The beach resort town Atami, located about an hour from Tokyo, was Japan’s most popular romantic destination thirty or forty years ago. But with tourism down 40% since the 1970s, the town is tapping into an entirely new market of romantic vacationers — men so enthralled with Konami’s dating simulation game Love Plus that they’ll really come to Atami for the chance to spend a virtual weekend with their video game girlfriends. “Atami has always been a romantic place, but it is now a romantic place for a modern generation,” says Atami’s mayor Sakae Saito.
The joint promotion between the town and Konami ran for less than two months — from mid-July to the end of August – but in that time over 2,000 men visited the town to recreate the Atami vacation trip they had played in the video game. If they brought along an iPhone, they could also take pictures of themselves with their video loves at 13 spots around town through an augmented-reality app. Local businesses, from souvenir shops to a fishcake shop and a Korean barbecue restaurant are happy to cater to and profit from the devoted video game lovers, most of whom are men in their 20s and 30s.
And for at least 200 big spenders, they could check in as a couple at the Hotel Ohnoya — as long as they didn’t mind paying twice the normal rate for having a second “person” in their room. The hotel, which is also featured in the game, was founded in 1937 and charges up to $500 a night for its best rooms. Its employees were specially trained to adhere to the gamers’ fantasies. “We try not to ask too many questions,” explains the hotel’s managing director, Atsurou Ohno. “We want them to be able to remain immersed in that game world.”
The game has only been released in Japan for Nintendo DS, and has sold over 430,000 copies. The romantic relationship never progresses past kissing, but one superfan staged a wedding with his Love Plus girlfriend last year. The game packaging gets pretty poetic about this new generation of romance:
Can’t stop loving her … 365 days. This love gentle, warm and strong like the sun. Together we sail out to the sea of love…
Shades of Styx’s “Come Sail Away,” but maybe it’s not so bad. Konami spokesman Kunio Ishihara tries to explain what sets Love Plus apart:
In conventional love games, you went up stages to make a virtual girl fall in love with you, so that she would accept you as a boyfriend or express her love for you. But players of Love Plus are in a scenario where they are a high school boy who is already dating one of the virtual girls. The goal is to see how good you can be to her and to build a relationship.
And, yes, there’s video: