Welcome to Memory Card. Here, we embark on one final—maybe even fatal—playthrough of the forgotten games of our past. Just like the old days, we might pull some all nighters, we might lose a friend or two, we might resort to eating too many Hot Pockets. Let’s see how far we’ve come. Or regressed.
It’s been a rough year. A hellish one-and-a-half months. What’s even worse is that today is Valentine’s Day. I don’t feel particularly lonely when I’m single on Valentine’s Day, I promise. But this year, I did choose to spend the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day getting romantically involved with pigeons in the video game Hatoful Boyfriend.
What could only start as an April Fools Day flash game, Hatoful Boyfriend grew into a cult classic, prompting game creator Hato Moa to create and release a fully fledged title in 2011. It’s a game about, and please bear with me, dating pigeons. You find yourself, a human female, at St. PigeoNation’s Institute, which is home to the best and brightest sky dwellers. Some of you may have issues with this, sure, but it’s 2020. Get woke.
The game works as a text-based, choose-your-own-adventure simulator where you decide which pigeons to spend time with, what to say to them, what elective classes to take, and what clubs to join. All of which adds up to a ton of relationships built between you and various birds. It’s also a big deal that you, a human female, have been invited to study at the prestigious St. PigeoNations school for scholarly birds, which seems to be an all boys institution. Here, you encounter smart birds, studious birds, friendly birds, glamorous birds, jock birds, etc., all of whom (save for one) speak fluent English, because, well, birds are smarter than people now. Your goals can vary drastically—maybe you’re more curious about the secrets the school is hiding or the mysterious school doctor, or maybe you just wanna kiss a bunch of pigeons. You just have to make sure that whatever you choose, you do it well, or you may pay consequences that I for one was not ready to.
I flocked back to Hatoful Boyfriend this month to learn about myself, relationships, and love. And the romantic wisdom this game blessed me with through its trials and tribulations is like little I’ve experienced. Having played through the majority of the endings back in 2013, I was truly shocked at how much I had forgotten. More importantly, I couldn’t help but realize how much better my love life might have been over the last seven years had I actually learned from these pigeons. Well, better late than never.
Lesson #1: On Rejection and the Dangers of Being a Good Person
On my first re-playthrough, I accidentally fell in love with Professor Kazuaki Nanaki, a king quail who leads home room. I didn’t mean to. I had no clue I could even fall for him. He was a nice man, but he was involved in some weird shit with missing students and an old flame. When I got locked in a storage room by the creep doctor—please do not worry; this taught me about stranger danger, not love—the professor found me. I was just trying to be a good student.
Then came Legumentine’s Day. In Hatoful Boyfriend, that’s Valentine’s Day, except you give beans to the boy pigeon you like, duh. The game takes into account who you’ve built the best relationship with and who you’ve been “flirting” with, then makes you give out the beans accordingly. For some reason, the game thought I wanted to give mine to the professor. That sad sack told me I was too young, but that he was sure I’d grow up to be a great person and to come back then. Then I got my first ending screen. That was it. No closure. Sometimes, it’s not you, it really is the other idiot who’s rejecting you for being nice.
Lesson #2: On the Dangers of Love
So I died in Hatoful Boyfriend. Cool. Didn’t know I could. Love is a dangerous game.
There was so much more that went into this, and I really don’t want to spoil it. But you can die in a pigeon dating simulator based on no active choices that you have made. I guess it’s an allegory for putting yourself out there, or hopelessness, or something.
But I died trying to date pigeons because I was so bad at dating pigeons.
Lesson #3: On Letting Go
On my toughest playthrough, I fell hard and fast for a cool-as-hell bird named Azami while wandering outside the school. She kept telling me to carve it into my soul and rode a moped with the word “Blaster” scrawled on the side. Be still my birdie heart. I tried over and over to date her until I finally got to one of her endings. In it, she came and saved me from a band of bad birds. Later on, I found out that “Blaster” referred to a regular customer who’d been coming into my part-time job at a cafe who went by “Blaster” in his scootering days, and who also happened to be her long lost lover.
I was given the choice: Help these long lost lovers reunite, or separate them. Again, I was head over heels for Azami, but we have to know when to put our own needs away and support those we love. So as tears swelled, I reunited the two love birds.
They’re happy, I’m broken, but I live another day hoping I’ll find my own scooter pigeon.
Lesson #4: On Settling
Hatoful Boyfriend‘s final lesson for me was on the importance of settling. It may sound depressing, because it absolutely fucking is. I was using my time to date virtual pigeons, and as if that wasn’t settling enough, I couldn’t even be with my one true bird love. So, I decided that the energetic, pudding-obsessed jock bird Okosan would be mine. He was the only bird who didn’t speak English, instead uttering coos that got translated. After all I had been through, he was my safe bet.
So I played an easy game. Simple choices, didn’t have to be great, I just had to be good enough to find any kind of pigeon love without dying or getting rejected. Then, finally, Okosan and I confessed our feelings to each other. You’d think I would’ve been excited, but I wasn’t. It’s not that I wasn’t happy, but it was a baseline happiness that comes with safety. It was the type of happiness like when you walk through your door at night knowing you’ve got a normal dinner, a normal show to binge watch, and a normal bed to sleep in.
That final save ended with me agreeing to leave school with Okosan and go on some adventure for pudding, because why not throw away my potential to chase my new boyfriend around the globe? Okosan showed me that settling is not a viable option for true happiness.
Was there hope yet? After feeling incomplete with Okosan, I decided to give Hatoful Boyfriend one more go. Sure, I couldn’t blossom with Azami, but there had to be something better for me than settling down with Okosan.
I died very early on.
While this may not be that happy Valentine’s Day story about my blossoming relationships with birds that you were hoping to read, please take it as a warning. Your heart can be easily broken, and your pigeon headmaster can order ninjas to kill you at any point.
As for Hatoful Boyfriend in 2020, it’s a brilliantly written, hilarious title that had me busting up when I wasn’t ruthlessly upset about my lack of dating chops. The remastered version is available on everything, including phones, for five bucks. Not only will it give you a fun time on the train, but it will add years to your emotional maturity.
To all the birds I loved before, I thank you for these lessons learned.