Japanese Game Studies 2013
International Conference on Japan Game Studies 2013
These notes are my report on the International Japanese Game Studies 2013 conference held in Kyoto.
Note: These notes are being written live so they are full of errors.
Mitsu Inaba opened the conference. He talked about the origins of this conference and the conversations we had when I was here as a Japan Foundation scholar. He talked about the intersections of player culture, game industry, and game studies.
The grope era of Nintendo
Masayuki Uemura from Ritsumeikan gave the opening talk. His title could be translated "The Struggle of Nintendo" or the "The Groping Era of Nintendo". He wanted to talk about how Nintendo struggled and overcame challenges in the past and reflect on how it is groping for directions now.
2013 is the 30th anniversary of the Famicom which Uemura was in charge of developing. He reflected back on the struggles of Nintendo at the time. At the time LSI console (LCD portable games) was popular. Nintendo had the Game & Watch games. The G&W started as toys that had one game each. Then they got 2 screens. Then they developed competitive games with two controls so people could compete. Then they got different types of screens including ketai-like games. Nintendo's competitors developed similar LSI games (Large Scale Integrated chips). The cost of the electronics were dropping dramatically which allowed cheap components to be recombined into toys and games.
The Game & Watch games were the most popular. Why? Uemura feels that the G&W were competing against arcade games and needed to distinguish themselves from the more powerful arcade cabinets. Nintendo were good at developing games that worked in the small format.
There were limits to the LSI game formats. While they were selling well the developers were frustrated by the constraints of the screens and controls. The developers began to look at a form of console that would be more interesting. Back then video games weren't seen as something that can replace portable games for three reasons:
Uemura and his colleagues disassembled other consoles to study them, but they couldn't get the price under 10,000 yen. The conventional wisdom was that a toy over 10,000 yen couldn't sell. There were exceptions, the home version pong did sell for 15,000 yen.
One solution was to think globally. They figured that if they launched in the USA they might be able to sell at a higher price. There was a boom of games in the USA. Nintendo was getting a lot of money from licensing Donkey Kong to the US which suggested that the market was larger. Therefore they developed their product for modification for the US first.
Then the Atari 2600 was overstocked and crashed - the Atari Shock and the 1983 game crash. Nintendo already had US certification, but because of the crash they decided to launch in Japan instead. At the same time the Game & Watch stopped selling well. This seemed a dual strategy for Nintendo, first the collapse in the US and then the drop of LSI games in Japan.
From this developed new thinking. They began to imagine the video game console as not just a toy, but as something for work and family. This was the beginner of the PC era and companies like Tomi were releasing computers with names like "Puter" that were P Cs? for the TV.
He showed evidence of the gropings:
The Famicom was launched and got much more support from outside the company than from inside. It sounds like the internal discussion was concerned that the Famicom would fail due to the collapse of the game market in the US and Japan.
After the Famicom was launched other companies followed suit.
Now Nintendo seems to have entered a new period of groping. They have run a deficit in the last years, but Uemura feels that at least now there is a large market for games (that didn't exist before.)
Games are played by people and people don't change very much. We can learn from the last 30 years, including the struggles Uemura witnessed.
Effects of a Card Game Teaching Material on the Long-Term Effects of Social Dilemmas On Co-operational Behavior
Yuki Fukuyama and Yusuke Morita from Waseda University talked about how social dilemmas can be resolved through teaching materials. Social dilemmas are where there is collective irrationality despite individual rationality. They are when there is a lack of co-operation between individuals. The effects are typically seen much later (as when players don't co-operate on ecological matters.)
Games can be used to learn complex problems. One specific game they developed is called "The Irreplacable Gift" and it is about delayed ecological effects. The purpose of the game is to get happiness points without destroying the environment (at which point everyone loses.) There are cards of co-operation and cards of non-co-operation. During the game a child is born to each player. There are different phases, a life phase, a discussion phase, and event phase.
They have been testing the game with university students with questionnaires before and after. The questionnaires asked about morals and intended behaviour. Players seemed to better understand the delayed consequences.
The effects of human relations in the workplace: Temperament test using a computer role-playing game
They used workplace stress tests and humor tests. Depending on the test results they would ask employees carry cards with their personality. These cards are based on Japanese role play game type cards. The wearing was perceived to help with communication. Stress tests seemed to show that the cards reduced health-related stress. The game was perceived as helping with communication. The effectiveness may be due to the fact that the employees are of the generation that has played JRP Gs?. What might other generations respond to?
There were questions about whether the right cards were assigned and what employees thought about having to wear these game cards for a year. Sakai responded by talking about how in dating or in call-centre work people are already being assessed in a game-like fashion.
Inaba talked about the difference between approaches that start with hypotheses and test them or grounded theory approaches that build theory rather than test hypotheses.
Archiving games for governmental public relations - digital official documents and web contents for government on game archives
Daisuke Yoshinaga and Dai Kurahara talked about games for governmental public relations (GGPR). GGP Rs? are games distributed by and for governments like Food Force (produced by the WFP). These are serious games that promote government positions. He gave some examples from Japan. One game produced in 1990 by National Tax Agency is archived in the National Diet Library. The game was made for the Famicom. Another example was produced by Ministry of Construction and it was both a book and a CDR and it was called River-ty Town. These are rare as today most GGP Rs are browser games. Now you can find browser games on web sites like that of the National Tax Agency. Many seem designed for children.
The current situation is many government agencies are using games for public relations and making them available through the web. There are probably hundreds of such games, many developed by contractors. The question is how they have been archived? It isn't only the game, but also the specifications and any studies about the effectiveness of the games that need to be archived.
Yoshinaga reviewed reasons for archiving and what should be archived. These are government documents and paid for by the public.
WARP - Web Archiving Project is one way they have tried archiving these GGP Rs. These end up with the National Diet Library that ran the project. As the documents related to the games are public documents they too should be archived by law and end up at the National Archive of Japan. Thus the games get archived in one place and related documents elsewhere. This makes it hard for researchers to study the GGP Rs. There are also copyright issues.
It turns out that despite the laws most government documents don't get archived.
He concluded that government documents are mostly not being archived. He would like to see the documents from both streams be archived in one Game Archives.
Several hints regarding the peculiarity of the Japanese games
Masanobu Endoh was introduced by Hosoi Koichi. He introduced him as a designer at Namco and designer of Xevious for the Playstation. He is still today one of the leading Japanese game designers. In my Endoh's case he formalized game designed writing texts and discussing game design. He is a visiting professor and on various boards.
Endoh talked about serious games and gamification, kitchen gamers, "hieroglyphic recognition" and finally "fantasy kinetics" which exceed the real.
Games and Gamification
Serious games and social studies (history) are compatible. In Japan they have the DAN-I ranking which is not based on beating others, but by training oneself. Lastly he wanted to introduce Kumon and other such companies that have been using games for a while.
He talked about "Nobunaga's ambition" (1982 PC) a historical simulation game of the Warring States period. Then he talked about a geography game "Momotarou-dentetsu" where you take a train around and learn about regions.
DAN-I ranking system used in martial arts and sports. For example, in Judo you pass tests and rise in belt level. Endoh pointed out that this is a form of gamification. He then pointed out how you have the same system in calligraphy (shodo).
Benesse and KUMON are businesses that use games in education. They use puzzles and so on in their serious games. He showed a toy for learning hiregana. Benesse has developed a number of such digital toys.
What was interesting was seeing all the ways games are already woven into learning. it was also interesting to see the types of serious toys developed in Japan. They are similar, but not the same as those we have.
Endoh then talked about girl gamers. He argued that the kitchen gamer (girls) have been supporting the Japanese game industry. Endoh traced generations of game machines and how they have expanded the audience.
Girls typically stop playing games in their teens, but toys like the Tetris Jr. key-chain (Mini-Tetrin) broke through to new age groups playing games. Likewise the Tamagotchi which, because it was banned in school, was played by mothers during the day thus expanding the player audience. Endoh suggested that having games banned at school led to mothers starting to play.
Starting in 2005 mobile phone applications became popular with women. Activities like texting trained people into using mobile games.
"Gala-K" is a term for the separate evolution of Japanese phones. All sorts of features have evolved in isolation in Japan for phones that haven't taken off elsewhere. He mentioned a feature where the photo is only taken when there are two faces smiling.
In 2010 a number of things happened that made games even more popular with women. He talked about "Joshi-Kai" or Monster Hunter as popular among girls. Brain Age popularized playing mind training games among older women. Women used to mobile phones began to get the Nintendo DS and PSP to play various games they wanted.
Many Japanese housewives do household chores in between games (not playing games between housework.) The biggest sales time zone for social games in the day in Japan is between 10:00am and 12:00 noon. Who is playing at this time? Housewives? They may be playing, but not talking about it. Console sales are declining, but player numbers are increasing as casual gamers .
He then talked about the affordances of Japanese kanji. He showed how Japanese kanji are faster to recognize out of context (compared to alphabetic words). He also showed kanji can be decomposed from the parts. Endoh wanted to argue that the Japanese have been encouraged/forced by their writing system to recall from the visual in a way that people raised on alphabetic systems are not. Japanese have a lot of tacit knowledge coming from their traditional forms like Kabuki and Noh that they carry into their games.
He then went on to talk about how one draws on tacit knowledge when playing games. Japanese know how to read the grammar of Japanese games.
He seemed to be arguing that one should enjoy something the way it was intended to. That strikes me as not true. All sorts of arts are enjoyed differently over time. We enjoy movie versions of Shakespeare, for example.
His last topic was about different forms of physics in games where things move differently than in the real world. He gave an example of the "gyaku (reverse) drift" style of turning a car that would never work in real life. These fantasy physics strangely become traditions and show up from game to game as if expected in certain types of worlds. I wasn't sure where he was going with this.
He ended with some other conclusions:
An underlying issue seemed to be the uniqueness of the Japanese.
Location Based Game Design Praxis: A Cultural Analysis
Vicki Moulder from SFU talked about ethnographic methods used in understanding user experience in location based games (LBG.) They analyzed a new media event called Crude Awakening. They looked at what people published to the web about the performance. Many users edited their video to create their own art works.
In 2011 they collaborated with an artists group to create Babylonia.ca . They studied the collaboration between artists and programmers in developing the LBG.
Meaningfulness in digital DIY: Creative labour in Little Big Planet?
William Robinson started by talking about Marxist critiques of gaming which argue that certain types of work are more valuable than others. He then moved to "work you cannot help but do" or gamification. He is worried about exploitive play where people continue to work for less than the value of their work.
His example was Little Big Planet where most levels are created by players. Players become developers and then sharers when they create new levels. LBP would seem to be exploitive, but Simon and Robinson argue that it isn't really exploitive.
Robinson shared some quotes from people he interviewed. The interviewers saw LBP as a creative tool. What they were consuming was creativity. Production was its own reward. Respondents didn't see themselves as working for others, but being creative.
Robinson argued that wages are not the only way of recognizing work. There is no reason why work has to be paid. He then talked about creativity and how players need courage and get freedom of expression to build LBP levels.
I found it hard to understand what would be exploitation. The talk raised interesting issues about exploitation.
Interactive Frame Narrative and Play Evaluattion-based Story Evolution in Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War
Christopher Michael Yap is at Nara Institute for Science and Tech. He is interested in close reading of games through frame narrative.
Ace Zero is from Bandai and for the Playstation 2 (2006). It has a interesting story despite being a flight simulator/action game. He wants to argue that there is "literary merit" which is a metric of depth of meaning and signficance of a game narrative. He wants to ask whether game narratives can be compared to other narratives.
Frame narrative is a story within a story. In games they are often side quests or when you play the game in a different role. In Ace Combat Zero you have a substory that is a cinematic layer where the flyers you shoot down are interviewed.
Ludo and Narreme: Fundamental Relationships between Game Mecahnics and Interactive Narrative
Akinori Nakamura and Shuji Watanabe gave a double paper where Nakamura talked about narrative and Watanabe about mechanics.
Akinori Nakamura talked about concepts of narrative and game mechanics and how they are holistically integrated. How do we talk about narrative in a game like Tetris?
A "narreme" was developed for the smallest unit of narrative structure. This sounds like narratology. Perhaps if you have smallest narrative elements then one might be able read a narrative of Tetris or connection to game mechanics.
Nakamura talked about narremes of Computer Space like "rocket turns and rolls" or "rocket shoots a dot". He talked about how hard it is to go from the narremes to the narrative. If you join all the narremes then do you get the meaning of the game?
Nakamura then talked about Breakout and Space Invaders. They are similar games but the units of representation are different. Breakout's story is difficult to get from the game while Space Invader looks like its story. Japanese players thought Breakout was an evolved version of Pong and not a story about breaking out of a prison.
Then he compared the first two "dot-eaters" Head-On (1979) and Pac-Man (1980). The mechanics are somewhat similar but the narratives are different. Head-On doesn't really make sense, while Pac-Man does.
Shuji Watanabe, who is a game designer, talked about ludics. He asked what remains if you remove narrative from a game? He showed how a politician game could be the same as Gradius. The play mechanic is the same. The ludo is the minimum unit of mechanic.
Watanabe then talked about balance between player skill and complexity of the game. Games get more complex as player advances. Or game looks at skill of player and then adjusts level. Or you let the player choose difficulty level. I didn't quite follow what he was saying.
He talked about how he would control the user or not. The designer sets goals, but doesn't control how the player decides to play through to the goal. He talked about efficiency, but I didn't really understand how it was applied.
Determining the border line between real world and the world of game design: Possibilities and potential of "Game Sketch" Workshop: A Case of Game Design Education in Japan
Watanabe talked about design techniques from the Tea Ceremony: Shu (imitate a model), Ha (destroy the model), and Ri (become the model). When you think about game design you start by copying, then reconstruct, and ask if you can create a new model.
In teaching they have students start by looking closely at an existing game so they can copy it. Then they have students change the appearance of a game. Changing the appearance can change the game and students learn from that.
He talked a bit about copyright and whether a game model can be copyrighted. A current court case says no.
He mentioned that in Japan most games are copies of models.
Finally he returned to Ri - or becoming the model. He talked about "game stretch" or watching the real world to get inspiration for a game. He proposed four approaches:
The Present Condition of Computer Game Industry in Korea which has an Advanced Network Infrastructure
Mari Yada talked about the game market in Korea. Korea has one of the most advanced digital infrastructures. PC online games are a large part of that market due to the penetration of broadband.
She then talked about the PC online game industry. N Csoft? used to have the largest share. Now Nexon and others are also doing well. N Csoft went from 53% in 2003 to 34% in 2011. Nexon developed the "free to play" model. The payment model has been changing in Korea from fixed monthly fee to "free to play".
Korea like elsewhere has an a growing trend of smartphone users (it went from 21 million to 32 million in a year.) Therefore the market for smartphone games has expanded too and faster than the growth rate for PC online games. Casual and simple games are popular. Middle and smaller companies develop games for smartphones. Now larger companies like Nexon are moving in buying smaller companies and developing their own IP.
There is a shortage of mobile game creators because mobile development is different from large online game development.
She closed with a summary of the shifts happening in Korean game market. We are seeing shifts from:
She also mentioned that casual games may have a large market in other asian countries like Indonesia, Thailand and so on.
The Present Condition of Computer Game Industry in China: A Sleeping Giant Awaken in the Realm of Digital Entertainment
Akinori Nakamura talked about the Chinese game business. Games in China have gone up to 8 billion yuan or $8.8 billion USD, mostly online games. In the last five years the market has exploded and seems to have passed the Japanese market. He expects that the Chinese market will pass the US market in not too long.
Package games are a very small market (less than one million USD) because of piracy in China. Mobile games are getting bigger, but online games are the most popular (in terms of what is spent.) Browser games are also popular and growing rapidly. Chinese engineers are porting client-based online games to browser games because they are easier for casual gamers to play. (No need to install.)
In China they are going from copying, to reconstructing to now developing original titles. Netcafes play a role in distributing copies of games and giving access to online games.
Chinese companies started by redeveloping Korean games and have now started to develop their own titles. Nakamura showed a chart of the top games over time. You can see Chinese games doing better, but you can also see Korean innovations doing well. As of 2012 the dominant titles are Chinese.
Nakamura talked about transmedia and how not long ago creators wouldn't get any payments for adaptations of their titles. Now that is changing with franchises like Star Q where the author invested in animation. Now China is even exporting games and now 3D engines. E-Pie Entertainment has an engine that is now competative. Chinese are becoming global players.
A Study of the Constitution and the Development of the China's Anime Industry Base
Long Xu talked about the Zhongguancun high-technology science park that has been very successful. Zhongguancun was one of the few science parks to succeed in animation. Why? Zhongguancun developed from the bottom up with academic cooperation and local government. Zhongguancun developed endogenously since the 1980s.
Xu described the effects of government on this Zhongguancun park. He concluded that the bottom up style of development was important to the success of Zhongguancun, but also tax support was also important.
The problems with Japanese and Chinese Game Seclusion From the Outside World and In-depth analysis of the countermeasures
Shuo Xiong started by talking about Kojima Hideo's warning that the Japanese game industry is in danger. He talked about Sakoku or seclusion from outside world. Sakoku in Japanese is related to government behaviour.
He talked about the irrational game prices of Japanese games compared to Western prices. He feels the games are excessive commercialized. There is an a assembly line for game designs that involves attracting otakus or slash girls and then charging high prices. He feels these practices will reduce the attraction of Japanese games.
He then compared Starcraft and other games to Monster Hunter. Startcraft is popular everywhere but in Japan. League of Legends is popular all over, but in Japan. He seems to suggest that the Japanese are isolating themselves. Japanese don't seem to like buying games made elsewhere.
He then argued that innovation is weak in Japan recently. The masterpeices of Japan are from the 80s and 90s.
Then he talked about China and isolation there. China forbids games that deal with politically sensitive issues. Rampant piracy also leads to forms of isolation as only certain games can make money. There is a vicious circle of Chinesization. As no one will create Chinese versions the community feels they can pirate and adapt which just reinforces the lack of investment. World of Warcraft is an exception as they adapted the game and charged an affordable fee. Free to play works well - he called it "warm boiled frog."
Japanese games fail because of piracy and because they don't try in China. Xiong gave advice for how Japanese companies could do better. They should find agent companies in China.
In sum he recommends that Japan try to avoid isolation, try to adapt to China, and open the door for communication about game industry. He felt the Japanese government could help with communication and innovation.
Elementary Gameducation : The attempt of teaching the experience of "making games" at an elementary school
Yoshihiro Kishimoto from the Tokyo University of Technology talked about teaching game design to elementary students. His hypotheses were that using games would improve education. They used actual games and game elements and both. He talked about the switch from playing games to making games. Students noticed that you need to study to be able to make games. Utilizing gameducation theme effectively motivates students. Gameducation at university is similar in that it makes learning fun, while it is different because university emphasizes knowledge.
Professor Kishimoto put up a blog entry on his paper and the conference at http://blog.media.teu.ac.jp/2013/06/international-c.html (in Japanese.)
The design of mentoring simulation game for training teacher's mentoring ability
Takehiro Wakimoto talked about software that helps experienced teachers mentor younger teachers. Many baby-boom teachers are retiring so young teachers are increasing. Mentoring isn't always effective if mentors don't know how to mentor. Senior teachers have plenty of work to do without also learning to mentor. To help them they are developing a simulation game for teaching mentoring. The game is based on real cases.
Collaborative game playing support by learning of Japanese traditional culture in the 3D metaverse
Michiru Tamai talked about virtual spaces they have created to teach about traditional Japanese culture. The idea is that the game is a place where an experienced person and a learner can engage in dialogue about traditional culture. They used Second Life.
I've played in their space and I've been a research subject for this (she showed a picture of me with a guide). I really like their idea that the learning takes place in a conversation. The virtual world is a shared text to support the learning not a replacement for conversation with someone knowledgeable.
Tamai showed moving through their Second Life Shinto shrine.
Mapping the Game Centre Space : An Analysis of Arcade Game Cabinets
Jeremie Pelletier-Gagnon presented on Japanese Game Centers (Arcades.) He started by commenting on how arcades are often seen as the past of gaming even though in Japan Game Centres (as arcades are called) are still popular. Game centres were labelled as a site of bad influences and only now are people beginning to look again at arcades. It is especially important to look at interfaces in arcade games as there is a lot of innovation in arcades. Gagnon focused on a single case study which he thinks is a good window onto arcade culture. He was interested in looking specifically at:
He uses Michael Nitsche's five analytical planes of playing. The play space is different between arcade and console. Play space at home can be customized. Arcade game designers try to provide a different type of customization which special affordances.
He then looked at the history of arcades. In 1978 Space Invaders led to boom of game centres. They used coffee table cabinets a lot in "Invader houses". The table organized people into intimate smaller spaces. There was a crash of game centres in 1983. The L-shaped game cabinet created a more solitary space which others could look in on. Shape of cabinets changed how people interacted.
Then Gagnon talked about trading card game culture. Sengoku Taisen is a card game with a flat panel that you can put your cards on. You move the cards to control the game. The cabinet creates intimate and secluded space. Gagnon then looked at the interplay of gamespace and the rulespace. The cards add complexity that make it hard for people to look in on the game (especially compared to fighting games.) Trading card games are attractive because of the customization possible as you collect cards. Sengoku Taisen also has multiplayer online component where you can play others elsewhere. This reinforces the isolation from public in the arcade.
Gagnon showed a graph of when people are playing what types of games. The more social games (Crane and Rhythm) are played at certain times of day. Trading card games are played more continuously.
Pachinko: Adaptation in the Game Industry ==
Keiji Amano presented a paper that I helped with. He described pachinko, the history of the game, and how pachinko manufacturers adapted to explosive popularity of games like Space Invaders. Pachinko makers started introducing game components into pachinko.
Game Emulation: Testing Famicom Emulation
Fukuda presented a paper that I was also involved in about emulators. The Ritsumeikan Game Archive Project has an official Nintendo Famicom emulator (FDL) made by Nintendo. This raises the issue of how one knows if an emulation is accurate. We developed a protocol for testing emulators and ran some tests on the official Nintendo emulator. Fukuda compared the original Famicom, the updated version HVC-101 from 1993, the Nintendo emulator, and emulated games on the Wii Virtual Console.
The FDL can load the code for games off the PC. It uses the 1993 version of the Famicom for the controllers. Our tests used the Donkey Kong game from 1983 (on the Famicom.) Players would play the original and then an emulation and then rate experience. We took photos of the screen. You can see a difference with the Wii emulation because it was developed for LCD screens. The FDL is however indistinguishable.
Fukuda then showed video of players turning on the game, playing, and then answering questions about feel. They had 16 testers. The FDL scored better than the Wii, which makes sense.
He concluded by commenting on how it is easy to tell differences between static objects, but harder to tell differences in interactivity.
International cooperation and development of the game preservation activities in Japan
Koichi Hosoi gave an overview of the Game Archive Project's efforts to preserve Japanese videogames. Some of the reasons why games are not being preserved include,
There is an absence of public policy - only recently has there been any public activities. There have been private collections and exhibits. In 2000 there was the development of legal and administrative environment for preservation. The National Diet Library in 2000 began to collect and preserve games (but not hardware.) The collection is based on voluntary submission. There are lots of games that haven't been collected and even those that have may not be playable.
In 2010 Manga, Anime and Games were given the status of art by the government in the Fundamental Law for the Promotion of Culture and the Arts. The law supports the promotion and playing of games. By 2011 all other forms of media (books, music, manga, anime) were being collected by national or public entities. The government is starting to build a database for of games, but not preserve. The Agency of Cultural Affairs started in 2010 a Project to Construct Media Arts Digital Archive which finally in 2012 started working on games. At Ritsumeikan they are preserving game machines, emulators, games, and game experience.
Hosoi presented at the end a Framework for Public Preservation of Games. The Ritsumeikan Center for Game Studies is part of a larger project looking at different media. Game preservation will happen at Ritsumeikan, but how can they link related games, anime and manga.
A first step is that RCGS is developing a database of what games could be preserved. They have about 20,000 titles now. They are trying to imagine how to expand the database to include other types of materials.
They are also trying to develop a system that crowdsources information by encouraging volunteers to contribute.
Cultural Game Development: An Investigation into the Effects of Gamer Tastes and Cultural Influence in the Development of Valkyria Chronicles and Mass Effect
David Holmes talked about how cultural differences affect design. It is said that Japanese games encourage collaboration in ambiguous situations while North American games have clear conflicts. He compared Valkyria Chronicles to Mass Effect. Valkyria is reminiscent of Europe in World War II. The game is influenced by manga. Manga has been studied more extensively. Manga style gets borrowed. Comics use panels to draw attention. Holmes felt we can apply ideas from critique of manga to Valkyria. There are three different types of interaction or phases: a organizing newspaper frame phase, cinematic sequences, and the combat interactions. Holmes feels that the game is
Gamer tastes are different between Japan and North America. For Japanese goal completion is about character development. Death is not viewed as that traumatic.
Then Holmes talked about Mass Effect. Mass Effect talked about Mass Effect as space opera in the sci fi tradition. Space Opera's are formulaic and Mass Effect is no different. It uses cut scenes with dialogue choice points that can change the game. NA players feel they have a lot more control over their characters and death of other characters happens rarely as that is more traumatic to us. Combat in Mass Effect is in real time - a frantic game experience which is more popular in North America.
He concluded that Valkyria inherits design from manga while Mass Effect inherits from space opera.
In questions people asked if there were counter examples. This raised interesting questions about large scale cultural comparisons. We are tempted to make generalizations, but how can do this carefully. What can we learn from other fields of cross-cultural
Localizing Culture in Gyakuten Saiban
Stephen Mandiberg is a Ph D? candidate at UCSD. He argued that a failure in localization is a success and that Japanese games are important to the US when they reveal their cultural origins. His example was Phoenix Attorney. It is a visual novel style of game that was a hit in Japan and released 5 years later. Bowne Global Solutions did the localization. It was important to Stephen that the localization was outsourced because it wasn't expected to sell well.
He then turned to the second version as there were mistakes then in the second version because they were given less time for a larger game. Stephen is interested in the "traces" of Japanese culture like the mask that Japanese wear. He showed the difference between the Japanese and English versions. There are essential graphic changes and then traces that are not changed.
He then quoted Mia Consalvo to the effect that traces (fragrance) of Japan don't need to be erased as much now as Japanese culture is global. The localizers disagree, however. Localization for game companies is a way of expanding reach of a game and return on investment. It's a business so the question is whether users want the trace of Japan. The localizers that Mandiberg interviewed didn't want to take any risks. The industry wants to prevent incongruous moments. Blizzard carte blanche localization can change all sorts of things including details few would notice. Contray to Consalvo the goal of localizers is not to keep the fragrance of Japan, but to reduce all strangeness.
Mandiberg, like Consalvo feels that iwakan is good. He worries that the industry feels they are reactive - just doing what the audience wants. To him the industry is actually productive - producing culture. Mandiberg used the mask as an example of culturally significant objects. Japanese are used to face masks when people are sick. We think they are exotic. The localizers were able to add lines of text to explain things (like the mask.) To Mandiberg it is better to add lines to explain than to remove the mask or replace it with a tissue. The American audience encounters something through the traces.
For Mandiberg it is particularly important that Americans encounter other models through popular culture like games.
Career Development Among Japanese Female Game Developers: From the Perspective of the Diversity of Creative Individuals
Masahito Fujihara from Senshu University then presented the last paper of the day on how women game developers formulate their career development. The paper was based on interviews as the population of female developers in Japan is small.
Game development is a high-risk business therefore companies can be adverse to risk and only develop games that fit existing categories. The industry is reluctant to take risks with new forms or new audiences. Things, however are changing with casual games, drop in Japanese workforce, the new game development frameworks that democratizes things and the war for talent. There is diversity now in audiences and in platforms.
Fujihara couldn't find data on the workforce gender as no one had gathered the information. About 12% of game dev workforce is female which is comparable to the US, but is a much smaller percentage than in the workforce in general. Women developers seem to have on average, more schooling, less experience, and less pay. In general the women interviewed continue to challenge things, enjoy their work, like to display creativity, they work hard to explain themselves and network. They do not conform to gender stereotypes and are creating new environments for career development. They also try to make time to raise children managing different roles (mother and developer), but lack role models.
Saturday, May 26: Day 3
Visual Novels Outside Japan
Domini Gee from the University of Alberta presented about a genre of game called visual novels that are text heavy with manga like graphics, a few choice points and sound. She talked about bishojo or games for girls that have been localized and distributed by companies like JAST USA and Hirameki.
One issue with visual novels is that the audience tends to be young girls, but it can be hard to get a rating that lets you sell to girls which forces companies to become distributors. Fan translations don't have that problem, but they can be illegal. In some cases commercial companies and fan translators have collaborated.
Visual novels raise issues about what is a game. As the name suggests they are often page turners. Players however want story and characters, though interactive components can hep expand market to Western fans.
Why is it hard for Japanese visual novels to sell in an overseas market?
Game audio revolution theory: Early research on the history of video game audio in Japan
Takashi Obana started by commenting on the study of game audio and the lack of historical perspective in audio study.
His study looked at late 1970s and first half of the 1980s. In late 1980s there was a transformation as composers began to write for games. He is looking at the period before named composers started working on games.
He then went back to Space Invaders (1978) which had simple audio with some melody by Yellow Magic Orchestra. He then mentioned EVR Race http://nintendo.wikia.com/wiki/EVR_Race which was a horse racing game by Nintendo from 1975 that was an exception with rich audio including voice narration.
He played Space Invaders and you could hear the acceleration of the audio as the game proceeds. He analyzed 8 types of audio that are synchronized and their tempo accelerates.
In the 1980s the PSG chip was developed and installed in many computers. It could generate 3 kinds of sound waves which constrained audio that could be composed. There were also memory issues.
NAMCO arcade games like Gee Bee and Bomb Bee which were pinball pong like games with different sounds. The sheet music was released for these.
In 1982 Dig Dug uses audio only when character moves. Xevious (1982) followed and used the 3 sounds effectively. A sound track "Video Game Music" was released in 1984 based on Xevious sound.
He then concluded by talking about how complex the experience of playing is - you aren't just listening to sound, but triggering it. Audio connects to narrative providing rich expression. Playing a game is "musicking". It started as a system alert and evolved into a music making.
Where is the indie game of Japan? : Conventions and creativities formed by technology,distribution, culture
Shin Imai is a graduate student at the University of Tokyo and is a part-time lecuturer and blogger/writer. He talked about the Indie
He talked about traits of doujin/indie games. they value games, they value autonomy and flexibility. They move fast and are close to their fans. Their sales are low.
There are many original high-quality games because of the closeness to players. In Japan however indie games don't get as much attention. Why?
The fragmentation of indie scene. Most indie games are doujin games available in doujin shops, or for phones. The indie games are not
The doujin games for P Cs are fighting games, visual novels or shoot-ems. Now they are free games or for mobile games for smartphones. The distribution is fragmented so there people don't notice the phenomenon.
There are also different indie cultures.
He questioned whether JIG are really original or high-quality. Many have unique stories, so they are original, but they aren't necessarily of consistent high-quality. Many doujin games are really fan games where only parts are original.
Cave Story is an example of a creative game, but not original. Don't Look Back (2009) Hellsinker (2007) is a mashup of exsiting games, but it is a cult game. Helen's Mysterious Castle (2011) has a creative side and is sophisticated.
He compared creativity to sampling where the parts of the game are not original, but the combinations are creative. Western games tend to be dramatically original (Minecraft) and thus get attention. Cave Story isn't original enough to get wide attention. Creativity can only be experienced playing, while originality can be sold.
We had an interesting exhcange between Imae and Hichibe (the next speaker) who have both written about the Japanese indie scene.
An analysis of a suppression factor in game self-production in Japan -from the view of “non-economic” rewards in game creation activities
Nobushige Hichibe talked about innovation. He believes that console games are so expensive to create that they can't be self-produced and therefore aren't innovative. He is looking at game design motivation. What motivates designers to produce themselves and take risks.
His research is based on an internet survey, a quantitative survey of Comic Market and interviews. He is trying to understand the ecology of self-produced games. He showed the packaging of self-produced games and some doujinshi events where games are being sold including a store that no longer exists.
He then talked about characteristics of creators. About 13% have tried to create a game compared to 23% who have tried a novel. Few produce regularly or distribute. 40% just show to friends and family, often because the games aren't finished. Only 10% would present and distribute in public.
Comiket - only 3% will present games at comiket which is low compared to manga.
The motivations include:
Note that economic rewards are not that important. About 70% lose money.
Most creators are interacting with others (96%). They interact with others through venues like Comiket to get recognition of peers.
The challenges are that there are few economic rewards. There are potentially many creators, but they don't have the time to finish or regularly create. There are also fewer opportunities (compared to manga and music) to present and get recognition. For manga a single person can finish a comic, but games often take teams which makes it harder to finish. 70% make manga by themselves. Only 40% make games alone. Also, manga creators often create 3-5 comics while game creator typically makes only one a year. He also showed data that game creators have fewer venues to show games.
He finished with suggestions:
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