Catherine is a strange Japanese game in which young men start having nightmares, if they die in the dreams they die in real life. The game focuses around Vincent, a young man who cheats on his girlfriend Katherine by accident. It’s a surprisingly deep game and I wanted to explore the themes hinted in it. Maybe I’m just becoming one of those awful English teachers who talks about the meaning behind a poem or whatever, but if you’re interested in my thoughts and don’t mind parts of the game being spoiled for you, read on.
Let’s start off with the two Catherine’s. Katherine (the girlfriend) dresses all in black and has brown hair, Catherine is blonde wearing white clothes. I found this strange, it’s hinting Katherine is evil and Catherine is good, or is it? Catherine acts innocent, naive, she’s represented as an angel, someone to come and “save” Vincent from his relationship that he feels trapped in. Even near the end of the game, where Vincent tries to break up with her, Catherine says: “I’m trying to help you!” She’s leading you to freedom. Katherine is perhaps dressed in black because she is older, more grown up, she’s also quite an aggressive character, dominating of Vincent. This doesn’t represent her in a good light but committed players somehow still see the attraction of being faithful to her. Is she the more sensible choice? Even her glasses suggest she is more intelligent and sensible than her blonde counterpart.
The sheep – sheep not only represent sleeping, they also represent weakness, stupidity and following the crowd. The young men who have the nightmares all feel weak and don’t know what to do. In fact, if Vincent doesn’t encourage them, they die. These trials for these young men (although they’re all around the age of 30) are like a mid-life crisis that make them wake up and realise what they want from life. However, if Vincent, our protagonist, wasn’t there – would all these men just give up and die? It suggests the majority of men are weak and pathetic, unable to control their lives. What makes Vincent so special? It’s a negative portrayal of men but then they’re portrayal of women is just as negative.
The men believe someone has placed a curse on each of the, specifically a woman because the rumour going is: Men who cheat on their girlfriends are the ones having the dreams. Vincent fits into this rumour but he has the dreams before he even meets Catherine, which means it’s some sort of premonition. Not all the men have cheated on their women though – some men have “wronged” women in some way though, like they are being punished for what they’ve done. Ants also feature a lot in the game and later it is explained that ants are supposed to be the messengers of witches, hinting one of the Catherine’s is a witch. This doesn’t turn out to be entirely true but the obsession with gender is interesting. Eagle-eyed players will have spotted there are gender symbols everywhere, for example, the confession booth is covered with male and female gender symbols. The fact Erika secretly used to be a man is there not only for comedy value, but to show the gender lines can maybe be so blurred, that men and women aren’t that different. Boss seems to be a fan of sleeping around with as many women as possible, stating love is more important to women and almost meaningless to men but then he admits he makes the young men dream these nightmares to help women. It’s bizarre. Does he like or dislike women? Does he only care about keeping the population of Japan up? Probably.
One of the customers of the Stray Sheep asks you: “Who do you pity more; men or women?” He goes on to say women have life a lot tougher than men, yet most men, if they were asked what gender they wanted to be reborn as, would say female. He says men have it bad too but that maybe women have to go through a lot more, as they are more emotional than men most of the time. Maybe men wanting to come back as women shows how men really do not understand women much at all. Especially as the men assume a woman has cursed them, even though that is never said by anyone. Perhaps Vincent, and other male players, are going on a journey to understand their female counter-parts better. They worry about commitment too, about babies and getting married. What they need is someone committed to stand by their side so they don’t have to be afraid. Katherine later says in the game, when she thought she was pregnant she was “scared the whole time” because she knew Vincent wasn’t supportive and was cheating on her.
The game is making two main points: Love is important and both men and women have their imperfections. Women are weak for love, men are weak when it comes to commitment – they’re easily lead astray by another women. Although it can be argued she’s a cheat, using magic powers to seduce them. None the less, if men were approached by their ideal women they just might cheat on their girlfriend or wife, even if it felt bad. If you want to be on the good side of the scale in Catherine, you have to answer some questions correctly. Now they are down to personal opinion but there are obvious good and bad answers. However, one question says: “Who would you choose? Your best friend or your lover?” A difficult question. Picking your lover is the “good” answer but of course good in this game just means being faithful and committed. Do the game creator want to imprint their ideals on their audience? Perhaps. According to stats out of the millions of people having sex right now, 1 out of 4 are cheating on their partner. Now this stat is obviously impossible to prove or measure but the point is – it can be argued we are becoming less faithful in relationships. Maybe it’s always been that way, it’s hard to tell but maybe Catherine is trying to persuade us love is king. Or letting us live out our fantasies with having a naughty relationship on the side.
Although there are eight different endings to Catherine, the story building up to the end largely remains the same so a lot of what’s said here could be applied without your own personal decisions affecting these theories. And they are of course just theories. Catherine just strikes me as a game that wants to say something, a game that has a message. I could easily be reading far too much into it but it’s interesting. I hope I didn’t bore you to death and if you got this far, thank you.