I really despise the term “guilty pleasure”. The implication that subjective tastes were something that needed to be defended has just never sat quite right with me. Yet it persists, a common aspect of how we consume media in general, as if the quality of the things we enjoy are a point-by-point reflection of our quality as people.
This is a silly notion, of course, as a majority of us simply don’t care, either because we’re tolerant or just too caught up in ourselves to be worried about what other people do. That said, there’s really no way for me to proclaim my fandom of the Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball games without someone coming to the (rather logical) conclusion that I’m a creepy weirdo. I can’t blame anyone for this, and I’m not really here to confirm or deny that one way or another, but I will say that my appreciation for the series comes from a less obvious place that I will try my damnedest to explain.
As an adult with an internet connection, I am well aware of the existence of pornography and my continued time in ye olde cyberspace has exposed me to the many flavors of that particular Baskin Robbins, whether or not I even wanted that exposure, so just functioning as a “boob simulator”, playing to the basest perverted instincts, there really isn’t a place for it. (Also, boobs don’t work that way.) Even acknowledging that there are many a pubescent youth with much more time on their hands and/or subsets of culture that I’m simply not tapped into that do just want the eye candy, that’s never been why I came to Zack Island.
I suppose one could question if that enjoyment is somehow a byproduct of authorial intent, but you don’t really have to. We know why the series was made. It certainly wasn’t for the gripping narrative or character development. Even if you want to briefly consider Itagaki’s claim that the DOA girls are like daughters to him and that he doesn’t want to exploit them, you don’t feel particularly ashamed of your words and deeds for calling bullshit. So why do I like them? More bafflingly, why have so many of my past girlfriends liked them?
What I seem to tap into with the series is an odd feeling that I can enjoy them irrelevant of their purpose, but also without resorting to a sense of derisive irony. It’s different than my reverence for a bad Ed Wood movie, for example. Underneath the indubitablely gross surface level are shades of an actual good game. It’s a melding of genres that offer a lot of the things we typically look for in other titles; variety, replayability, relationship building, and a bra-full of collectibles. It’s a sports game and a dating sim and a shockingly addictive casino all rolled into one to make something undeniably unique. It’s a leisure platform without a stated endgame. It’s Animal Crossing with passive-aggressive gift giving in place of predatory raccoons and real estate. In a word, it’s relaxing.
After spending a considerable amount of time with the games, I still don’t feel like I’m in a position to argue that they’re “good”. Ignoring that that term means different things to different people anyway, they still inhabit a niche of a niche. In a way, that’s a benefit to them, as there still exists an air of mystery to the sub-systems within, the minute detail of why certain character interactions only work in certain situations. Japanese game design has rightly been criticized for its frequent unwillingness to evolve and the antiquated portrayals of women that are seemingly locked in an anime dimension where it’s perpetually the year 2000, but there’s a certain respect for the unknown, an obfuscation of mechanics that we rarely see Western development pull off anywhere near as well. Yes, Hitomi does like light blue wrapping paper for her cooking gifts, but I’m unsure if she was a morning person or not. It’s silly, but… it needs to be. It’s the only way to really diffuse the otherwise unforgivable presentation that would typically drive away a person like myself.
It’s harmless, in a way, while still being a bit presumptuous. I want to say it’s easier to enjoy because it’s so comfortable in its own skin, but I reach a point where I’m unsure of who exactly I’m trying to convince. It’s not guilt, per say, so much as a need to understand myself and how I can be drawn to such a thing. It’s that contradiction that’s oddly attractive. “No, this actually has merit” I hear one side of my brain arguing.
Meanwhile, the other side snickers, shrugging.
“Whatever man, enjoy your boob game.”