I’m in love with Japanese games about husbands and wives, but it has nothing to do with my shitty marriages. Let me explain. About a month ago, a friend tweeted that he’d just beaten an app called 10 Billion Wives. On the strength of the name alone, I hopped into the app store and downloaded it.
Gameplay itself is straightforward: A hoard of women (yes, these are your wives) rush past you on your screen and you need to tap on them (quickly!) to show them affection. I call this “kissing” them. At first you have only one wife, Apron Wife, and as you kiss her you earn points, measured simply as “love.” When you reach milestone love numbers, you earn new wives. One million love, new wife. Ten million love, new wife. And so on. Once you’ve earned every wife, you beat the game. The process is… dumb, to say the least, and yet nearly a month later I’m still keeping with it. Why?
First of all, on a base level, there is something very funny about pluralizing the words husband and wife. It’s not a smart joke. It lives next door to Borat’s “My wiiiife.” And yet, every time I’ve had to stop mid-conversation to read a push notification from the game and say, “Excuse me, I need to kiss my wives,” I have enjoyed it way more than anything SimCity Build It or Kendall and Kylie have ever done for me.
At dinner a few weeks later, I was talking about my wives to the table when another friend asked me if I’d heard of another Japanese marriage-centric app: Seven Hotties, All My Husbands. He told me it was a storytelling game based on the premise that you, a very successful (but single) “freelance designer,” wake up one morning with seven extremely attractive spouses, all of whom you’ve never met before. It turns out you wished for love on a shooting star and the universe over-delivered, and now you have to scramble to get to know each of them in order to decide which hottie you love the most. Obviously, I downloaded it.
Seven Hotties has a much lazier gameplay experience. Aside from your name, outfit (though your husbands buy you the clothes) and hairstyle, you don’t make choices as much as you repeatedly consent to continue down the story’s one linear path. It isn’t until about 45 minutes into gameplay that you make a single decision that impacts the plot at all (timing depends on how fast you read/screenshot/text your friends the screenshots).
It’s clear that whichever employees Arithmetic, the app’s developer, assigned to translate the game learned a more British English than I’m accustomed to hearing. Everything is a little heightened and formal, which makes a misconjugated verb or incongruous description much more delicious. When Tsubasa, your “director of a leading hospital” husband, finally lays down the law by revealing your marriage’s sex rule, he blows it big-time and doesn’t even know it.
That, paired with his elder Harry Styles mop hair and come-hither smirk, is perfect. He is perfect. The entire game is tonally dubious — everyone but you knows what’s going on; your character is constantly flabbergasted, and on top of it her husbands are always touching her. Mainly, I love hearing the dumb shit they say. The novelty of being romanced by a bot is much stronger when that bot is horrible at passing as a person (the one function it’s programmed to succeed at). With every typo and weird word choice, my brain rewards me with a pile of endorphins. Yes. Good. You are smarter than your phone.
What the two apps have in common is their ostensible takes on marriage. With both my husbands and my wives, I’m responsible for budgeting my love and being attentive while still managing to live my life away from them. My wives never run into problems with one another (though this is less true of my husbands).
I’ve played similar American-made storytelling apps with much higher creative budgets and a lot more interactivity (like Episode) and had far less fun. Playing “Wives” and “Husbands” is sort of like getting a big bag of hand-me-downs from your cousin: Maybe nothing will look hot on you, but that’s not really the point. The point is to take something that isn’t necessarily meant for you and make it yours. Or try to understand it.
One thing’s for sure: The joy of these apps is definitely not from the gameplay. Both require no real strategy — you could skip reading the text entirely and make the same progress just by tapping — but in apps as in life, you get back exactly as much as you put in, and if what you put in is “lol this rules,” then guess what? It does.