- Japanese Culture through Videogames by Rachael Hutchinson
Japanese Culture through Videogames explores the processes by which Japanese cultural and ideological systems shape videogame representations. In keeping with this focus, the book is arranged around the discursive themes in which these systems are expressed, rather than organized by a medium-specific theme, such as by genre or console. Each chapter in the book centers on a specific videogame as a case study, although these are supplemented by shorter analyses of other videogames in which the examined discourses appear. It is important to note that while research on Japanese videogames has been increasing, much of this work has focused on the medium’s global or international impact. By contrast, author Rachael Hutchinson focuses on the Japanese context, offering a much-needed contribution on the relationships between videogames, culture, and ideology, which should be useful to scholars interested in Japan, popular culture, or media. [End Page 239]
The book’s primary argument is that Japanese games are cultural and artistic texts that express ideological beliefs and societal values. “These deep-seated Japanese attitudes and values,” Hutchinson writes, “are not only visible in the content of these videogames, but can also be experienced first-hand by the gamer, giving great insight into Japanese culture” (p. 1). Central to this thesis is an advocacy of video-games as texts that, like literature or film, serve as sites of historical memory, cultural negotiation, and societal reflection. What differentiates videogames from these other media, however, are the ways in which struggles over these issues are articulated: comprising different types of representation—narrative, visual, and procedural—videogames are interactive texts whose impact extends beyond the most recent gaming session. This characteristic enables videogames to serve as powerful mediums of social critique.
Based on this argument, the book can be read as a defense of videogames as objects worthy of scholarly analysis. This position is most clearly articulated in chapter 4, which analyzes Japanese role-playing games within the context of family. Hutchinson writes: “The ways in which social anxieties and concerns of the day are reflected in videogames have much in common with traditional media forms: character, narrative, background music, art style and setting all involve the player in the fiction of the game text, much as the viewer of a film or a reader of literature feels transported to another world” (p. 103). Videogames, however, differentiate themselves from these media through their interactivity: players can co-construct different outcomes based on how they engage with the game. While this ability to freely craft narrative is confined to what the developers code into the game text, the interactive dimension of games can foster player self-identification with characters and spaces as these messages appear co-constructed. Grounded in an interdisciplinary framework that draws from insights in cultural studies, game studies, and digital rhetoric, the book examines a range of games across multiple genres to employ a “cultural ludology” approach that “incorporates the role of culture in understanding games as meaning-making systems” (p. 5). Hutchinson’s analysis of these games stems largely from her primary reading of the games during play, but these readings are contextualized with qualitative research based on sources that include interviews with developers, reviews of games by both critics and fans, and online forums such as message boards.
The book’s central argument develops over nine chapters, grouped in triads each organized around a theme. The first section, “Japanese Culture as Playable Object,” centers on how Japanese games commodify culture (chapter 1); it develops this theme through analyses of visual design (chapter 2) and game design (chapter 3) to argue that these promote a narrative of self-Orientalism. Chapter 1 posits that games are interactive texts whose meanings can be located across multiple dimensions, and it analyzes the game Katamari Damacy in terms of space that represents Japan itself as cultural object. Chapter 2 builds on this by focusing on how visual design is used to construct Japan as an object; it argues that aesthetic elements, such as calligraphy and sumi...