In Japan, Men Take Virtual Girlfriends on Real Vacations

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Loneliness exists in every society, but only in Japan has emotional isolation become a market for video game manufacturers and tourist resorts. The Wall Street Journal's Daisuke Wakabayashi reports on a popular game called "LovePlus+," played on mobile consoles, that simulates the (non-sexual) experiences of having a girlfriend. As with the 1990s best-selling Japanese digital toy "Tamagotchi," which sold 70 million units by simulating a digital pet that required regular care, the "tens of thousands" of LovePlus+ users each maintain a romantic relationship with a video game character that they treat as their girlfriend.

Users play the game by simulating everything from holding hands to sending flirty text messages, and can even use the device's built-in microphone to hold simulated conversations. But unlike traditional video games, LovePlus+ users say the point of the experience isn't simple fun or virtual competition. 19-year-old player Tatsuya Fukuzawa tells the Journal's Wakabayashi, "There isn't a lot of romance in my life. This helps me cope with some of the loneliness."

Wakabayashi reports that "a faded Japanese resort town about an hour from Tokyo" called Atami is capitalizing on the popularity of LovePlus+. The town, which has struggled as Japan's population of marriage-aged residents plummets, is advertising itself a destination where game users can have a real vacation with their virtual girlfriends. Atami has established a variety of "romantic getaway" attractions, but all geared toward single men in the company of their portable game consoles. One prominent hotel has specially designated rooms, where everything is prepared for two guests to "simulate" the experience of an actual getaway, and the hotel staff is instructed to pretend LovePlus+ users are actually in the company of a female guest. Restaurants provide special meals and seaside food sellers carry "fish cakes and desserts" emblazoned with the LovePlus+ logo. There's even an iPhone application that allows users to fake a photo of themselves next to their virtual girlfriend.

Since kicking off the video game venture in July, Atami has attracted at least 1,500 LovePlus+ users to the struggling town. The LovePlus+ game makers have even reciprocated by advertising Atami within the game.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.