Monday, September 16, 2013

Week 2: A Walk Through Memory Lane

Being bombarded with books, year after year, in my studies of English literature—and having nothing to do but read in my leisure time—I had forgotten how much video games was part of my childhood. As I read the “History of Nintendo” and saw images of the NES, Game boy, N64 and Game Cube, I recall having played the classic Duck Hunt with my father, and remember sneaking to the living room with my siblings, while my parents were asleep, to play Pokemon, Banjo Kazooe and the list can go on. Playing video games was in fact our favorite pastime and we learned valuable lessons such as how to share (our controllers and games) and to take turns, but also how to fist fight over who gets the next turn. Here, I draw attention to the communal aspect of game culture in response to the reaction against “violent” video games as discussed in some of the readings this week. “The History of Videogames” offers an insightful and condensed overview of the origin of video games, its trends and evolution throughout the twentieth-century. According to this article, in 1993 congress had launched an “investigation" into video game violence” (15). The Wiki article also indicates:

Nintendo of America and Nintendo of Europe went further in that games released for Nintendo consoles could not feature nudity, sexuality, profanity (including racism, sexism or slurs), blood, graphic or domestic violence, drugs, political messages or religious symbols (with the exception of widely unpracticed religions, such as the Greek Pantheon).[59] The Japanese parent company was concerned that it may be viewed as a "Japanese Invasion" by forcing Japanese community standards on North American and European children. (wiki)

If we take the idea of “Japanese Invasion” at face value, we see orientalising discourses of “othering” at work (and the problems that are associated with it), but if we read this phrase in an ironic light, then, it reveals how notions of violence, sex, and propriety are culturally and socially nuanced and that video games are not so threatening after all, but instead reveal cultural anxieties of a particular historical moment. In other words, censorship laws reveal more about its own culture and less about a culture that it is trying to protect itself from.
Do American audiences then get the “Japanese experience” from playing PG rated or altered games? And how is the idea of “Japanese Game culture” redefined if Japanese games are culturally appropriated, in different ways, across the globe?

            To further complicate the idea of Japanese Game Culture, I draw on the work of Toshiya Ueno who explores the idea of techno-orientalism in his essay “Japanimation and Techno-Orientalism” in which he specifically explores anime, but, I think, the theories and the conclusions he draws are also applicable to Game Studies. Ueno highlights to the ways in which Japanese cultural identity is fragmented—the image of Japan is never whole. He writes:

Techno-Orientalism is a kind of mirror stage or an image machine whose effect influences Japanese as well as other people. This mirror in fact is a semi-transparent or two-way mirror. It is through this mirror stage and its cultural apparatus that Western or other people misunderstand and fail to recognize an always illusory Japanese culture, but it also is the mechanism through which Japanese misunderstand themselves. Different from the Lacanian mirror stage, a complete solution for this structure of disavowal, through which a "real" Japan could be properly recognized, is impossible.

So then to what extent is the idea of Japanese Game Culture an imaginary construct reinforced by both the western fascination of Japan as a highly technological state and the Japanese embracing these stereotypes? And in a capitalist market, can we even attribute game culture to a specific national identity?  I am very fascinated with idea of techno-orientalism and I wonder in what ways Japanese video games contribute, resist, and renegotiate discursive practices of identity and culture from both an insider and outsider point of view of Japan.

Finally, to add to the list of cultural stereotypes from last class, I would say that the Japanese have a very “unique” sense of humor as evident in the interview in “Iwata Asks” that is filled with “(laughs)”.

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