Why is this here, you’re asking? What in your bitter lawyer life has led you to read about a game where you can pretend to date pigeons? First, because we’re rolling out our bitter empire, and gaming, bitter and otherwise, will be a big part of our empire once our death star is fully operational. Also because Jesus Christ, people, do something other than work sometimes.
My family has a weird relationship with birds. It goes beyond my father’s Audubon Society membership and the dozen or so birdfeeders he keeps outside the house. He gave my brother a green Quaker parakeet for his birthday one year, which my brother named Sam. Sam was an asshole who hated all of us except for my dad and my brother. We had assumed that Sam was male, and then, years after he arrived, he laid an egg. Her constant screams of rage still echo in my head.
I thought of Sam as I played through Hatoful Boyfriend, which is a “pigeon dating simulator.” Yes, you read that right. You get to date pigeons. Probably still a better choice than whatever life path you’re currently on.
In the game, you are placed in the role of the only human student matriculating at St. Pigeonation’s, the school for “birds who want to study the arts, the sciences, even sports” because we know that birds have very diverse academic interests. You’re a girl (sorry, dudes. Get comfy with gender switching) who has very personal relationships with the birds who are your fellow students and the school’s faculty.
Let’s pause for a moment to discuss the inherent weirdness of “dating sims.” These are usually what I categorize as “creepy anime bullshit.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but the goal of these games was always to see cartoon boobs. I mistakenly approached Hatoful Boyfriend with that context in mind, although I’m not sure how the whole bird boobs thing would have worked out anyway.
Where Hatoful Boyfriend remains true to the dating sim genre is in its mechanics and presentation, which, if you are not a person that often wants to date pretend people, is basically a glorified decision tree, but with bird dating. Opting for one course of action determines the decisions you’ll be faced with subsequently. All of these decisions revolve around the relationships you develop with the various birds – mostly doves – that make up the strange society of St. Pigeonation’s school. Nanali Kazuaki is your homeroom teacher, is possibly narcoleptic, and is a rock dove.
During my first playthrough, I decided to pursue Fujishiro Nageki, a mawkish mourning dove who spends all his time in the library and feels rejected by the rest of the students. As our romance developed, I learned that his reluctance to participate in anything outside the library stemmed from a dark secret, which I’ll leave for you to discover.
As a game, Hatoful Boyfriend isn’t much to look at. It unfolds as an unlockable series of text vignettes, with no animation of its characters’ avian avatars, much to my dismay. You click through various fields of text and occasionally are presented with a decision. That’s it, that’s the whole game.
But while I was fully prepared to despise Hatoful Boyfriend for being a stupid dating simulator that features pigeons, it was impossible to come away from the experience being anything less than charmed. The writing generally falls into the weird dating sim/Japanese-to-English style, but there’s a sense of humor and genuine pleasantness underpinning everything. It’s hard not to love that about it. Also, there are birds with mohawks.
The game also demanded some role-playing. When presented with the decisions that form the core of the game, I found myself thinking, “Okay, I’m a Japanese high school girl, what would I say now?”
At $9.99 on Steam, Hatoful Boyfriend is difficult to recommend as a purchase. However, you can get your pigeon dating on for free in a limited demo. And seriously, why wouldn’t you? It’s a dating game. With pigeons. WE SAID WITH PIGEONS. Just make sure a partner doesn’t walk in while you’re playing this. Explaining it would be…awkward.