Wednesday, 6 November 2013


In Jaakko Suominen’s The Past as the Future? Nostalgia and Retrogaming in Digital Culture, he brings up many issues regarding why we, as gamers continue to return to the old familiar games of our youth. ‘Nostalgia’ comes from a Greek word meaning the ‘agony of coming home.’ It is related to melancholy, sadness even, and a yearning to replay the simple games of childhood, with their clear rules and colorful graphics.

The relationship between games and their ever-aging audience is complicated due to the proliferation of a large number of systems, genres, and characters. That is why certain system mascots have come to be associated as cultural touchstones. These include Pac-man, Mario, Sonic, Link, Lara Croft, Solid Snake, Master Chief, etc. Having these big names in a crowded market allow gamers to see their favorites recreating using new technologies, or simply using the old technologies to keep those favorites alive and relevant.

In the competitive gaming crowd, it is not the latest iteration of a franchise that leagues choose to play, but the stable performer, that is emblematic of the best features of the franchise. This includes such titles such as Counter Strike, Marvel Superheroes VS Streetfighter, or Starcraft 2- all at least several years to over a decade since their initial release.


Wednesday, 16 October 2013

WK6 Otaku

Trainman is the collaborative story of a 'geek' who transforms himself fashion-wise to get the girl (a career-oriented unwed woman in her 30s-40s with no children or 'loser-dog'). After saving her on a train from a drunk person, he appeals to members of the 2Chan message board for assistance in winning her heart. Trainman changes his style, hides his obsessions (while maintaining his consumption) and wins her over, becoming the dominant one in the relationship and leaving his character behind. It profits from the "belief that all otaku are members of a subculture unified by shame, who desire to disguise themselves as a step to becoming more participatory members of larger society. "Supposedly a true story, some people have come out against it for further marginalizing otaku culture (it is ok to be otaku, "so long as you do not look or act like one in public") as well as for its possibly corporate origins that successfully keep people buying related products. It has sparked a trans-media empire including internet books, cell-phone books, mangas, tv shows, a film, etc.). It comments on gender roles, hearkening back to 1950s attitudes about a women's place, re-affirming the status quo and a response to low birth rates. 

Moe (translates to 'bud' or 'sprout' and is a word used to describe the level of intensity experienced by otaku for fantasy characters or representations of them. Japanese philosopher Honda Touru considers it in terms of 'imaginary' or 'pure' love, in that a relationship with a character may be preferable to a real interpersonal one. At the same time this supports the industry through frequent and reliable consumption ('love capitalism'). Otaku began to collect and create fan-made contributions in order to create and affirm their own identities and sense of self. Additionally it allows moe-otaku men to become 'feminized' by making it socially acceptable to love without dating (esp. in a down-turn economy), and pay lavish attention on Hello Kitty products for example. They become shoujo or 'little girls'. Azuma Hiroki focused on the specific constituent parts of the fantasy, deconstructed and removed from context (like how young men may have been conditioned with a erotic response to girls in maid outfits or cat ears). Love has been separated from reality. These fetishistic collections of 'design and personality points, characters and situations that can produce moe' are referred to as 'the database'. Fans began to even desire character materials in the absence of a story. This emphasis on fantasy ('a body without organs') is liberating in a way, because authors are free to imagine scenarios divorced from realistic considerations and consequences (the young cute eroticized girl popular with a male audience, or Yaoi/Boy Love, the homosexual men genre popular with women); these archetypes are not part of the 'real' world and their consumers need not be "socially mature and responsible adults".


  • Azuma, Otaku: Japan's Database Animals
  • Murakami (moderator), "Otaku Talk",

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

WK 4 - Mobile Gaming

Einat Cohen - Portable Gaming in Japan: Redefining Urban Play Space and Changing Gameplay

This paper brings to light the interplay between rapidly developing mobile technology platforms and an emerging mobile culture that is becoming fully equipped to utilize these technologies in their gaming. Japan has been a leader in mobile console adoption and penetration, and especially in the mobile phone gaming market. Hybrid, pervasive, location-based, wirelessly connected, camera capabile games are having an effect on the social patterns, urban ecology, fashion styles and even cultural values of the population.

It has led to a blurring of what is considered ‘game space’ or the ‘magic circle’, by overlaying game play over top the real world, where people perform their daily tasks or what some call their ‘serious life’. There is an emerging tension in the evolution of using a mobile phone in a private, personal sphere to escape a crowded city scape, to the use of a portable console in a public space, and with it a loss of privacy and anonymity, and possibly even personal danger. Game developers have had to address these issues of ‘social adaptability’.

Japan is a texting culture- taking a voice call is not allowed on public transportation, and frowned upon in most other public places. ‘Nagara mobilism’ means ‘while doing something else’ or mobile use while multi-tasking. The public sphere has been besieged by hybrid games where the real world is the game board. The continued success of mobile platforms is driven by the availability of a rich development community scene, fostered by software giants Apple and Android. Yet, the majority of people report that they still play games at home, in a private space.

Mizuko Ito - Mobilizing the Imagination in Everyday Play: The Case of Japanese Media Mixes

Ito’s paper is concerned with ‘convergence culture’ and its effect on minds of young people. It refers to “participatory media ecology where Internet communication ties together both old and new media forms” and how youth are mobilizing media and the collective imagination to create a ‘knowledge industry’. Ito identifies three characteristics that define this new media ecology: Convergence, Authoring and Hypersociality. Kids access old and new media via technological advances, and using those advances (hardware and software), personalize and remix that media. They then share their creations with the world using the tools of social media. Ito ignores the debate surrounding the effect of media content (ie sex and violence in games) on children’s imaginations, instead exploring the form, structure and practice of imagination itself, and how it can be shaped by your media environment.

The ‘consumption’ of professionally, mass-produced media in a visual form such as movies and television is considered to be ‘low culture’, passive, and even, abhorrently, ‘working class’. The reasoning is that oral and print media require at least some degree of creativity (the audience’s imagination) to enjoy. Arguments against this idea say that children don’t just imitate what they see, but practice a new literacy by engaging in alternate, perhaps deeper forms of creativity: parody, pastiche and ‘reenvoicement’ using the commercial product as ‘common story material’. This evolving notion erases old distinctions and disregards “societal divisions of gender and of socioeconomic class.”

Ito uses Pokemon and Yugioh as game examples to study this new media mix. Card trading games by necessity require audience participation to play, although there are differing opinions about what constitutes participation. In effect, by consuming and re-interpreting content initially creating by large corporations, the individual child has begun to level the playing field of content creation, especially in the their ability to disseminate their own content themselves, eschewing the distribution networks that the big business model built itself on. This new-found power has led to waves of hype and mistrust (‘moral panics) regarding what new technology can do for us, and is doing to us. But these fears ignore that fact that technology advance is only a reactive by-product of current societal values and trends.

Ito utilizes Hamtaro to discuss how gender differences are embodied in media for children. Hamtaro is long-form soap opera involving hamsters as avatars for girls personalities, and focusses on their interactions with each other. Girls often draw their favourite cute characters and share them with each other. While there are aspects of trading and skills like in the boys trading card games, with Hamtaro there is a rich social scene with less emphasis on competition. When viewed in a traditional lens, these creative responses to media would be considered derivative and appropriative, but this ignores the social aspects of network bonding, self-actualization, connoisseurship and the furthering of the collective imagination. For adults to look down on these positives will only lead to an “unfortunate generation gap.”

Works Cited
Cohen, "Portable Gaming in Japan",

Mizuko Ito, "Mobilizing the Imagination in Everyday Play",

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

WK3 - Game Centers & Pachinko

Pachinko Nation - I had no idea  that Japan's gambling problem was so substantial. I had seen a short expose on gambling that focused on fixed sumo matches, but the part on pachinko parlours talked mainly about the noise. This article brings to light the enormity of the problem, but the way the author sometimes generalizes the whole population is worrisome with statements like " Japanese like most of Japanese society: low-stakes, low-risk." Or "propping up a nuclear weasel like North Korea". Interesting was how the gambling industry is linked to philanthropy: the Nippon Foundation which donates for many good charities, is funded by gambling losses. Also of note is how 3/4 of parlours are run by Japanese-Koreans, many of whom have ties to North Korea, are sympathetic to that countries regime, and send their profits home. In essence, pachinko in part funds the North Korean military machine, to Japan's embarrassment. Hence they have introduced card-readers on the machines in order to curb this problem of money laundering. The key element I found was the fact that Japan gives little regard to issues of morality, and treat issues such as gambling, prostitution and drinking as practical matters with no intention of banning.

Print Club Photography in Japan - this is an exploration on the lasting effects that a very specific machine has on a culture. Print Club (or Purikura) essentially consists of instant photo-booths that print off small sticker images of yourself and friends in multiples (over 16), and installed in a public place for sharing. They place the stickers on their bags, clothing, notebooks, instruments, vehicles, etc. The Print Club provides a place for people to gather, express themselves, and share their creations with their peers. This is analogous to the rise of the arcade in the United States in the 1970s, and the camaraderie surrounding competing to attain the game's high score. There are also offshoot industries centered around them, for instance image sets that feature popular media stars like movie celebrities, singers, politicians and cartoon characters. Also printed are calendars, cards, puzzle boards etc. This has all become a very social activity, and many young Japanese cannot imagine having a social life that doesn't revolve in some way around Purikura.

Works Cited:

Chalfen and Marui, "Print club photography in Japan", Print Club

Plotz, "Pachinko Nation", Pachinko Nation

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

WK2 - Atari Shock & Early History of the Japanese Game Industry

The History of Videogames (Herman et. al.) provides a rich primer to the history of the industry. A sequential list of the important milestones fill in the blanks for people interested in how video games came about. It encompasses 19th century card gaming, to fledging electronics companies to arcade cabinets to home consoles and beyond. From the first tennis-game on oscilloscope, to Atari, Gameboy, to eventually the Dreamcast at the turn of the century, this timeline helps track the development of classic gaming.

The Wiki's on Nintendo (translated as 'leave luck to heaven) and the history of Nintendo, illuminate the background of this company from its humble beginning. They started out making playing cards, moving on to a wide variety of unsuccessful ventures, to making toy products, electronics and finally to its success in creating the video games I grew up with.

Shigeru Miyamoto's interview is a fascinating look into the design process of Japan's most ubiquitous and widely recognized characters, Mario. I had known some of these facts (detailed in a future blog post) but I didn't know how playful Miyamoto was. He describes the joys of discovery, creating games he would himself play and he just sounds like a fun guy to hang around with. One thing the jumped out at me was his decision to make the Mario character appear on numerous games, similar to how Hitchcock makes a cameo in all his movies. This confirms a fan theory positing that all the Mario stable of characters are simply actors performing roles, whether the game involves racing, platform action, party melee fighting or role-playing.1 The interview was conducted by Satoru Iwata, a partner of Miyamoto. It links to another brilliant discussion of theirs regarding the definition of an idea.2

The Short Guide to Japan Bashing offers an honest, objective look at the unfortunate practise of deriding another nation. From pre to post WWII, Japan has been a whipping boy for the West's tendency to fear and mock what it doesn't understand. It doesn't shy away from Japan's own history of colonial atrocities. It touches on economics and the manufacturing powerhouse Japan had become, and their importing habits. "The gap between what Japan consumers wanted and what American industries wanted Japan to want continued."

Chapter 2 in Newman's Videogames focuses on defining what a video game is, and notes that we cannot see them as simply extension of other mediums such as books, plays or film. There is complexity even in the mode of delivery, how and where a game is played i.e. arcade cabinets vs home consoles. He discusses types of games, rules & limitations, and levels of interactivity. Chapter 3 discusses design and development practices, from gameplay types necessitated by hardware limitations (i.e. the side scroller) to development studio and the roles team members perform. It ends with an obligatory section addressing the business aspects of selling videogames, from QA (quality assurance), financing and managing risk.

Works Cited

1 6 Insane Video Game Fan Theories that make total sense #5

2 Iwata - Defining the Idea

Herman et. al. "The History of Video Games", The History of Videogames

Iwata, "Iwata Asks", Interview with Miyamoto, Interview with Miyamoto

Newman. Videogames. Chapters 2 & 3.

Wikipedia, "Nintendo" and "History of Nintendo", Wiki - Nintendo and Wiki - History_of_nintendo

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

WK1 - Cross Cultural Game Studies

Readings Analysis

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword by Ruth Benedict is an essential study of WWII Japan, with an emphasis of understanding the Japanese through their lens, as opposed to an American one. Commissioned in 1944, it is a sympathetic study of 'the enemy' that humanizes the nation while ignoring Japan's own history of conquest. A critique of the book by Sonya Ryang points out this fact, and refered to other critiques, and critiques of those critiques. Some reactions are positive because Benedict's book revolutionized anthropological methodology and it is quoted to this day. Others are critical of its 'new form of racism', seeing the text as only American propaganda disguised as benevolence.

Videogames by James Newman, begins with a chapter that basically tries to defend videogames as something worthy of being taken seriously. I understand the need for that from a scholarly stand point, but as a gamer, it is superfluous. It reminds me of when the late movie critic Roger Ebert decried that videogames can never be considered art (and subsequently recanted that position, having never played them). As he put it, Okay kids, play on my lawn!

Modern Japan: Origins of the Mind - Japanese Traditions and Approaches to Contemporary Life by Aleksandr Prasol is very beneficial to understand the origins of the cultural behavior of modern Japanese. A 1500 year history of the Imperial House of Japan highlights the relationship between leadership and the divine, the loyalties of aristocratic and warrior clans, and the principles of ceremony carried into the modern world. It looks at Japan's mandate to imitate, adapt and innovate, which can perhaps explain the meteoric rise of Nintendo and Sega that took gaming out of the arcades and into your living room.

Note: while creating this post, I messed up and lost my notes. So I kinda had to just wing it.


Benedict, Ruth. The chrysanthemum and the sword N.p.: Marnier, 1946. Print.

Ryang, Sonya. “JPRI Occasional Paper No. 32.” JPRI Occasional Paper No. 32. N.p., July 2004.

Newman, James. Videogames [second edition] N.p.,: Routledge, January 2013. Print.

Prasol, A. F. Modern Japan: Origins of the Mind: Japanese Traditions and Approaches to Contemporary Life.

HUCO 617 Introduction

Visiting Japan is on my bucket list. I want to see the beautiful garden in Hiroshima that marks the spot of ground zero. I want to go there to see for myself this nation of people who pulled themselves up after a huge defeat and came back stronger than ever. Whose creativity has affected the wider world in surprising ways. Whose adherence to the ceremonial practices of old cements their image as a people who admire respect, loyalty, privacy, innovation and determination.

What do I really know about Japan? Not a whole bunch. I know there some 'extreme' practices over there that have spawned countless internet memes, perhaps even the concept of internet memes itself (the Japanese image board '2chan' inspired '4chan', which then led to funny aggregate sites such as Ebaums and the Chive). I know they have boundary-pushing game shows and commercials that would never air on mainstream American television (MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, tame compared to other shows, became Wipeout on this continent). I know that a large part of their population regularly read mangas on the way to work, a practice looked down on in North America, more often than not. Most importantly, I know that when Japan jumped into the video game market, the whole world felt the effect and we owe them our gratitude.

In this course I aim to learn all I can about the Japanese to better understand how they raced to the forefront of technological advance to give the world such amazing video games. The first task is to analyse readings relevant to the topic, which I will do in subsequent posts. It is my homework, frankly. That doesn't mean I won't try to make it an entertaining read, seeing as the topic is video games. I am by no means an authority but I know what games I like and why. If that interests you, enjoy!

-btw this is my first blog