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Ask Dr Mark
Dating Sims

Mark J. Kline | 17 Mar 2011 13:00
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Dear Dr Mark,

I am an avid gamer, and sadly, I fit the stereotypes many people have. I am an introvert, don't have many friends offline, and suck with girls. The few positive relationships I've had were with women who lived far away. I've met them in real life, but could never find a way to relax and connect in-person. Many of my family have noticed, my father joking that I am only confident if the woman lives on the other side of the planet. He might be right.

My problem is I have started to play dating sims. While I understand they are just games, there is a satisfaction, both emotional and sexual, that comes from progression in these games. My main concern is that I feel like I am insulting the women I know by playing these games and that I am using them as an escape from my lack of connection to said women. Some of the games become increasingly perverse at times, leaving me worried I might get into waters better left alone.

Even worse I can't tell any of my male friends. They are interested in FPS games and are condescending toward gamers who play dating sims and the like. Those who are aware of my habits treat me like a pervert and I feel even worse. Is there anything I can do or is the problem just in my head?

I learned something new from this question. Initially, I thought you were talking about a dating version of the game The Sims. As I re-read your question, it became clear to me that you were talking about something else (a big relief because I know many middle school-aged children who play that game...), so, like any professional researcher, I turned to Wikipedia to get a basic idea of what a dating sim is. I copy below from the article, though I assume most Escapist readers already know what you're talking about:

    In a typical dating sim, the player controls a male avatar surrounded by female characters. The gameplay involves conversing with a selection of girls, attempting to increase their internal "love meter" through correct choices of dialogue. The game lasts for a fixed period of game time, such as one month or three years. When the game ends, the player either loses the game if he failed to properly win over any of the girls, or "finishes" one of the girls, often by having sex with her, marrying her (as in Magical Date), and/or achieving eternal love. This gives the games more replay value, since the player can focus on a different girl each time, trying to get a different ending.

It sounds like these games give you satisfaction and relief by allowing you to play at romance and sex in a safe, virtual world. The portrayals of women and seduction may be very unrealistic and even insulting to some; however, I assume you aren't using sim techniques in real life (I'd like to believe my premium dialogue increases their internal love meters, but it may be more complicated than that). While you clearly feel ashamed that you do this, and hurt by the teasing from your friends, I don't actually see how it's anyone else's business but yours.

People are compelled by these kinds of games for a reason. They provide a way to meet some important needs when it seems impossible to do so in reality. While I am sympathetic to such a coping strategy, it can create trouble. It can become a self-reinforcing dead-end that doesn't get you any closer to a real life goal. It can drain your sexual energy and reduce the urgency to find a real partner. It can also give you some erroneous ideas about how to negotiate romantic relationships.

You seem to know that this is ultimately not what you want. This is a good sign. I'm more concerned about people who don't experience conflict and sadness about avoidance habits, and believe me, there are plenty of them.

What may help is an exploration of why it is so difficult for you to approach women in real life, whether close at hand or by expanding relationships with those who are far away. There may be some conflicts about thinking of real women sexually, fears of intimacy, worries about your ability to function, or significant anxiety and low self-confidence. You may be able to sort this out on your own, or you could consult a professional. The real solution to the "dating sims" problem is doing some work to get better at real dating.

A greater understanding of the source of the problem may allow you the courage to try new strategies and, hopefully, have some new experiences. This will involve pushing yourself to go beyond comfortable habits and boundaries. It will take strength and determination to overcome your inhibition and anxiety, but it's well worth it. You will eventually experience some success which will reassure you that you are lovable and make it easier to persevere. It may only require a few good experiences to dispel your conviction that you "suck with girls" so you can enjoy the far more satisfying world of real relationships.

Dr. Mark Kline believes the month of March should be renamed Trudge. Have a question for Dr. Mark? Send it to askdrmark@escapistmag.com. Your identity will remain confidential.

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