Before we get specifically on to talking about the subject of today’s column, Immoral Study Lesson 1, I wanted to talk a bit about the short story format.
The idea of “short stories” is something we get a lot in other forms of media, whether it’s the written word, film or drama. But in gaming it’s something we’ve always been a bit resistant to — at least partly because in gaming there’s always been a skewed perception of “value”. It’s not at all uncommon to see, say, Steam reviews complaining that a game “isn’t worth £20” because it isn’t long enough — there’s long been a perception that the amount of money you pay for a game should roughly correspond to how many hours of entertainment it offers.
This perhaps isn’t unreasonable when considering brand new games that are “full price”, whatever that means these days. But when contemplating smaller-scale projects — particularly those with a narrative focus of some description — it’s worth questioning whether something needs to be any longer than it is, or if adding more to it would just be adding more “content” for the sake of “content”.
This is relevant to Immoral Study Lesson 1 because to all intents and purposes, Immoral Study Lesson 1 is a short story — the first of three in a series, in fact. The whole thing unfolds in less than an hour, which means you can enjoy it in the space of an evening and still have time to go and paint the bathroom, or whatever it is you like to do with your evenings. And that’s fine; in that period, it says everything it wants to say and does everything it wants to do.
Whether or not it has anything worthwhile to say in that period… well, that’s all a matter of perspective, I guess. So let’s look at it a little more closely!
Immoral Study Lesson 1 was developed by a group called Scoop and originally released on PC-98 in 1995, then ported to Windows PC in 1996. It wasn’t localised until 2001, when Himeya Soft put it out alongside a localisation of its sequel. As with many other visual novels from this era, you can now play it as a Web-based version on the Asenheim Project website; this is the best means of trying it for yourself today, since as an old Windows game it can be a pain to get up and running on modern operating systems.
The three Immoral Study games cast you in the role of Professor Hitosuji, a thoroughly unpleasant piece of work who ingratiates himself with the families of rich, stupid people so he can have sex with their daughters under the guise of “tutoring” them. In the case of Lesson 1, his target is one Reiko Shirakawa, a prim and proper young lady who has been struggling with mathematics.
Like many of the other games we’ve seen up until this point on The History of Lewd, Immoral Study Lesson 1 unfolds as an adventure-style visual novel rather than a completely hands-off experience. Along the way, you’ll be presented with numerous choices for actions Hitosuji could take in a given situation; picking these in the right order will proceed the story. Usually there’s only one correct way to proceed, but there are a couple of instances where you can get a “Game Over”, so it’s important not to be too click-happy!
The game doesn’t really waste any time in making Hitosuji out to be a total sleazebag. He’s barely in the room with Reiko before he’s lying to her and finding any excuse possible to touch her; he makes it clear in no uncertain terms to the player that his intention is to bed this young woman by fair means or foul — a situation made all the more uncomfortable by the fact that the game labels all Hitosuji’s dialogue as “You” rather than “Hitosuji”.
That said, Hitosuji isn’t a complete monster. Any attempts to take things too quickly with Reiko will result, in the very least, at the game refusing to allow you to take that action, and in the most extreme circumstances, hitting you with a hard Game Over. He’s not there to rape Reiko — at least, not by preference. He does note at one point that obtaining her consent means that he “won’t feel so guilty afterwards”, though it is rather telling that this statement suggests he would probably proceed with his plan regardless of whether or not he actually got that consent.
That said, there are some interesting things to consider if you look at the more subtle aspects of Immoral Study Lesson 1. This isn’t a game that is big on subtlety, but if you take everything that happens in the context of the complete narrative, there’s a distinct suggestion that Reiko knows exactly what she’s doing for the duration of the proceedings and is, in fact, happy to go along with Hitosuji’s machinations for her own reasons.
While presented as a shy, softly-spoken heroine with very little common sense at the game’s outset, during a particularly intimate moment Reiko comes out with a surprisingly substantial speech that suggests she has had sexual matters on her mind for a while — but that she has always been unsure how to explore and express them.
Hitosuji is, of course, more than happy to help her explore those feelings and from this point on, Reiko enthusiastically goes along with everything. But it’s one of the last things she says that gives the game a real “punch line”, tying everything up nicely.
Early in Immoral Study Lesson 1’s story, Hitosuji is trying to convince Reiko to take her clothes off through a series of increasingly ridiculous situations, including tying her hands behind her back with the curtain rope off her bed. When she complains that the ropes are hurting her wrists, Hitosuji claims that it’s obviously because of the increased pressure her clothes are putting on her wrists on top of the rope, and that clearly she should take her clothes off.
Quite rightly, Reiko responds that she feels rolling her sleeves up would perhaps be an easier solution to the problem — notably saying nothing about the fact she’s tied up — but in short order, the pair are interrupted by the housekeeper, who proves the main “threat” over the course of the game as a whole.
After Hitosuji successfully manages to fend off the housekeeper’s unwanted attention, things escalate rather quickly with Reiko. But after everything is over and done with — with the sexual encounter between the pair of them including some impressive fully animated scenes — Reiko just turns to Hitosuji and politely asks why she couldn’t have just rolled her sleeves up. It caps things off perfectly, and leaves the audience with the feeling that everything we’ve witnessed up until that point is… well, not acceptable, exactly, but certainly nothing we should be feeling too guilty about.
At the end of the day, as odious a character as Hitosuji is, he’s a means to an end: he is the means of delivering a simple fantasy that is explored over the course of Immoral Study Lesson 1’s short runtime. He is the manifestation of a fantasy about being placed in a position of power over someone, and being able to make use of that position to obtain sexual gratification. It’s an inherently immoral thing to do — the clue’s in the name, after all — but it’s important to remember that ultimately a game like this is just a fantasy.
In fact, as uncomfortable as the subject matter of games like Immoral Study Lesson 1 might make some people feel — and I must confess, I found myself feeling a bit peculiar about things, particularly in the game’s opening moments, where the overall tone wasn’t fully established — what they provide is actually quite important. What they give us is the ability to explore fantasies that we might not feel comfortable talking about in “reality”. And in that way, they can help us to understand certain things about ourselves.
The important thing to remember with games like Immoral Study Lesson 1 — and indeed with eroge in general — is that being interested in exploring some sort of fantasy does not mean that you have any desire whatsoever to act that way in real life. Instead, a video game is a safe way to see how you feel about something; it’s never going to judge you for asking questions, and it’s not going to tell you how to feel when you’ve finished exploring the situation. (At least, Immoral Study doesn’t… unless you count its title as doing so.)
In fact, it’s best looked at as something we’ve all known about gaming in general for a long time, whatever the mass media might want to try and argue every so often. Just as first-person shooters don’t make us want to load up on guns and kill our friends [sic], silly pornographic short stories about perverted professors don’t make us want to go out and sexually assault the nearest rich girl.
Is Immoral Study Lesson 1 worth a play? Sure, if you think like it sounds like it might appeal for one reason or another — or if you’re just curious. It doesn’t take much time to play, after all, plus the PC-98 era graphics and animations are a delight, as always.
Your mileage may, of course, vary when it comes to how you respond to the story as a whole, but that’s the interesting thing about stuff like this — and it’s always worth asking yourself some challenging questions once in a while.
Play Immoral Study Lesson 1 on the Asenheim Project website now. The game is, of course, not safe for work.
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