In this project, I am using the Japanese PS Vita dating simulator, ToLoveRu – True Princess as a means of improving my Japanese language fluency. You may have read in my previous blog posts that I was using the Japanese children’s television program Doraemon to improve my Japanese fluency, however this just wasn’t working for me. I often found the extremely casual, juvenile speech to be too fast and too difficult for me to understand. I also found myself losing interest quickly as the storylines were not relevant to my interests and were very basic as they were targeted at young children. All in all, Doraemon and I just weren’t working out. My language learning philosophy is that if your method of study isn’t engaging, you’re not going to learn, and I quickly realised I wasn’t learning as much as I’d hoped to.
So I set out to change this. As an avid anime fan, I decided to look at some Japanese video games to help me achieve my goal of increasing my Japanese language fluency, because I thought that this might be more interactive and therefore more fun. Coincidently, my boyfriend James had recently bought the Japanese PS Vita Game: ToLOVERu – True Princess from PlayAsia, a website that sells a variety of goods imported from Asia to international markets. Both James and I had only just finished watching all four seasons of ToLoveRu a few months ago (Japanese audio with English subtitles) so we were really keen to start chatting up our favourite characters in Japanese. No English available. To give an exceptionally brief overview of the ToLOVEru (pronounced ‘toraburu’ or ‘trouble’ in Japanese), it follows Rito, a 15-year-old boy whose house becomes home to a variety of humanoid aliens, who all develop crushes on him. ToLOVERu – True Princess is a dating sim based around this premise, where the user plays as Rito and interacts with the various girls. The girl Rito ultimately ends up with is determined by the player’s interactions with each person.
Without going off on too much of a tangent, I feel the need to justify my autoethnographic research method for this project. I used the personal narrative methodology to analyse my experience playing ToLoveRu – True Princess, as this worked best for my approach. Although the personal narrative style does receive criticism for relying so heavily on one’s own thoughts, experiences and research (Ellis et al. 2011), I felt that this methodology suited my autoethnographic research perfectly and have been careful to include multiple academic sources to validate my findings. Learning Japanese has always been a very important, emotive and personal exercise for me, and I really wanted to look at revolutionising the way I learn the language. In the past, I’ve embraced more traditional learning styles, such as textbooks, drilled repetition and flashcards, however I feel as though now I am at the level where I can branch off and use more creative mediums to further enhance my fluency. I chose this method because I wanted to test for myself whether using unconventional learning methods had any merit, and also, if I succeeded, to provide other language learners with the inspiration to move beyond their comfort zone and engage with authentic texts from their target language.
Experiences –ToLoveRu – True Princess
Accessing the Game
Accessing ToLoveRu – True Princess was actually a lot easier than I initially thought. The growth in popularity of Japanese popular culture on a global scale, combined with the media demands of diasporic Japanese audiences, have undeniably given rise to websites like PlayAsia (Tsutsui 2010) where fans can access exclusive Japanese content and artefacts from almost anywhere in the world. Although you probably wouldn’t be able to go out to your local EB Games to purchase an exclusively Japanese title, international websites like PlayAsia have contributed to the accessibility of Japanese video games to non-Japanese audiences. Although many Japanese video games never get English releases, avid fans can quite easily seek out titles online through resellers like PlayAsia and eBay. Popular gaming titles are often translated into English by bilingual fans and uploaded to the Internet to allow non-Japanese-speaking audiences to enjoy the games in their own language (Lee 2011, p. 1131). Although a fan transaction of ToLOVEru – True Princess was available online, I chose not to use it as I wanted to experience the text authentically.
Perhaps one of the most interesting epiphanies I experienced while playing the game was that even though the characters still spoke quickly and storyline was more complex than Doraemon, I actually understood so much more of what was going on. The most notable feature of the game that helped me was the fact that the character’s verbal speech was reflected in Japanese text at the bottom of the screen. This is a feature I tended to overlook in most videogames I’ve played as I could usually just listen to what the characters are saying, however here, subtitles in Japanese proved to me vital to my understanding. Not only could I listen to the characters speak, but if I missed any words or didn’t understand, I could read the text box to catch up with what was happening. Even though there were quite a few kanji I didn’t know, I could understand most of them thorough matching the kanji to the character’s speech (for example, I couldn’t read all of the kanji in uchuujin,宇宙人 [alien] however when I heard the character say the word aloud, I matched it to where I was up to in the text and remembered it for the rest of the game).
Co-viewing, or consuming a digital medium when physically accompanied by another person, also played a substantial role in my ability to comprehend what was happening in the game. Co-viewing and co-manipulation of multimedia texts are widely praised in academia for being a driving force behind children’s language acquisition and creating a linguistically enriching experience (Meskill 2002, p. 169), therefore I knew I was doing the right thing by playing ToLOVEru – True Princess with James. If there were parts in the game where either James or I became lost, we’d jump in to help one another, make guesses and discuss our ideas together, or consult our electronic Japanese dictionaries. Often, making inferences based on our individual knowledge of the characters, anime storyline and the gist of the in-game text was enough for us to power through the storyline. Yes, we may not have understood every single word, but as long as you get a sense of what is happening and are enjoying yourself, who cares? Overall, I think that cooperatively translating and playing this game with James significantly improved my Japanese comprehension and retention.
I actually found playing ToLoveRu – True Princess to be a really enjoyable, educative experience that prompted me to look into games as a medium for education on a larger scale. A quick Google search of ‘learn Japanese through video games’ retrieved thousands of results. There were multiple blogs documenting learners’ personal experiences and recommendations for games that could be easily understood by language learners, not to mention a large number of smartphone apps that were games designed for Japanese learners. An examination of academic literature also revealed that videogame-based learning has continued to surge in popularity since the early 2000’s due to the immersive and interactive nature of the medium (Hwang & Wu 2012). According to Squire (2006, p. 19) a player’s understanding of their target language is enhanced by the “developed cycles of performance within the game world.” This notion was reflected in my own experience playing ToLoveRu – True Princess. Not only did I already have a firm grasp of the general plot features and progression of the dating-sim genre, but I also had a deep understanding of the characters’ personalities, individual storylines and the game world in which I was playing in, which was a huge advantage to my ability to understand what was going on.
Although I think using Japanese video games to further one’s fluency is definitely worthwhile, I feel that it is important to note that I would not recommend this method for players who had little to no understanding of Japanese. I felt that in order to enjoy the game’s story, it was important to have a strong grasp of the language in place before trying to translate or understand the Japanese – it would be really difficult. I know that I would have felt a bit overwhelmed had I not already possessed a deep knowledge of the language’s writing systems, grammar and vocabulary. It is for this reason that I’d recommend beginner-level Japanese learners to either familiarise themselves with the language more prior to using games to learn, or use games as a supplementary learning method. This is not to say that you can’t just blast blindly though a non-English game without caring about learning anything – that’s absolutely fine – however I think in the heavily story-line based dating sim genre that it is important to understand exactly what is going on.
Ellis, C, Adams, TE, & Bochner, AP 2011, ‘Autoethnography: an overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, viewed 15 October 2017, <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095>
Hwang, GJ & Wu, PH 2011, ‘Advancements and trends in digital game-based learning research: a review of publications in selected journals from 2001 to 2010’, British Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 43, no. 1, pp. E6-E10.
Lee, HK 2011, ‘Participatory media fandom: A case study of anime fansubbing’, Media, Culture & Society, vol. 33, no. 8, pp. 1131-1147.
Meskill, C 2002, ‘Chapter 4: The role of the aural in language teaching and learning’, Teaching and Learning in Real Time: Media, Technologies and Language Acquisition, Athelstan, Houston, Texas.
Squire, K 2006, From content to context: videogames as designed experience’, Educational Researcher, vol. 35, no. 8, pp. 19-29.
Tsutsui, WM 2010, Japanese popular culture and globalisation, Association for Asian Studies Inc., Michigan, United States.