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“These games might help solve issues in your love life, as they make you see and understand new perspectives about love,” says Mook.

“If a female can ask for less by playing a game—like, I don’t need a handsome husband because I get that from a virtual boyfriend,” says Yuna, “it could create a better relationship.”Tempestt Storm, a producer in Chicago, says she uses My Virtual Boyfriend as a stopgap until she finds the real deal.

The scenarios may be “unrealistic,” she adds, but they hold sway nonetheless. Virtual companionship, once a niche Japanese subculture, has mushroomed into a lucrative global industry.

The first wildly popular virtual romance game created specifically with women in mind, called Angelique, was released in 1994 by a team of female developers at the Japanese gaming company Koei. Voltage, the leading company in the Japanese market, currently offers 84 different romance apps.

Nameless follows the story of Eri, a lonely girl who has obsessively collected ball-jointed dolls since the death of her grandfather.

One night, five of the dolls come alive as handsome men.

In real life, Kitajima says, there may be an incentive to avoid this type as a boyfriend or husband, but in the gaming world, the characters provide an outlet for women to tap into their romantic imagination. And fantasies can evolve, as gamers cycle through the various types.

“[These apps] give me a chance to hide away from my real life, in which I don’t have a boyfriend,” Mook says.

“And by playing these games, it hurts nobody.”Yuna, a programmer who lives in the suburbs of Tokyo (we’ve changed her name here), has been playing virtual romance games since a friend introduced her to Nameless—The One Thing You Must Recall, an app made by Cheritz, a South Korean gaming company.

Whatever the plot, the aim is the same: to create an emotional connection.

“When I read their stories, I feel like they are real,” Mook says of her digital suitors.

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