When it comes to arguments about whether or not visual novels qualify as literature, at the end of the day it’s all a matter of personal opinion. Historically, video games have been largely disregarded when it comes to scholarly research due to the generalization that they are all violent and childish. However, as digital games have developed and evolved, so has the content. The word count of visual novels can end up amounting to the length of several large novels combined, so a lack of text certainly isn’t the issue.
Aligning video games with literature may sound unnatural, but the definition of literature itself has grown to accommodate a number of different mediums, electronic and otherwise. Patrick Jagoda’s essay Digital Games and Electronic Literature: Toward an Intersectional Analysis is an excellent resource for this concept and addresses a variety of video-game inclusive definitions of literature.
Some people think that using video games to tell stories is an unambitious waste of time when we already have movies and books that are specifically designed for that purpose. I can’t help but strongly disagree. Video games have the potential to build a storytelling experience that no movie or book can offer, and surrounding a narrative with beautiful art, sound and interactivity is hardly unambitious, or a waste of time. There are undoubtably a lot of silly, light-hearted visual novels (as well as many that are simply terrible, as is the case with any form of media), but I don’t think that means we should disregard the medium’s potential.
Because they are video games, people tend to assume that visual novels lack the depth and emotional influence of paper novels. In actuality, they allow the player to build a strong connection with characters and the world they inhabit by participating in the story with them. This automatically brings you further into a fictional reality without the barrier that usually comes with reading about the protagonist as opposed to being the protagonist. By possessing your own place in the story you are experiencing the adventure alongside your fellow characters. Playing a story means that you’re part of the plot, instead of just an onlooker.
The only thing preventing a visual novel from being any less profound than an exclusively text novel is limited creativity; visual novels provide a platform for traditional novels to be everything they already are and more. I’m not maligning the importance of personal imagination or well-written descriptions, and how those can contribute to a wonderful reading experience, but I also love seeing and hearing the beautiful, in-depth worlds that exist in games. At this point in time it’s rather narrow-minded to disregard video games’ ability to contain immersive stories that are just as capable as more traditional forms of literature when it comes to evoking strong emotion from the players and readers.