Sunil, Mur, and I share an ongoing “editorial e-chat” and I’ve been hearing about my fellow Associate Editor’s deep enjoyment of this video game for quite a while. As you might imagine, working with Mur and Sunil is a blast (our non-editorial squeeing over the fun and uplifting things in our lives is as enjoyable as our Mothership Zeta work) and I’m glad he agreed to share how much he loves Hatoful Boyfriend with you. Thanks, Sunil! –Karen Bovenmyer, Nonfiction Associate Editor
Hatoful Boyfriend Is the Greatest Pigeon Dating Sim in the History of Human and/or Bird Existence
by Sunil Patel
Imagine you’re a teenage Japanese girl.
This may be easier for some of you than it is for others.
Imagine it’s your first day at a new school. Imagine you’re excited for everything the coming year holds for you, from track meets and student council to cultural festivals and summer jobs.
Now imagine everyone but you is a bird. A literal bird. A fantail pigeon. A rock dove. A chukar partridge. A button quail.
Which bird will steal your heart? Library bird? Sports bird? Best friend bird? Can you, a human girl, find true romance with a bird?
You may think I am describing the stupidest thing ever, but Hatoful Boyfriend is the most fun I’ve had playing a video game in a long time. It’s not a game in the traditional sense but a visual novel you navigate with your choices, which determine which of the multiple endings you get. And because each iteration of the game takes only half an hour, you’ll want to play over and over, making different choices as you pursue a different romantic interest.
As you play, you may notice something…strange. Besides the fact that the school is entirely populated with birds, I mean. Wait. Why is the school entirely populated with birds? Why don’t you ever see any other humans? Why do you live in a cave and constantly refer to your hunter-gatherer instincts? Why does creepy music play every time you talk to doctor bird?
But forget all about that! You’re here to find love, and Hatoful Boyfriend is all about love. And tragic backstories. And love. See, the amazing thing about this game is that, despite the fact that you are seeing birds on the screen and they constantly do bird things and make terrible bird puns and treat you as Other because you’re human, you don’t think of them as birds, but as people. Surprisingly complex people, who reveal themselves to you if only you allow that connection to be made on a deeper level, if only…sorry, I’m getting teary about a conversation I had with best friend bird.
So here’s how this game works: you read screen after screen of dialogue as you interact with characters (birds) throughout the school year, and occasionally you make either dialogue choices or plot choices. It’s very simple! (Thankfully, you can fast-forward through dialogue you’ve already read when you replay or else this game would be interminable.) You’ve got to pay attention to your target’s interest, though, and romance him the right way! You…you should basically stalk him everywhere he goes and do all the after-school activities he does and invite him to every possible social engagement and this is how romance works, right? It does when you’re a human teenage girl trying to get with a pigeon, okay. The game rewards you when you’re on the right track, providing sweet scenes between you and your intended, be it your math teacher—yes, you can hit on your math teacher—or the bird obsessed with pudding.
There is a bird who is completely obsessed with pudding, just go with it.
The most brilliant thing about Hatoful Boyfriend is that it lures you in with its offbeat charm and ridiculous premise and then launches an unrelenting assault upon your emotions. You will confront your own mortality and that of your true love, thanks to a pigeon. You will call your brother and tell him you love him, thanks to a pigeon. Or you will wish you had a brother, just so you could experience the incredible bond between two pigeon-brothers. This game is a Trojan horse, a black swan, a Trojan swan, and you are not prepared for it.
After you acquire enough endings, you will be given another choice. A new option. And if you have been paying attention, you will know that there is far more going on in this game than bird romance, and trust me, there is far more going on in this game than bird romance, and I cannot even begin to describe what awaits you, partly because it’s goddamn bonkers and partly because it moves out of the Mothership Zeta realm of fun; we would totally reject this story if you submitted it.
And yet! Like I said, Hatoful Boyfriend is all about love. Love between friends, love between family, love between human girl and bird boy. Though it will put you through the emotional wringer, you will come out cleansed and purified, a being of sheer compassion and hope, believing that anything is possible. A human can love a bird, a bird can love a human, and a pigeon dating sim can somehow be one of the most harrowing, moving experiences you’ve had all year.
Sunil Patel is a Bay Area fiction writer and playwright who has written about everything from ghostly cows to talking beer. His plays have been performed at San Francisco Theater Pub and San Francisco Olympians Festival, and his fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Fireside Magazine, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Flash Fiction Online, The Book Smugglers, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, and Asimov’s Science Fiction, among others. Plus, he reviews books for Lightspeed and he is Assistant Editor of Mothership Zeta. His favorite things to consume include nachos, milkshakes, and narrative. Find out more at ghostwritingcow.com, where you can watch his plays, or follow him @ghostwritingcow. His Twitter has been described as “engaging”, “exclamatory”, and “crispy, crunchy, peanut buttery.”
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