Welcome to Smooch Month here on Press Dot Exe! It’s a month to consider and celebrate and scrutinise at length media that centres and focuses on what you might normally see called romantic media. At some point years ago, I offhandedly referenced the idea that ‘romantic’ is a term best suited to being about feelings and then that’s how I’ve used it ever since and in the process trapped myself into using the term ‘smooch month’ when what I mean, ostensibly, is exactly what everyone else means, in common language, romantic media.
And so! Here we are, with the idea of smooch media!
This theme has been good for me, these past few years. Back before I was doing this theme, I didn’t really like watching this kind of media, finding a lot of this media dull and tedious and emotionally unrealistic. Then I spent a few years making a dedicated plan that I had to watch a lot of these things to have things to write about on my blog, which meant that this thing I normally avoided because I disliked it, I had to experience. Even though I had the belief that this stuff was largely badly made and bad.
And you know what? I was right! I mean, okay, not just that there’s a lot of bad media, because of course, 90% of everything is bad, and bad is always a relative thing but also, like, the media form that is presented as ‘romantic’ media when you open things like Netflix, or browse the DVD rental kiosk at the mall.
Yeah, I started with ‘Video Ezy’ and realised I was incarnating a vending machine.
Anyway, thing is, by dint of forcing myself to look at and participate in this kind of media I got to really look at the stuff that’s crap and put it in meaningful context. Sometimes it’s stuff that harmlessly didn’t bother me, like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before which was just weird as hell showing a school life that meant nothing to me and access to money that seemed fantastic to me. Sometimes, it was choking my way through formulaic, hateable material like Tall Girl, where the structure was held up and adorned with awful people behaving miserably in the name of some confusing messages.
And I started to avoid that stuff. I started watching more and more varied material, I kept looking at things I’d normally not touch at all. I watched some TV shows. I watched Hallmark movies. I read romantic fiction. I re-connected with shipping culture of my childhood that I had, shamefully, avoided for no good reason but generalised embarrassment. Doing this, I, well, at least when we’re talking about the Hallmark stuff, I saw a lot of really bad stuff there too. And finally I hit a groove when I realised that I had more stuff I wanted to write about for Smooch Month than I had slots for.
A big part of this was learning how much I liked romantic anime, and how the alienated, distanced life of writers completely unrelated to my own cultural background were better at showing me experiences that made sense to me than the people of my own country and the empire I’m in did.
Games still present a problem, of course. There are still not nearly as many videogames with a focus on smoochy relationships that I don’t find dire, and it’s pretty funny when you consider there are literally entire genres about this and how hard a time I have enjoying them. Sometimes it’s interface – I remember that Arcade Spirits is a game I think of fondly but hated playing because there were these constant pauses in the interface and oh also the weird way the game alienated me with its nonsense plot about how ‘what if you played games too much?’ There are so many visual novels which are meant to let you ride a relationship rocketboard and have a kind of sweet smoochy story for fun really quickly, but then they either surface a relationship I find boring like Hustle Cat or a sense of humour I don’t really find funny like Monster Prom.
It’s weird too because it’s like the area of gaming that ostensibly specialises in smoochy stuff is the area I find does the worst job of it. That’s not to say all visual novels are bad, all dating sims are bad. They’re just ones I don’t like, whether because they’re made for sensibilities and preferences that don’t line up with mine, or because they’re less interesting as games than I want them to be.
I do think there’s a particular kind of dating sim game that has gotten attention these past few years that provides a frustrating kind of friction in the conversation, though, with games like Dream Daddy (god that is almost a decade old right) or Hatoful Boyfriend where the whole reason the game got attention is because the game is a joke. Not that the game is actually a joke, but there is a joke in talking about the game, because bothering to take a visual novel seriously, you see, is funny.
Like Doki Doki Literature Club.
Anyway, there’s also another axis at work here, which is I don’t think you care about what I like about a smoochy game? I’ve been trying to be more honest about it, more directly clear about what makes these things work for me, but I know I’m having to expose some of myself, my preferences, my interests for all this, and I’m normally very shy about that. On the other hand, I think y’all are aware, thanks to the writing I’ve done that I wouldn’t date Anomen, and that’s not been a humiliating thing to have the public know.
It’s practice. It’s getting familiar with and comfortable with being able to talk about things. I don’t expect you to wind up with a list of my dos and don’ts, but I do think that it’s been a lot better to be willing to say that I find a character hot or think they could take a second swing at a line to maybe get it right this time. I don’t know if it counts as rizz but I can at least let you know what’d work on me.