Gaming Discussion – Japan, War, and First Person Shooters
Losing the War
At the Infinity Ventures Summit (a conference for IT higher-ups in Japan) late last year during a panel on the future of gaming, the Management Director at DeNA, Kenji Kobayashi, pointed out that war-based video games such as first-person shooters don’t gain popularity in Japan (in Japanese). Haruki Satomi, CEO of Sammy NetWorks Co., Ltd., agreed and followed up that only countries which won World War II make war games. Kobayashi then elaborated that people in those countries are accustomed to seeing war stories in movies and on television, inferring that the opposite led to a lack of such games being developed or catching on in Japan.
But can we really tie game trends to World War II? In Germany, for example, BioShock Infinite, Far Cry 3, and Battlefield all ranked in the top ten most popular games at some point last year. Of course, comparing Japan to Germany might oversimplify things. Similarly so for lumping all the “winning” countries of WWII together.
Just Being Squeamish?
So perhaps something else is going on. Could it be the violence? For example, although Japanese horror movies have achieved international fame, the genre is much less popular here than in places like North America. Japanese men and women alike often express their distaste for shows of blood and violence. Certainly there are exceptions to any generalization (or those movies wouldn't have been made); nevertheless, bloody violence occupies a much smaller niche in Japanese popular culture compared with other places.
Yet, Japan certainly doesn't lack violent games. Resident Evil, Ninja Gaiden, and Silent Hill are rife with flying blood, dismemberment, and gore. And as for war, recent Resident Evil games have increasingly grown to resemble foreign FPSs. Let’s also not forget that war is the basis of the hugely successful Metal Gear series. So there seems to be a precedent for a Japanese-made, war-based game as well as a Japanese audience ready to enjoy it.
Killing in HD
But there is a key difference between FPSs and the violent games that come out of Japan: realism versus fantasy. In Resident Evil or Silent Hill, you face zombies and other monsters. Ninja Gaiden typically hides the faces of the more human-like enemies and then throws in dragons, demons, and dinosaurs. You see similar face covering in Metal Gear, and the genetically and mechanically enhanced bosses are more like Resident Evil's mutations than people. What's more, you can skip most of the killing altogether. The point is, these games are rarely, if ever, focused on violence against people.
Older Japanese games may have had more person-on-person violence, but they lacked today's hyper-realistic graphics. I think it's here where the real schism forms.
The Heart of the Matter
I'm reminded of something a Japanese friend said. Despite being an avid Resident Evil fan, he had a hard time enjoying the copy of Max Paine I lent him, and he shies away from war games. The reason, he told me, is that that it just makes him feel bad. It's emotionally painful for him to kill realistic human characters. "We Japanese," he said, "we like peace."
So what do you think? Do you think it's related to war or something that goes deeper culturally? Could the lack of guns in Japanese society contribute to the situation? Or is it something simpler--developers simply sticking to what's familiar?
We'd like to know what you think, let us know in the comments down below, or discuss on Facebook.
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AkihabaraNews contributor Greg Flynn is a Yokohama-based gaming, photography, and why-did-you-walk-so-far-across-Tokyo enthusiast. His interests range from chiptunes to chocolate chip cookies to inexpertly lobbing darts now and then. Look for his posts on gaming and life in Japan.