” who is responding to the KFC shitfest in my post. The post was written a few days before the KFC work was announced and it is in fact responding to another ironic pseudo-dating sim. This now forgotten work I was responding to was a work by some internet comedian whose source of income comes from mocking subcultures and the people in them. I did not imagine that a fast food corporation of all things would dip their toes into this marginalized subculture.

If I was clairvoyant and knew that this article would be used in video game journalism as a “response” to this KFC advertising monstrosity, I would’ve written it differently. The article would indeed be about the “corporatization” of the genre, so I would mention that this was exploitation of a safe space used by marginalized creators. Money and labor, not just “respect”, would become bigger issues. We would be speaking about politics and economics because we aren’t dealing with individuals who have a disproportionate amount of clout; we’re dealing with corporations and this needs to be tied to the histories of labor and capitalism.

The current post I have now does not deal with any of this. Someone should have pointed this omission out weeks ago, but because it is often assumed by everybody that I am actually responding to the KFC work, the discourse has become about abstract qualities. It’s about things like “respecting the history” and other crap like that, which are useless against KFC. In my head, I was noting that this certain ironic pseudo-dating sim made by two people lacked certain attributes that caused it to be devoid of sincerity. A totally new approach needs to be created to dismantle this new corporate beast.

At the moment, this is not possible and the post I wrote has become another heckler adding to the shlock appeal behind KFC’s crap. The fact this work completely ignores the history makes it even more inviting. KFC definitely knows it is inviting controversy from critics, so it expects journalists and critics to make the work even more attractive by piling negativity onto it. Since my article was never intended to be a constructive critique of corporate propaganda — just ironic pseudo-dating sims as a whole — this flaw allowed it to be unintentionally used by many writers to make the work look campier.

Critical commentaries like my post on the phenomena are thus merely deemed to be coming out of “frustration”. It’s a frustration that is sympathized with but then neglected for the bigger marketing stunts out there. Even if employed properly, I don’t think my article and others come from that simple emotion of frustration. Frustration implies a series of irritations and it’s not that at all. We are angry and mad at how a corporation dared to enter the space of marginalized creators and the sympathy we receive has never turned into action.

Apologia and the Such

Not all articles that link my post are sympathetic to dating sim and visual novel fans. I sometimes get ones that are basically apologias: they link my article to present “another side” to show that they have thought things through in their fetishizing of the KFC work. The post is treated as a dissenting opinion that supposedly factors into the writing, but that’s just a formality to look well-thought-out while defending corporate propaganda. I find these articles to be the most offensive of all because they completely ignore my main point.

Usually, they want to present my article as “the other side” before unleashing their love for the corporation. To them, the KFC marketing stunt is what content creation should be: a harmony of marketing and content without the worries of ethics. These advertisements make people laugh and they are supposed to be memes — so what’s the big deal?

The big deal is: How could someone think that corporate propaganda should not be interrogated for its ideologies? How could anyone laugh at corporate propaganda that quashes the lives of people who are trying to work their darnedest on visual novels and dating sims? How could somebody play this game knowing that corporations don’t care about what people do and say because the only thing they care about is people’s money?

It angers me extremely that people stan for corporations that are okay with fucking minorities over. I also find it quite disingenuous that these articles keep linking to my post as if they are offering a nuanced take on advertisements. Shilling corporate propaganda as the ideal content to consume is not a nuanced take no matter how many writers try to sell it. I cannot stop people from linking the article in question, but I can say screw people who say this utter drivel at the expense of so many folks.

Conclusion

Because the blog post I wrote a month ago isn’t responding to KFC’s bullshit, many writers have unintentionally used it as a representative of the “frustration” around how dating sims and visual novels are treated. Others may use it as an apologia to shill their favorite corporate nonsense. Few articles point out the corporate marketing ideologies inherent in the work and in the end KFC gets free publicity from game journalism and content creators.

Thus, the question needs to be asked again: What is to be done?

This depends on who you are. For creators with platforms who wish to engage with the work critically, they need to research and analyze as deeply as possible. They must find ways to dismantle the propaganda and show their audience how this is possible. After that, they need to teach their audience to be vigilant against corporate propaganda. For the everyday audience who wants to do more, they need to demand that their favorite creators change their ways and also promote marginalized visual novels and dating sims. We should all be wary of how corporate propaganda can brainwash us into thinking shit like this is acceptable and this needs to be a team effort.

And as for the article on “ironic pseudo-dating sims” itself, I will now link this post in its opening paragraph. That’s as much as I can do to address the problems that I did not realize would occur while writing the post. If people encounter my article within these apologias, feel free to link this and say something like “stop posting this shit thx”.

6 thoughts on “On the Response to the “Ironic Pseudo-Dating Sim” Article

  1. zakamutt October 9, 2019 / 2:48 pm

    It seems you didn’t really get the point of my message, so let me try again while not writing under the strictures of the troll-post-for-amusing-friends style.

    The real problem I have with your post is that it sets the visual novel medium apart as some kind of unique shelter for small-time, marginalized creators. I just cannot see how this is the case. The visual novel industry is ultimately just as commercialized as any other medium – you should know this is what the grim logic of capitalism forces it to be.

    There are definitely many small-time creators in VNs who are less (but look at the many, many EVN Kickstarters making choices like adding vacuous mini-routes as stretch goals – they add nothing to An Octave Higher, for example – for an example of these problems hitting even indies) affected by the whims of the market, but such doujin works exist in every medium, modulo production costs – just look at how much fan fiction, some of it very good, is out there!

    As such, I cannot see a post that singles out the VN sphere “You dared enter the space of marginalized creators raaaaagh” as what is to be protected from corporations as anything but a very long, overly sophisticated “corporations reeeee get off my board”. What is missing is a critique of corporatization as a whole, in all spheres. If your criticism is not systemic, you will not effect the systemic change that is required to end or at least ameliorate the problem.

    • Kastel October 9, 2019 / 4:04 pm

      Thank you for a proper response after saying some genuinely funny stuff worth mocking about. It really makes a great impression on everyone.

      Let’s start things first with the premise of your argument: the claim here is that visual novels are not that different from other spaces like fanfiction and they are in no ways “unique” for housing marginalized creators. All spaces are commercialized under the logic of capitalism I accept that claim because it is obviously true. I also never suggested the contrary. More importantly, I don’t understand even if it’s true how it would make my argument fallacious.

      I think we both agree that all mediums — even the most commercialized ones like movies — have some people working for the passion of it. And we may share the same concerns about how corporations are infiltrating into the space. That’s what confuses me. I’m not sure where we are disagreeing here when we properly analyze the arguments.

      Is it because I talk about subcultures and marginalized creators? There will always be “indie movements” in the most commercialized mediums and that’s the kind of stuff that interests me. If an independent music band gets a contract and starts working under a mainstream corporate label, it may be worrying to fans that they will be losing their identity. Bands like Death Cab for Cutie come into mind. Stuff like that makes me think music is easily one of the most commercialized mediums abused by corporations.

      But that does not mean we should throw the whole thing out. Many people do still listen to independent artists doing their own thing. And they will have fans who adore them. Now, I don’t see why fans who are angered by their favorite artists corrupted by capital are invalid all of a sudden. It’s a legitimate concern that is shared in many, many mediums and spaces.

      This problem is part of a bigger thing, of course. You mention a need to be “systemic” and I do agree with this part. Systemic change requires much more than a blog post venting their frustrations on a KFC marketing stunt. I am sure you, a commenter of this post, will agree. However, I know my limits: I am a subculture blogger and not a political extraordinaire. I can only criticize and educate people who may have better platforms than I do. Since my article did reach the likes of Polygon, I figure this is the only way I can contribute besides passively doing nothing. I feel that there is a possibility to change the minds of video game journalists who are usually freelance writers like me. Maybe if they recognize the flaws here, they might report it differently. And there could be a gradual change in the thinking. I am inspired by the writings of Gramsci here who discusses that you can’t just have a political revolution, you need an ideological one. There is a false consciousness created by people who control the capitalist systems and I want to dismantle it. That’s why ideologies must be interrogated. I see myself performing much better at the latter. So my article will hopefully be one facet of this systemic change to come. I grant it is naive, but I do think education is the least I can do. If someone learned something, then they can join us in changing the minds of others.

      Now, let’s talk about the “unique shelter” problem. I think a post about visual novels will talk about visual novels and not much else. I do think visual novels — especially the English side — do have a noticeable fraction of queer creators and audiences. That’s something I do mention quite a bit. If I make the impression that queer creators only exist in visual novels, I must apologize. Last year, I wrote a post for Anime Feminist about Japanese queer writers and there’s a continuation in this blog too. That alone should negate this “unique shelter” attribution. I have been quite interested in queer creators in many mediums and visual novels tend to be the one I get to see. They are also the most vocal when the KFC debacle happened. They are justifiably worried that a corporation is going to dominate the medium and take out their voices. That’s the line of thinking I have been using in these two posts. I’m not the only one who discusses the presence of queer creators in visual novels and how they are threatened by a corporation as well. One of the more insightful articles in the KFC discourse (https://www.dailydot.com/parsec/kentucky-fried-chicken-dating-sim-games-journalism/) discusses how journalists are trapped by the current writing model and this marginalizes queer creators further. I wanted to link this post in the original article, but I figure this is better than any! In any case, both the article and my two posts on this discuss visual novels not really as a “unique shelter” space per se but a safe space for these creators to thrive in. Again, they aren’t unique and I’m not sure where you are getting this from. However, I think it is correct to argue that visual novels are one of the best spaces in providing queer creators a “shelter”. This safe space/shelter is being trampled upon by a corporation in the eyes of queer creators and that’s why I am writing for them — because I am one of them too.

      And I think I should close up this response with a raise of an eyebrow. I’m not sure if “being commercial” is necessarily a bad thing. Like, I can’t imagine how someone or something is unable to shelter marginalized creators because it has become commercial. I assume you are using the internet, which would have been provided by an internet service provider. This ISP is providing a connection to the World Wide Web as long as you pay up. We can call this “commercial” because ISPs are in the business of making money. I am going to assume connecting to the internet is a necessity if one wants to share fanfiction, a medium you mentioned that is mostly free from commercialism. But if people pay and connect to the internet, they are engaging in the exchange of commercial products. The internet is home to many subcultures and is able to connect folks all around the world. Yet, we have to pay some cash in order to connect. Now, I am not suggesting paying for what’s supposed to be a free service is morally defensible; I think the internet should be free for everyone. However, it is at the moment being used for commercial purposes (and we haven’t talked about the million ads on the internet!). Does this mean the commercialization of the internet by corporations negate the actual wonders it has given us? I don’t believe so!

      So here’s my tl;dr: I think your argument reeks of an interesting combination of reductionism and fatalism. It accepts the existence of capitalism and claims that any possible critique of it must appeal to your understanding of systemic criticism. It pigeonholes my arguments into some weird romanticist thinking about how wonderful visual novels are as a space for marginalized creators and wouldn’t it be great if we just get along and kill capitalism, so I can’t help but see it as bad faith. And anyway, you literally came to — in your words — write in “the troll-post-for-amusing-friends style” so it isn’t like you are interested in arguing. I am totally fine if you want to be a clown and say things like how EVNs are pandering to people and adding senseless options. That’s hilarious to me and I assume many other people. Your argument is literally “Yet you participate in society, how curious!” comic to a tact! I’m sure your friends and you are going to laugh at this long serious post for a bit, but more people are going to laugh at you for longer.

      Because “Kastel wrote a boohoo ;_; about visual novels being infiltrated by corporations” is less funnier than someone who thought that joke was funny and tried to rationalize it as an actual explanation lol.

      • zakamutt October 9, 2019 / 6:54 pm

        Allow me to post the money quote from the article you just linked:

        “The thing is, games sites often NEED to cover big games in order to get the clicks and ad revenue to keep the site open,” Flowers told the Daily Dot. “It’s kind of a vicious cycle; people want to read articles about games they’re already interested in, which gets them more interested in those games, which makes them want to read more articles about them. I don’t blame any one person for not covering any given indie game; it’s a systemic issue at its heart.”

        You can call it fatalist if you want, but I simply do not think that you are going to change anything with this post. That’s why I’m bothered by the lack of even a hint of linking this to structures. It doesn’t have to be this big fucking thing criticizing the structures; just pointing out that this is an _example_ of that would be enough. I’m pretty sure the freelance writers you’re targeting wouldn’t be scared away by that.

        Furthermore, allow me to propose that this article doesn’t actually give any arguments as to why a company releasing a game in the same medium as indie creators harms those creators. The same applies to the Daily Dot article you linked – though at least the Daily Dot article is good at showing that the coverage was corporatist, it just doesn’t say why corporativism is bad, and I really think you should find a way to link it in your main post. Certainly the KFC sim articles distracted from writing articles about indie games, but a very easy counterargument is to say that those outlets wouldn’t have written about the indie games you want them to write about even were the KFC sim to not have been a thing. It takes a systemic critique to get at the fundamental problem – the AAA games dominate coverage so strongly because you have to cover them to get clicks because you have to work according to the capitalist system.

        It just doesn’t work if you try to separate it out.

        As for why I perceived your post as saying that visual novels were this unique safe space, I think I got that reading from the fact that you emphasized said thing several times in the article. Clearly you didn’t intend this, but all I can do is read what you write, y’know?

        “I did not imagine that a fast food corporation of all things would dip their toes into this marginalized subculture.”

        “We are angry and mad at how a corporation dared to enter the space of marginalized creators and the sympathy we receive has never turned into action.”

        “For the everyday audience who wants to do more, they need to demand that their favorite creators change their ways and also promote marginalized visual novels and dating sims.”

        Now the thing is I think it’s natural to consider basically all mediums compromised; you seem to agree. But this article also to me talks about a ‘new’ threat – before the KFC visual novel, there wasn’t much about corporations going into EVNs. So we get a weird tonal contrast between a universal phenomenon and a very specific event that is painted by context as a new incursion.

        It’s the problem where you’re not even hinting at the universal perspective again. Since you might want to point this out, yes, you do have a vague thing about talking about “money and labor” in there in one line. It’s not enough.

        Tl;dr I’m really bothered by the weakness of your argument and wish it were better.

        Also, you can believe what you want, but past the first comment I was not trolling. It’s not been the easiest for me to fully figure out what exactly I found so annoying about your post, but hopefully this at least gets me somewhere along the line.

      • Kastel October 10, 2019 / 4:57 am

        Congratulations in figuring out what you want to say after claiming that I should be watched by the hospital for dangerous tendencies. I don’t think you understand how awful it is to say something like that and then expect readers and me to not think you are trolling or at least responding in bad faith afterwards. I apologize for being skeptical, but you did introduce yourself with a troll post.

        I was going to write a long post, but I’d be giving you too much dignity. So here’s a digest of why your arguments are problematic and why it remains in bad faith.

        1) You are moving the goalposts. Originally, your argument is about the commercialization of visual novels and this even brings in JVNs and sales. Now, it’s about capitalist structures inherent in journalism and related subjects. You ignore my commercialization of internet example which discusses that just because something is commercialized does not mean it has become useless in sheltering people. Instead, you discuss the problems of capitalism and mention “systemic critique” umpteen times.

        2) It is not clear what you mean by “systemic critique”. You mention structures, universal perspective, corporativism, and so on. You hint at ideological critiques. But they are not explicitly linked to a “systemic critique” whatever this is. I am also unsure how a post specifically critiquing how another post is used by journalists and critics will ever satisfy people looking for “systemic critiques”. I admit such an approach is needed in the post; I am just saying that people should not use the original post (which was never intended against KFC anyway as explained) as one such systemic critique. The whole point of this post is to avoid responses like yours because, yes, I didn’t set out in writing a “systemic critique”. But it is used like that and that’s the problem.

        3) You admit you came into the post looking for a fight and now you have finally come up with a reason. It does explain why the goalposts have been moved. More importantly, coming here with a “serious” response after intending to cause some havoc should raise some flags for everyone else. Maybe you have become sincere and honest and wonderful, but launching into ad hominem attacks and suggesting I am mentally ill will justifiably make me skeptical about the whole ordeal. And let’s not forget your admission on the final paragraph: “hopefully this at least gets me somewhere along the line”. You clearly did not develop an argument here and didn’t even respond to the full scope of my argument. And yet, you keep asking for a “systemic critique”. You are not putting the money where the mouth is.

        4) You admit too that you are misinterpreting: “I think I got that reading from the fact that you emphasized said thing several times in the article. Clearly, you didn’t intend this, but all I can do is read what you write, y’know?” isn’t exactly the conceding you expect. You actually did note that I did not intend this “unique safe space” argument with the adverb, “clearly”. You may argue this is a close reading since I “emphasized said thing several times in the article”; however, an article about visual novels will talk about visual novels and that explains the themes’ recurrence. It is not some diabolic magic, you know. And more importantly, this was another crux of your original argument about why this article stinks. You drop it the second I say this is nonsense. This is moving the goalpost again.

        5) Finally, I must mention the absurdity of your “easy counterargument” to finish this response off. You say “that those outlets wouldn’t have written about the indie games you want them to write about even were the KFC sim to not have been a thing.” Then, you launch into your ambiguous calls for a “systemic criticism”. Now, if that was indeed true, a “systemic critique” of any kind WILL NOT HELP AT ALL. Criticizing the fundamentals of capitalism will be a worthless venture for anyone. Not only that, it brings back the fatalism because it is premised that nothing will change. A “systemic critique” of capitalism premised on fatalism is complete nonsense. Nobody criticizes and then says this is impossible. It makes no sense howsoever. If one wants to criticize, it’s to change the damn system. It is FUCKED UP for journalists to keep writing about big budget games and marketing gimmicks by fast food corporations. That’s what needs to be changed! It isn’t a “systemic critique” at all, but if there is one way to describe my current approach it is a critique on a fundamental mechanism of a structure. This article is aimed at editors and writers who recognize the contradictions within the capitalist structures and I am presenting a post that explains how my work was manipulated by people with power. It is up to them, not me some lowly writer, to change the system. I actually do have journalist friends who do read this stuff, so I very much know where my strengths can be applied without faltering to my weaknesses. Lamenting about the vicious cycle of business and then asking for some magical “systemic critique” — that’s a nonsense position to hold. Your stance is genuinely absurd and expecting me and others to take your contradictory arguments seriously is really a great joke.

        Maybe this response isn’t as level-headed as the previous one, but I did get a bit annoyed at the admission found within your last paragraph. It is as if somehow I am the rude one for thinking you are a troll because you finally found the words you are thinking about.

        All I can say is “damn, moving the goalposts after you made an unclear trolly post for your friends to read is considered to be a systemic critique here. Naruhodo.”

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