Video Games

Japanese Visual Novels

After experiencing the Japanese visual novel and dating simulator game, Hatoful Boyfriend, I have found myself intrigued by the popularity of these types of video games. Before playing Hatoful Boyfriend, I had never heard of a visual novel. While it is true that most video games do hold an element of ‘visual novel’, this game in particular purposely lacked a lot of gamer control that I’m used to. This surprised me as it technically is categorised as a video game, yet your options to manipulate the game itself is very little. Now and then there would be an option to choose, for example, which High School Club you were going to join, which would essentially shift the story’s direction. This means to uncover every aspect of the novel the game would have to be played at least ten times, revealing each possible play. Personally, unless you were invested in the game’s storyline the whole thing can become a bit tedious at the start. Wondering if it was just me finding the game boring after reading several reviews online I turned to Reddit where users shared their own Hatoful Boyfriend perspective. Each user’s experience actually differed from one another depending on the route they followed. While some ended up with the expected outcome- a boyfriend- others ended up down a darker path. This path involved the protagonist’s murder and player’s having to continue the story through the eyes of one of the pigeons trying to discover the truth. Reading each player’s experience made me reinvest in the game and its surprisingly complex structure and storyline.

After so many Reddit users taking an interest in the game and sharing just how unique the storyline actually is, I found an interview with the Japanese creators, Hato Moa and Damurushi, to uncover the intent behind the pigeon dating simulator. It was actually created as an April Fool’s Joke, a parody of another Japanese dating simulator, which explains the game’s humourous tones. The creators met through an internet community and were both highly interested in creating their own JRPG (Japanese role playing game). There was less thought behind the choice of using pigeons, as it was discovered Hato Moa has quite the fascination with birds.

The overall interest of the game has made me fascinated in the popularity and history of visual novels in Asian culture, specifically Japan. My initial idea for this blog post was to research both visual novels and dating simulators in the Asian market, however, after finding out that majority of dating simulators are in fact rated X, I’ve decided it best to just focus on the visual novel element.

The history of visual novels backtracks to 33 years ago when the Japanese video game publisher, Enix came out with an interactive mystery game called Portopia Renzku Satsujin Jiken. It follows the murder of the highly prominent banker Kouzou Yamakawa. The game relied on text-based inputs and dialogue scenes essentially introducing the visual novel format – onscreen visuals and dynamic character interaction- to the Japanese industry. From this, most visual novels still remain mostly in Japan however the introduction of the platform to the western world has increased. One reason for this introduction is the fan groups that have pushed the transition of certain games into the western world. Fans contacting game creators for an official translation and localisation making it available for western countries.

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Regardless of visual novels in western society, in Japan they are still hugely popular. One reason for this is because the Japanese tend to be huge on reading. In a lot of their games text is already very much integrated. This is another aspect which I’m interested in. For my research project I hope to further examine the key characteristics that make up typical Japanese video games. At the moment my experience with them is still limited so I hope to also branch out into different genres. My starting point could be the mystery game Portopia Renzku Satsujin Jiken. I do not know yet how difficult this 33-year-old game will be to get my hands on but I have already found YouTube How to Play videos on the game. Along with this I still hope to investigate the visual novel trend in Japan further.

Reference:

https://www.gamespot.com/forums/games-discussion-1000000/visual-novels-could-they-work-in-western-market-28997195/

http://www.denofgeek.com/us/games/video-games/255200/the-rise-of-the-western-visual-novel

http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/answerman/2016-03-30/.100434

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Hatoful Boyfriend

I’ve never had much experience with digital games, especially ones of Asian descent. Which is why this is an area I wish to explore for my independent research project.

Initially my idea was to analyse the well-known game ‘dance dance revolution’ however, I found it almost impossible to get. The download.jpggame has slowly died out due to the introduction of new technologies, such as X-box Kinect where sensors don’t require the classic dance pad anymore (and without a dance pad what’s the point?). Nowadays the game is almost strictly found at game arcades. Unfortunately, my closest arcade is located an hour away from where I live. Too far to dedicate an hour a day, which was my initial goal.

From this I was stuck and was almost about to turn to Pacman but was instead recommended a game called ‘Hatoful Boyfriend.’ The game is a 2011 Japanese visual novel video game that is known for being vastly different. It’s based on the story of a human who attends an elite high school for talented birds.  As the only human in attendance, the game focuses on the in-depth stories and relationships that they share with classmates and teachers.

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To be honest I didn’t do much research on the game before I played it. One thing I did research was ‘strangest Japanese video games‘ and surprise, surprise ‘Hatoful Boyfriend’ was number one. From this I knew I needed to play this game.

I downloaded the game from the Apple App Store for $14.99. The game was downloaded onto my laptop, however, if I were to get it on my phone it would have cost me $8.99. Thinking it might have been easier to play on a larger device I decided to spend the extra $5.99 (I do not recommend this). Pretty quickly, it was up and running and I was able to begin my new life as a simple human trying to find a pigeon boyfriend.

The game introduces you to a number of different characters, both students and teachers. As an added feature the game gives you the option to see these characters in bird form and in human form – is this meant to make it less creepy? Who knows? You follow the storyline until you find out which bird you end up with. Throughout the game you are given options that lead you to alternative paths ultimately deciding which bird boyfriend you end up with. All up there are eight potential boyfriends. To name a few there is the mysterious French transfer student, the childhood friend, the popular upper-class guy and the quiet introvert.

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I’m not going to lie, the game gets boring quickly. Unless you’re invested in the storyline it’s not very entertaining. All up it took me over an hour to finish. You have the option of skipping through text which is a helpful hack if you are playing the game for a second time. Despite the entertainment level, the concept of a visual novel is very cool. The graphics are also extremely beautiful. Each persona is done with traditional Japanese anime characteristics as you can see below:

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While the game itself is not ground-breaking, or something I would even play again, it definitely has me intrigued in the concept of visual novels. Before this game I hadn’t heard of them nor experienced one. This had me asking the questions: How popular are visual novels? Which countries are they popular in? How successful are they? Is it a thing of the future? These questions I hope to explore further in my independent research project.

Through this experience my whole topic for my digital artefact has shifted. Now instead of just exploring Asian game culture I have decided to focus on the impact of visual novels on different societies/ cultures. At the moment my plan is to present my found data in the form of a research essay. I look forward to applying this experience to the background research I will be conducting in my next blog post.

Stay tuned!

State of Gender Representation

Western society illustrates a level of social stigma associated with video games. Such social stigma can be demonstrated through personalised experiences noted by autoethnography, such as family suggesting that one should ‘step away and go outside.’ That of media and institutional stigma towards individuals who play violent video games, employs a slanted association between societal violence and gaming. As a result of western categorisation we are left with a conceived image of gamers as social outcasts, contrast to how State of Play perceives Korean gamers as public figures. Additionally State of Play demonstrates comparisons to that of western gender representation throughout the gaming industry.

From a western perspective, Arnott, J. (2009) states that ‘for non-gamers there is something distasteful about a grown man investing time and energy into a seemingly unproductive activity.’ This was illustrated in State of Play in the form of older family members interrogating Jaedong about employment through gaming. While Arnott demonstrates the stigma associated with gamers he also underpins another noted throughout State of Play, the lack of gender representation association with certain recreation. This was prominent with female participants positioned as spectators, with traditional gender roles consistent. We can draw comparisons of such payment and participant equality in western sports and eSports, with female income significantly lesser than male income throughout the sporting industry. Gender representation isn’t limited purely to employment and income, but in the environment of the game itself, with Ubisoft stating that female protagonists in the Assassin’s Creed series would be difficult and costly (Gittleson, K. 2014).

Retrospective experience of live and digital sporting events within Australia, State of Play allows for comparison of such inequality, in that media representation and investment is limited for female participants and that male participants are displayed as communal and national idols. We can compare a western perspective of certain Australian sportsman to that of Jaedong, with varying personalities, but attributed as hero’s through sporting and appearance. This is illustrated through the bearing of gifts and post game interviews, with female consumers initial support for Jaedong occurring through the ‘love of his eyes.’ Additionally Kim Shee-Yoon, the first female Starcraft pro was selected due to not only skill level, but appearance as well (Chambers, B. 2011). The sexualisation of female sporting professionals is seemingly prominent for corporate sponsorship, with the American Lingerie Football League in the U.S for example.

Applying autoethnography to that of State of Play allows for the reflection of how gender portrayal in certain spheres is similar across various cultures. Additionally that of the social stigma of western gaming is absent throughout Korean eSports.

So where did the arcades go?

This was a bit of an odd topic but it’s pretty central to understanding why arcades stopped being the norm, and there’s a couple of reasons. One of them I never even considered, but to understand why they left, you also need to consider why they became popular.

Arcades really became popular in the late 70’s and early 80’s because of technology developments.  It had finally become cheap enough to make an entire device hard-coded for one game and ship it overseas.  When I say cheap enough, the box alone cost $2400 (and that was just for one Pac-man console).

As a result, this new electronic thing was interesting and novel.  They were also pretty fun.  Unlike pinball machines which despite theme-ing and lighting and a few mechanical differences, video games could have different buttons and seriously different play styles.  The games got more popular and the companies got more money and then the technology improved.  It was all looking pretty good. (Kent, 2011)

Since the technology kept getting better it was pretty much affordable by households now rather than just businesses which led to home consoles.  You could play the same game from the comfort of your own couch!  But since people stopped going to the arcades they slowly withered and died.  At least… the ones that weren’t in Japan anyway.

The consoles still got cheaper in Japan but there’s one major difference between here and there: people.  There’s so many more people in Japan.  In Tokyo alone there are 13 million people.  Thats more than half of the entire country of Australia, so it’s understandably more crowded.  Living space is smaller and you basically have no personal space on public transport.  (Crawford, 2012)

Moving not only yourself but your home console to play with your friends over there would be a nightmare.  So you go somewhere that already has the technology and the space set up for you.  The arcade!

There you have it.  The quickest crash course in the rise and fall of video games at arcades. Next week I’m going to talk to someone who lives in Australia about why they go to the arcades here.

 

Refences:

Kent, S. L. (2001). The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokémon. Three Rivers Press.

Crawford B. (2012) 100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience, Strata Studios

Revisiting The Katamari Series.

In my first blog post I looked back on my experience of playing ‘Me and My Katamari’ when I first got it in 2007. I mentioned that when I got to the last blog post I’d replay it and reflect on my experience.

Well, this is my last post. I will be looking at my experience replaying ‘Me and My Katamari’, and my experience of playing ‘Katamari Damacy’ for the first time. I want to compare not only the actual games, but also the consoles.

Starting a new game for ‘Me and My Katamari’ felt like I was greeting an old friend. Seriously, I already had three saved and completed games on my PSP. I used to play this game a lot. However, this time around I actually payed attention to the story and the dialogue, rather than just getting the gist of it and diving straight in. My impatience all those years ago can certainly account for some confusion as to what I had to do and why. The entire games’ concept suddenly made so much more sense.

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Screenshot of ‘Me and My Katamari’.

It took me all of five minutes to remember the controls (which are a little complicated) and get back into the groove of playing the game. Somehow I remembered all the levels and the best ways to complete them. I was left feeling satisfied and proud of myself as a result. I remembered each of the animals who ask for an island, but only just realised the genius behind their assignments. For example, a ‘smart’ island for the dolphin, and a ‘loud’ island for the cicadas. I’m not saying I didn’t get the connections previously, but I certainly appreciate them now.

KatamariDamacyboxPlaying ‘Katamari Damacy’, the first game in the Katamari series, on a PS2 emulator on my laptop was sort of weird. This was for a number of reasons; chief of which was the fact that figuring out the controls took a couple levels because there were 24 different keys to remember. It certainly changes the entire experience of playing a PS2 game, when suddenly you have to press keyboard keys instead of controller buttons.

I have to say that while the games themselves are so similar they produced varying reactions and feelings.

Playing the PSP game felt more intimate and I could curl up in bed and play. I took it with me as I moved around the house. I picked it up and put it down as I went about my day. And I didn’t need to check no one wanted to watch the only TV in our house. I became absorbed in it; with my head phones in and the seriously wicked soundtrack blocking everything else out.

Playing the PS2 game I felt like I was committing to playing for a longer time. I settled in. It’s not the sort of game I played to pass a couple minutes, rather to pass a couple hours. I wasn’t as immersed in the game, but I think that is because the sound wasn’t working and it wasn’t on the big TV.

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Playing ‘Katamari Damacy’ on my laptop.

Shaw (2010 p.411) states that video games encourage flow, a “state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost for the shear sake of doing it”.

I think that this quote really sums up my experience with the Katamari series. They’re these strange yet captivating games, which appear completely illegible upon first glance. But you realise that it makes perfect sense, and is funny and cute, if you just look past that initial stereotypic perception of ‘quirky Asianess’. Sure it’s quirky, but we need to make sure we look past that, and realise that such a concept cannot (and should not) be limited to one group or genre.

– Gabi

 

References:

Shaw, A 2010, “What is Video Game Culture? Cultural Studies and Game Studies”, Games and Culture, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 403-424

My Social Village

What is the word for when you are sixteen years old and your friend goes missing from school for a week unexplained and you don’t want to call his home phone because said friend’s Mum terrifies you, plus you are slightly afraid he is dead and don’t want to make things awkward? I tried looking in the dictionary for that extremely common scenario and I found nothing – stupid piece of trash. The closest I can come up with is Monster Hunter 3.

Monster Hunter is a fantasy/RPG series developed by Capcom that is hugely popular in Japan. Until about 2 hours ago that was about all I knew of it other than its ability to make me assume my closest friend dead. Taking inspiration from the idea of the week’s lecture on monster culture, I decided to delve further into this slightly less than high definition world to see what all the fuss is about. I have chosen to watch a Let’s Play series by acclaimed YouTuber GamingBliss; I don’t like him.

My immediate perception of this game was: “Cool, a worse version of Dark Souls”, followed by “hey, that dinosaur is pretty cute” followed by “I wish he didn’t kill that dinosaur”. What I can gather from this video is Monster Hunter is a game largely focused on self-driven goals. The protagonist, some sort of emotionless village protector, seeks errands from the village people who always have slightly too much to say. These errands usually (perhaps always?) involve slaughtering a monster in a nearby area and gathering its remains, I guess as proof of the kill. Monster Hunter’s strong focus on enemy design, as well as the enormous scope and scale of the game are what I would immediately attribute its success to. Surely there must be more reasons, right?

“Due to the nature of the game’s multi-player system, particularly with the PSP and 3DS, when playing with others, you will almost invariably be playing with someone you know—more often than not, a friend.” – Toshi Nakamura, Kotaku

Nakamura attributes the culture of Japan and its imperial origins creating a “need to fit into a community” to the huge success of Monster Hunter (Nakamura, 2013). What I find interesting in this hypothesis is that it is not a direct feature of the game which draws the appeal of an audience, rather the sociability of it in which its features cater towards. As I know very little about sociability in gaming in an eastern context, I think it would be interesting to explore this further in contrast to western gaming audiences and our need for community (if any). I am still unsure if I will continue this in relation to Monster Hunter.

Nakamura, T, 2013, ‘Why Monster Hunter is So Popular in Japan (and Struggles Everywhere Else)’, Kotaku, http://kotaku.com/5980436/why-monster-hunter-is-so-popular-in-japan-and-struggles-everywhere-else