It can be difficult to find time to finish a video game, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our biweekly column Short Play we suggest video games that can be started and finished in a weekend.
One of the best things about video games is being able to experience things from a different person’s point of view. Even better is when you are given the opportunity to play out different scenarios from that person’s perspective. It allows you to not only learn about what the world can be like for another person, but to, in a small way, inhabit and experience it because of the agency that games can provide.
One Night, Hot Springs is a visual novel that does just this by having you experience a very specific moment in the life of Haru, a 19-year-old transgender woman in Japan. One day, seemingly out of the blue, she gets a call from her oldest friend Manami. Manami is turning 20 (the legal age for an adult in Japan), and her parents are paying for her and two friends to go on an overnight trip to a hot springs resort.
Haru is reluctant to go on the trip because traditional hot spring baths in Japan tend to divide by gender. She’s worried about potentially making a scene regardless of which bath she goes to, as she is still legally male and hasn’t gotten gender-affirming surgery, but lives as a woman. Things unfold like in most visual novels; the crux of the experience lies in you being presented with different choices to make on Haru’s behalf.
The choices tend to fall into two categories: Haru being too anxious to do something, or Haru being open and truthful. The best example of this might be the first choice in the game, when Manami calls you. There’s an option to have Haru go on the trip so long as there are reserved baths (private baths that are often used by families, and thus don’t have a gender requirement), or Haru can say that it would make her too uncomfortable and choose not to go. Choosing not to go leads to the game’s “bad end,” which has Manami deciding to do something else for her birthday so that Haru can comfortably attend.
Prior to playing this I’d recently read The Bride was a Boy, which is an autobiographical comic series by a Japanese transgender woman named Chii, about her life and all the steps it takes in Japan to be acknowledged as your correct gender. One Night, Hot Springs felt like it could have been taken from one of Chii’s real-life stories, but it manages to have you experience in a small way what it can be like to be transgender in Japan as opposed to just telling you.
Only playing through the game once doesn’t give you the full picture. Completing all of the endings gives a much greater sense as to who Haru is and what she goes through. And there is a level of empathy and caring that the other characters have for Haru that manages to show how important an accepting environment can be.