Yandere Simulator would be less messed up if it was just about murdering high schoolers. Illustration by Jim Cooke
In the game, which is still in development but available for PC, you play as the psychotic Japanese schoolgirl Ayano Aishi, who will do anything to be with her senpai — including torturing and killing her competition. A bland older student, Aishi's senpai has no idea she exists. It's a minor detail for a girl whose violent love leaves a trail of bodies in its wake.
"Yandere" is a combination of the Japanese words "yanderu" ("to be sick") and "deredere" ("lovestruck"). The term is a portmanteau that describes a woman with an all-consuming and dangerous romantic obsession. In anime, a yandere can be recognised by her emotional fluctuations between relative calmness and lovesick fury.
Yandere Simulator is called a simulator for a reason. It's involved. Aishi must analyse her victims' personalities, assessing their weaknesses to custom-tailor their demise. She can publish their darkest secret on the internet to provoke them into suicide. She can dismember a student, stuffing her limbs in a cello case before incinerating her. She can electrocute her enemy while she's peeing in the school bathroom. If gore isn't your thing, she can blackmail girls with panty shots.
It may (or may not) come as a surprise, then, that Yandere Simulator's fan base is largely teenaged girls. YandereDev, the game's secretive developer, says that glamorising panty shots and dismemberment to his young fans makes him uncomfortable, but claims that he is not responsible for his game's popularity. That responsibility goes to the famous YouTubers, like PewDiePie and Markiplier, who "noticed" him.
"My intention was to develop a game for a mature, adult audience with an interest in anime and stealth games," YandereDev told me. "I never intended to expose millions of preteen girls to the kind of content that is present in Yandere Simulator." And yet, here we are.
Yandere Simulator is only halfway done (a debug build is available for free), but it's already banned from Twitch, an apparent injustice that at this year's E3 provoked YandereDev to lobby Twitch representatives at their booth. It could be because of this: "All characters depicted are 18 or older," a caveat for Yandere Simulator reads against a pink background, "even if otherwise specified." YandereDev says that he doesn't know why Twitch shut him out.
I downloaded the game last week and spent a few hours playing. It's clearly a work in progress, but I had to admire YandereDev's meticulous approach to sandbox-style storytelling. The game artfully ties together slow-moving character development and outlandish brutality by forcing players to think psychologically. It really simulates the cold-hearted I-get-what-I-want-ness of yanderes. I found myself thinking, "OK, if I take enough biology, I'll be able to exploit the weaknesses of the human body." It made me sick, but sometimes the best part of gaming is role-playing someone you really hate.
To me, Yandere Simulator gets at something deep and visceral about female competition over men, a famously toxic caricature of young women. Why is this insipid high school boy at the centre of all this bloodshed? The game takes the "jealous woman" stereotype to the furthest possible extreme, where the trope can be deconstructed and analysed.
I don't believe this was YandereDev's intention. The game has been criticised for glamorising suicide, bullying and bipolar disorder — allegations that I strongly agree with, despite the game's merits as simulator for sociopathy.
Over Skype chat, YandereDev and I discussed moe anime, circular saws and the "serial killer experience":
Kotaku: I read that the idea for Yandere Simulator began as a joke, admittedly in poor taste. Can you tell me a little about that?
YandereDev: Before I started developing Yandere Simulator, I had a ton of other game ideas. However, I lacked the 3D models required to bring my game ideas into reality. I found an inexpensive "anime schoolgirl" character model, and tried to imagine what kind of game I could make that featured an anime schoolgirl. I asked a friend of mine for suggestions, and he proposed a "delinquent simulator". I tried to envision the most extreme version of that idea, which made me imagine a game about a murderous serial-killing schoolgirl. I asked myself what kind of schoolgirl would kill people, and instantly thought of the "yandere" archetype - a character that kills because of jealousy. I asked a high-traffic message board if they would be interested in a "yandere simulator", and received a very positive response, so I began developing the game immediately.
The development of the game didn't really start as a "joke", but rather started because so many people sounded genuinely thrilled about the idea of the game when I first pitched the idea.
Mom: What kind of career do you want?
Me: Anime girls!
Mom: "Anime girls" is not a career.
Me: Shut up, mom! You're wrong! I'll show you!
— YandereDev (@YandereDev) June 24, 2016
Kotaku: What sort of games have you worked on in the past?
YandereDev: I worked at a video game company for three years. During my time at that company, I worked on one children's game, four fighting games and several very simple iPhone games.
However, the types of game prototypes that I developed were usually action/adventure games.
Kotaku: Who are some of your favourite yandere characters in anime? What anime did you take inspiration from?
YandereDev: Yandere Sim contains a lot of popular anime concepts, tropes and clichés, but it doesn't really draw most of its content or ideas from one specific source, or from a set of sources.
With that said, Mirai Nikki and School Days were two of the biggest influences that formed my mental image of what a yandere girl is. Yuno Gasai was my favourite character from Mirai Nikki. However, Kotonoha from School Days is my personal favourite yandere girl.
Kotaku: I saw that Senpai can be female, correct? Why did you allow for this option?
YandereDev: Back in 2014, when I first pitched the idea of the game, a lot of the people who were discussing the game with me expressed a very strong desire to pursue a female character, instead of pursuing a male character. Because it was one of the game's most-requested features and would help some people enjoy the game even more, I decided that it was an option I should allow for.
Kotaku: That's great. So what's your favourite yandere weapon?
This kind of meticulous planning is part of creating a “serial killer experience”.
YandereDev: At this point in time, the majority of the game's weapons all use the exact same killing animation, purely because I haven't had the time to implement unique killing animations for each weapon. I hope to make time to implement a variety of killing animations as soon as possible - perhaps within the next 30 days.
With that said, the circular saw is currently my favourite weapon, because it is presently one of the only weapons that has a unique killing animation, and also one of the only weapons that has unique functionality (it allows the player to dismember corpses).
Kotaku: I saw that you only have the option to torture victims for four hours at night, while you have the option to torture them for one, 10 and 16 hours during the daytime. Why is that?
YandereDev: From a "logic perspective", it's because the protagonist needs to be able to get some sleep for school the next day.
From a "gameplay perspective", it's because I want the player think carefully about how the protagonist is going to spend their time. If time is a limited resource, then the player is required to think critically about how they are going to spend their time. I'd like players to plan ahead, and schedule their week around the different opportunities that will be available to them within specific windows of time. This kind of meticulous planning is part of creating a "serial killer experience".
Kotaku: What is the "serial killer experience"?
YandereDev: The game is a "yandere simulator", so I think it's important to make the player feel like they are playing the role of a creepy stalker who is plotting murders. To this end, I've included lots of completely optional features in the game that allow the player to emulate the kind of behaviour we've seen from yandere girls. For example, there as a "shrine" where the player can store objects stolen from their loved one, and a corkboard where the player can hang pictures of their loved one or their victims. Neither the shrine nor the corkboard have any direct impact on gameplay, but I feel like they are necessary for a game that allows you to simulate the life of a yandere girl.
I think it’s very apparent that the game pivots on the archetype of an obsessed, violent stalker, rather than female stereotypes.
Kotaku: Is it your voice in the Yandere Simulator YouTube videos?
YandereDev: Yes, I narrate the majority of the videos that I upload to my YouTube channel.
Kotaku: Got it. Has anyone commented to you about the effect of a male voice describing young women murdering each other?
YandereDev: I've heard a lot of opinions about my voice — some people seem to enjoy listening to me speak, while other people think that my voice is absolutely insufferable — but I've never heard anyone make any remarks about how they feel when hearing the voice of one gender talking about murders being committed by another gender.
Kotaku: Have you heard any feminist criticism of your game — for example, people criticising the voyeuristic attitude toward teenaged girls or or the idea that the whole game may pivot on the stereotype of female cattiness and insecurity?
YandereDev: I think I can recall hearing criticism like that a couple of times over the 26 months that I've been working on the game, but it's been very uncommon.
Due to the psychotic nature of the protagonist, and due to the word "yandere" in the game's title, I think it's very apparent that the game pivots on the archetype of an obsessed, violent stalker, rather than female stereotypes.
Kotaku: What is your fan base like?
I never intended to expose millions of preteen girls to the kind of content that is present in Yandere Simulator.
YandereDev: In January, I polled my audience to find out more about them. I learned that 43 per cent of the fanbase is 11-15 years old, and 36 per cent is 16-20. I learned that 51 per cent per cent of the fanbase is female. I also learned that 69 per cent of the fanbase is in favour of the game's primary focus being manipulation, deception and social sabotage (instead of murder).
My intention was to develop a game for a mature, adult audience with an interest in anime and stealth games. I did not predict that the majority of the game's fans would actually be girls who are under 16 years old. Regardless of this fact, I intend to continue developing the same game that I always intended to develop from the very beginning.
I've seen a lot of very cool cosplay and fan art come out of the Yandere Simulator fanbase, and I've received a lot of very encouraging and supportive messages from the game's fans, so I'm inclined to believe that the game's fans are a good-natured and talented group of people.
Kotaku: What are your feelings about introducing this sort of violence and sexuality — panty shots, gore — to preteen girls?
YandereDev: Yandere Simulator has become quite popular among YouTubers - especially ones with a preteen demographic. I never intended to expose millions of preteen girls to the kind of content that is present in Yandere Simulator, but it was inevitable as soon as the game became popular among YouTubers.
It does make me somewhat uncomfortable, but I don't really consider myself to be the one who is responsible for it.
Kotaku: Who would be responsible?
YandereDev: YouTubers with millions of subscribers are the ones who are responsible for the massive amounts of exposure that the game has gotten. I am very grateful to them for allowing my work to reach such a wide audience! It's a dream come true for any indie dev, and every day, I think about how lucky I am to have been noticed by big names such as PewDiePie and Markiplier.
It's unfortunate that, as a side-effect, Yandere Simulator now has a fanbase that is far, far younger than I ever anticipated or intended. With that said, I'm still grateful to the YouTubers who play my game. If it wasn't for them, my 12 hours of daily work would be appreciated by a much, much smaller audience, and the work that I do would hardly feel worth it.
Kotaku: What about the game is resonating with so many people? Do you think that there is something deeper at work, like players needing an outlet for violent urges?
Some people interpret the panty-oriented gameplay mechanics in Yandere Simulator as “sexualization of young girls”, but that isn’t how I’ve been imagining it at all.
YandereDev: I think that the primary reason why Yandere Simulator has become popular is because it is "weird". It is unusual, unorthodox and unconventional. It's very uncommon to see a game with Yandere Simulator's themes and content. The premise is weird, all of the emphasis on panties is weird and having a female serial killer slaughter students in a school environment is definitely weird. Everything about the game is weird, and I think that people are interested in the game because it's radically different from most other games out there.
Sometimes, I receive emails from individuals who inform me that they were having dark thoughts about harming themselves or harming others, until they played Yandere Simulator and found an outlet for their feelings of frustration or fantasies of violence. I don't think that these individuals represent the majority of the fanbase, but it's possible that Yandere Simulator does provide some people with an outlet that they need.
Kotaku: Interesting — and do you think there's something deeper that resonates with your fan base with regard to panty shots and the sexualisation of young girls?
YandereDev: In my mind, panty shots are a super-cliche anime trope that has more to do with comic relief than sexual fanservice. Some people interpret the panty-oriented gameplay mechanics in Yandere Simulator as "sexualisation of young girls", but that isn't how I've been imagining it at all.
I'm sure that there are some people in this world who play Yandere Simulator because they enjoy perving on the female characters, but I've never seen it as one of the primary selling points of the game. It's just one of the many gameplay mechanics that was inspired by a popular anime trope.
Kotaku: How is the Yandere Simulator funded?
YandereDev: Before Yandere Simulator became popular, I was a freelance programmer, and working on indie games was only a hobby. I wanted to stop taking freelance jobs and work on Yandere Simulator full time, so I created a Patreon account. The Patreon was a success, and working on Yandere Simulator is now my official job. I usually work on Yandere Simulator 12 hours a day... sometimes even more than that.
At E3, I walked up to the Twitch booth and asked to speak to someone who could tell me why Yandere Simulator was banned.
Kotaku: Finally, I saw that Yandere Simulator has been banned from Twitch. Have you made any progress on getting that overturned?
YandereDev: Over the past five months, I have contacted Twitch.tv about once a month to ask them why Yandere Simulator is banned from their service, and if they would consider un-banning the game if I were to provide an optional toggle for censoring some of the game's content. However, I have not heard back from Twitch at all.
Even when I do manage to get in touch with someone at Twitch via Twitter, they only exchange a few brief messages before ignoring all future attempts at correspondence.
At E3, I walked up to the Twitch booth and asked to speak to someone who could tell me why Yandere Simulator was banned, but not a single person there had ever heard of Yandere Simulator before.
It would appear that Twitch has designated me as an "unperson" — it is extremely doubtful that Twitch will ever acknowledge me or communicate with me in any manner, despite the many times I've publicly stated that I'm willing to work together with them to reach a reasonable compromise that allows Yandere Simulator to be broadcast on their service.