Professor J. H. Davis, Jr
4 May 2009
Modern Japanese culture is the result of over one thousand years of development and evolution. With such a strong and rooted background, Japanese traditions and values have remained imbued in Japanese society despite rapid modernization and westernization during the last century. As the world has become smaller and entertainment has gone from being confined to its country of origin to being available across the globe, Japan continues to display its unique identity by producing distinct experiences within the same mediums as Western countries. From movies and books to music and video games, entertainment developed in Japan is different than that of their Western counterparts. To illustrate this point I have chosen to focus solely on the video game industry. Due to the lack of scholarly research on this subject, I will primarily draw my personal knowledge and quotes from respected game designers in this paper. The video game is still a relatively young industry, dating back to the 1972 launch of the first home console created by the American company Magnavox, called the Odyssey. In just under four decades the industry has blossomed across the globe. It wasn’t an easy road though, as the industry experienced a collapse in 1983, but was given life again thanks to the overwhelming popularity of the Nintendo Entertainment System created by Japan based company Nintendo. Today the video game industry has become a worldwide entertainment Szczomak 2
force, eclipsing the yearly sales of DVD/Blu-ray in 2008 (Magiera). The majority of games released are developed in either Japan or America, and examining the differences between the two region’s products reveals distinct cultural contrasts and preferences between the two countries. Before the specifics of game design can be discussed, it is important to understand what makes video games different from other forms of entertainment and media. Video games provide a unique medium to create entertainment. Where a movie runs for an average of two hours, a video game can last anywhere from five minutes to over one hundred hours to complete. Video games incorporate many elements of other media into them, such as music and story lines. The largest, and most significant, difference when comparing video games to other forms of media is interactivity. Video games are hot media, because the consumer interacts with the world created by the game, whereas movies, music, and television are cold media, the consumer does not actively interact with them. This interactivity allows developers in the games industry to dictate what experience the consumer gets from playing their game. The first thing someone is likely to notice when turning on a video game is how the game world looks. Technological advances in the past two decades have allowed games to go from being two dimensional to being highly detailed, three dimensional worlds. Today a game can take from ten to seventy artists to create the visual style, or graphics, of a game. Japan tends to draw on its rich artistic history to craft incredibly stylized games. Japanese art direction is heavily influenced by cultural mainstays such as Kabuki Theater and manga. The impact of manga on Japanese games is immense, and as such, realism is a style that is not frequently used. This could also be attributed to realist style never being embraced in Japan as Szczomak 3
much as it has been by Western countries over history. American developed games, on the other hand, employ the use of realism in the majority of their games. America, having a miniscule history when compared to Japan, has inherited the art traditions brought to it by the Europeans who founded it. [pic]
(Above) An example of a Japanese developed game, Dragon Quest VIII. The anime influence is clearly...