[Editorial Tuesday] Japanese Gaming vs. Western Gaming - What’s The Difference?

Gaming All Over the World

No matter where some of you readers may be from, you all enjoy gaming, right? If so, what kind of games do you play? On what platform do you play them on? Who do you play them with? For some of you American readers, a majority of you might enjoy first person shooters. For those from Korea, you probably like online RPGs and/or strategy games. For Europeans, you probably enjoy the soccer games. And for those in Japan, you may like Japanese RPGs and/or enjoy arcade games. Or just maybe, some of you Western gamers like to import games from Japan. Though Korea and Europe are progressively becoming quality developers in gaming, the biggest developers in gaming still happen to be both the US and Japan, and for this Editorial Tuesday, we are going to cover their numerous differences and similarities.

Basic Culture Differences

Though a good majority of games that are released all around the world are of Japanese origin, there are still numerous games that remain exclusive to Japan (and vice-versa). Why is that? Some experts and casual gamers alike can agree that cultural/society differences come into play. For example with some Japanese gamers, they enjoy dating simulations from Tokimeki Memorial to Love Plus. In nations outside Japan, social norms are completely different. While the Japanese are taught to keep opinions to themselves, Westerners are very open about their criticism. Some Westerners would think that dating sims are for losers and would bluntly say it in the media.

In addition, many of the settings in these games are of Japanese oriented and taking into consideration how dating styles and relationships can be different between countries, it would be difficult for non-Japanese gamers who have little to no familiarity with Japan to understand these games.

In America, first person shooters tend to be popular such as Halo and Call of Duty. These games tend to be more popular on the X-Box and on the PC, while those two systems have little to no popularity in Japan (in fact, all versions of the X-Box have tanked in Japan). And just like how culture differences factor into dating sims, this can extend to first person shooters. While the US is a society where its citizens are exposed to guns, the Japanese (and many other countries) have different histories and relationships with firearms.

Last, a defeatist mentality from WWII still remains in Japan, which contributes to Japanese gamers not showing any interest in war games and/or first person shooters that tend to be more realistic.

Next, it all comes down to how Westerners and Japanese define what a hero is to them. In an interview with Rocket News, Sega Sammy president Harunori Satomi shared some of his thoughts in context to this. He states in that respective interview that North Americans and Europeans prefer someone fully-grown, muscularly built and with confidence. For Japanese gamers, they like stories about unassuming and yet gifted teenagers who go through a coming-of-age story.

In first person shooters in the US, you have the elite Marine, a respected profession to many Americans. For the Japanese, they feel that youth is the last time they can really enjoy a free life, discover who they are as an individual and what they can contribute to society, which relates to Japanese audiences.

Kenji Inafune, a former Capcom designer, has also shared how the difference of entertainment mediums affect tastes between regions. He feels with Japanese residents, they are more accustomed to anime and manga, and a lot of Japanese games dating back to the beginning of mainstream video gaming have taken much of its artistic influence from that. While in the West, they are more oriented towards live action television and movies and prefer that kind of style in their games.

The Similarities and Differences of RPGs Between Japan and the West

If there is one genre that many hardcore gamers around the world can enjoy, they are RPGs. While Japanese RPGs gained worldwide mainstream notoriety from Final Fantasy VII, the first ever role-playing game was not from Japan, but from the West (though there were some text based RPGs during the early days of computers). Some of the first two role-playing games are Ultima and Wizardry, and in fact, they helped pave way for Japanese RPGs and they developed their own unique identities in comparison to Western RPGs, and both have uniquely progressed with technology.

For starters, they differ in storytelling despite using similar foundations in context to settings. In Western RPGs from Ultima to World of Warcraft, there is more emphasis on choice, which relates to their origins being text only where it was mostly choice oriented. Do you choose to be the hero or the villain? For Japanese RPGs, they are more linear and emphasize on party building to achieve one goal, save the world from a great evil (though the choice system exists, its function is rather different from Western RPGs). Western RPGs tend to be more individual while the Japanese are more group oriented, which is a rather accurate reflection of the real life culture differences between the two regions.

Next, a good majority of them either follows a fantasy or sci-fi setting or sometimes a combination of the two. Western fantasy RPGs clearly take influence from Western literature and folklore by featuring elves, orcs, and dragons. With Japanese RPGs, they take their influence from anime by making up all kinds of crazy monsters and races from the imaginations of the development team. With Sci-Fi, Western games take influence from Star Wars, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica while Japanese games take influence from anime once again such as mecha.

Their differences (and similarities) go hand-in-hand to the point that it can very well be its own article. However, this perfectly transitions what helps make their popularity different, the format they are released on. Japanese RPGs tend to be geared towards consoles and/or mobile devices, while Western RPGs are for the PC.

Differences in What Formats They Enjoy

If there is one gaming format that has taken off all over the world and not in Japan is PC gaming. However, visual novels and hentai games do have a niche market on the PC in Japan but will never compete with consoles, handhelds and most recently, mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Why is that? For starters, let’s start with the obvious. As stated, games like first-person shooters, which tend to dominate the PC format, are not popular in Japan so it affects the PC gaming scene as a whole there. However, there is a deeper history behind it, and it relates to differences in written language between English (or any Roman alphabet-oriented language) and Japanese.

While many PCs that hit the market in the early years made it big in America such as the Apple II and the Commodore 64, they all supported Roman alphabet characters. As you can obviously tell, the Japanese written language is not based on the alphabet. The fact that the first home computers (or any coding language for that matter) did not support Japanese text was a huge obstacle. By the time computers could fully support Japanese text, consoles and arcades were dominating the gaming market in Japan. Last, many Japanese citizens tend to associate computers with work related tasks as opposed to gaming and find PC gaming to be more expensive than consoles.

In recent years, gaming for smartphones and tablets have been rising all over the world but it has been booming in Japan to the point that console sales are not what they used to be. Many residents in bigger cities in Japan such as Tokyo and Osaka tend to take long commutes on the train to work and/or school (anywhere between 45 minutes to two hours). It is natural to kill that time by playing games and what better way than using a smartphone, tablet, or handheld? Thanks to these conditions, big cities in Japan with their transportation infrastructure are the perfect market.

While arcades are progressively going the way of the dodo and video rental in the US (these days, you’re likely to find an arcade game at your local movie theater), they are still very popular in Japan (along with pachinkos, which is another topic for another time). Go to Japan and you’re still likely to either find arcades dedicated to the latest in gaming, something more retro, or a balanced mixed.

According to the documentary 100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience, one major reason why arcades can still exist in Japan is because of the population density within Japanese cities, its transportation system, and accessibility in comparison to North American cities. Another deciding factor comes down to a difference of living space between Japan and the US. While in the US or any other Western household, they have the space to dedicate a room to gaming with friends every weekend, Japanese living space doesn’t allow that. So if friends want to get together to play games, they just go to an arcade instead.

Some gamers in Japan enjoy the arcade scene because they really like face-to-face contact. Though in today’s gaming you can play online from modern day consoles, PCs, and mobile devices, players can be anonymous and at times, that anonymity allows some frustrated gamers or gamers who get too excited to act inappropriately (and can go as far as Swatting). By playing together in person, it discourages that kind of behavior.

Exclusives and Changes

Many games in Japan tend to stay in Japan for culture and societal differences. However, there is the game RapeLay, which got a translation and considering how Western countries seriously take rape (while it’s not really widely talked about in Japan in terms of awareness), its release was recalled from most online retailers and have been flat-out banned by countries such as Australia. All sensible people can agree that the respective retailers who chose not to sell it on their shelves made the right decision to do so (even if the rapist dies at the end of the game no matter what happens).

However, if there is one game that has stayed in Japan or the Asian market as a whole that has been hit with controversy, it is Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, though, the first two games had US releases. It features the ladies of the DoA series wearing micro bikinis at the beach and previously Western released versions were no different. So why not release it? Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja have given mixed signals feeling it is not suitable for Western markets but if in the event a demand meets their satisfactions, they are willing to release it. However, it is still released in English in neighboring Asian territories for English speaking gamers. In the end, many feel it has a lot to do with the recent controversies with portrayals of females in games in the US and Tecmo wants no part of it.

With the infamous GamerGate and other political controversies going on in the US beyond the gaming world, it has affected what can and cannot be released beyond Dead or Alive Xtreme 3. As some of you know in Tekken 7 (and in Tekken Tag 2), gamers can give the characters swimsuits as alternate costumes, and for the female characters, they go as far as bikinis. When asked if this feature would be available to non-Japanese markets on Twitter, Katsuhiro Harada, the producer of Tekken, replied as a joke to ask their country’s social justice warriors (which would later be deleted).

Naturally, many found the Tweet offensive while others found it funny and fighting back political correctness. Harada attempted to justify the swimsuit feature by saying it applies to all characters regardless of gender (or species). Whether or not that justifies what can or can’t be released is not up to us at Honey, but it does give an impression of some form of equality and shouldn't be seen as sexism if men are subjected to the swimsuit content. Others point out because some characters in these games are underage, it is natural to conclude this would be disturbing to some societies. For example in Japan, it is not uncommon to pick up a weekly manga where teenagers are modeling in bikinis. But this topic alone in regards to women in games can be a different article for a different time.

Let’s Just Play and Have Fun!

In the end, gamers of every background should just enjoy what they want to play. If they have the accessibility and means to afford a certain game, they should try it out and share with everybody what they think. It is understandable that Japan and the West have games that contain content that can be disturbing to one another. Some retailers should have that right to not distribute that game if it is against their principles. Japan and the US are capitalist countries and businesses should have that right to do so. In turn, consumers should also have the right to buy what they want as long as they don’t harm anymore. Should we assume that every gamer that plays first-person shooters is going to kill someone? Or someone who plays DoA Xtreme 3 is going to grope some woman? Certainly not!


Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that games from many countries cross many lines. It is natural to be disturbed if people perceive certain morally objectionable things are being glorified in the media and/or in art. But at times, do differences between cultures and societies really justify them? That’s a very difficult question for anyone to answer for this topic. At times, those are the reasons why games can be controversial, artistic, and just spark our curiosities to want to play them. Japan has some really awesome games, as does America. As stated before, other regions have their own distinct and unique markets. For those of you from other parts of the world, what is your scene like? Please share in the comments!

Justin

Writer

Author: Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty

Hello, I am originally from the states and have lived in Japan since 2009. Though I watched Robotech and Voltron as a child, I officially became an anime fan in 1994 through Dragon Ball Z during a trip to the Philippines. In addition to anime, I also love tokusatsu, video games, music, and martial arts. よろしくお願いします

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