Dissertation Update: The Last Few Miles

I realized recently that I haven’t been mentioning my thesis on this blog for a quite a while. While this platform’s original purpose in 2015 was to keep contact with the outside world during the writing process, little was said about the thesis that I have been putting together over the last four years except for a few posts where I shared some of the discoveries I made at Ritsumeikan during my field trip in 2016. I am happy to report that it has been submitted to the Modern Languages and Cultural Studies department of the University of Alberta for external review, and that a defence date will be decided upon in the coming weeks.

The whole project is longer than I had anticipated, while not covering the entirety of the points that I wanted to raise, or the phenomenon that I wanted to account for. Some difficult choices had to be made to remove what I thought were important aspects of game centers, but ones that did not fit in with the general direction of the thesis. More research will be needed before these ideas can be shared, but I am looking forward for the opportunity to expand the scope of the original thesis in the future to match my original vision.

I will report on the defence date as a later time, but for now I just wanted to share a short excerpt of the introduction that I think describes the whole project with a decent degree of eloquence.

The objective of this dissertation is to provide an understanding of public video game playing from a holistic perspective, one that accounts for the materiality of the machine, the affordances of the software, and the space as the context of the play activity. At its core, this project considers video games primarily as the purveyor of a play activity and as a practice, and thus it aims to interrogate how these practices play out in the context of Japanese video game arcades while considering in equal part the influence of its texts, material conditions, and spatial context.

From Playing in Public: Situated Play at the Intersection of Software, Cabinet and Space in Japanese Game Centres, page 6.

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北アメリカのアーケード(1)エドモントン編|ビールケード(Beercade)

Image: Carpe Diem

西洋のビデオゲーム文化が進化するにつれ、北メリカアーケード文化もどんどん変化して、新しい店のタイプが現れます。今日はカナダのエドモントン市において、「ビールケード」という去年設立されたビデオゲームアーケードを、西洋ビデオゲーム文化に興味のある日本人の読者に紹介したいと思います。ビールケードの雰囲気は、日本ゲームセンターとの雰囲気と全然違うことが過言ではないです。

Image: Yelp

ビールケードは元のナイトクラブので、アーケードとしてけっこう広いです。たくさんの古い筐体が並んでいて、ビールを飲みながら客さんはゲームやピンボールマシンを遊んでいます。筐体自体は、ちょっと見立つ特徴を持っています。まさに、筐体のよこに付けられたカップハンドラーがあります。その特徴で、ナイトクラブの雰囲気がまだ残っている気がします。

他の面白いところは、確かに、支払い方法です。通過を利用する代わりに、ゲーム筐体はメダルを利用して、遊べます。「シグマ方式」のように、お金を使わずにゲームを遊ぶことがビールケードのシステムです。理由はあまり説明できないが、北アメリカアーケード全部はそうらしいです。

最後に、客さんのトラジェクトリの点です。ビールケードに入るときに客さんの目標はゲームをプレイすることじゃなくて、ビールを飲むことです。そのため、ゲームをプレイする雰囲気や、ゲームを中心にする文化を作る空間でわありません。それは、たぶん、日本ゲームセンターに比べると、重要な違いと思います。

Replaying Japan 2019 – Japanese Games: Past, Present and Future

There are only five days left to submit your abstract to the Replaying Japan Conference 2019. This year, the conference travels back to Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, which will be a great opportunity for me to reconnect with two of my former dissertation case studies from winter 2016. I cannot wait to see how Tsujishoten and A-cho have turned out after the last three years. Will I find the same cabinet layout and selection of games? I hope to report on the matter at some point this summer.

Here is the recently unveiled conference theme.

Since 2012, the Replaying Japan conference series hosted researchers from various fields conducting research on “Japanese Game”. However, for the upcoming edition of the conference, we would like to address a foundamental question.

What are “Japanese games”?

For example, when we talk about our first play experience of “Super
Mario Bros.” or “Pokémon” with researchers all over the world, what we mention is a mysterious “shared experience” rather than the “Japaneseness” of these games.

In other words, these games have surpassed domestic circumstances and
cultural differences to deliver common surprises and
excitement to players all over the world. This universal nature
can be said to be the specificity of games as media.

In this conference held in Kyoto this summer, let us again re-think the past and present of “Japanese Game” and examine “Japanese games” and the future of research on the subject.

Arcadecraft – “Hangers”, espace et obsolescence

J’ai pris le temps de me lancer dans un des jeux que j’ai acheté il y a trop longtemps déjà sur Steam: Arcadecraft. Le jeu propose la simulation de l’exploitation d’une salle d’arcade au cours des années 1980s aux États-Unis, objectif plus ou moins réussi, car l’expérience demeure assez minimaliste. On y représente une certaine conception nostalgique de ce qu’étaient les salles d’arcades durant leur âge d’or. On comprend très vite que l’arcade est ici comprise comme un espace qui s’articule uniquement autour de la consommation économiquement viable de l’expérience ludique et non comme espace de vie. Chaque joueur/consommateur apparaît soudainement aux machines pour disparaître aussitôt sa séance de jeu terminé sans circuler dans l’établissement virtuel. Pour paraphraser Samuel Tobin, la figure du “hanger”, le non-joueur préférant se déplacer d’une machine à l’autre en observant d’autres joueurs, est complètement évacuée de cette simulation alors qu’elle est essentiellement à la compréhension des dynamiques qui structuraient ces espaces durant les années 1980s. Le jeu est donc en phase avec le discours dominant de l’histoire de l’arcade qui met l’accent principalement sur l’activité économique qui s’y déroulait.

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La façon dont l’espace est traité dans le jeu est aussi symptomatique de cette interprétation. Placer les machines en groupe est important afin de maximiser leurs revenus, mais la circulation des joueurs dans l’espace n’est pas prise en compte, ce qui peut aboutir à des situations assez absurdes, mais économiquement viables. Résultat, l’espace se réduit à une fonction utilitaire: une surface sur laquelle les machines sont posées.

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Ces mêmes machines font aussi la démonstration d’un problème d’obsolescence inévitable des jeux dans un contexte de salle d’arcade. Au fil du temps, chaque machine perdra de sa valeur jusqu’à ne plus rien rapporter de considérable si le joueur doit la vendre. Il s’agit donc de cerner le moment parfait où la machine est au zénith de sa popularité avant de la vendre pour en acheter une autre plus récente… Le roulement des machines est donc bien implémenté dans les mécaniques de jeux, mais force est d’admettre que cette dynamique semble faire abstraction du fait que, même à l’époque, il était aussi possible d’interchanger les circuits imprimés des machines afin de diminuer les frais de renouvellement de l’offre ludique. Considérant que l’existence cette fonction demeure un des facteurs importants expliquant le succès de Space Invaders au Japon en 1978, il est curieux qu’elle soit omise entièrement dans Arcadecraft.

Youtube Channel: “Games Inspired by Space Invaders”

astrofighter-arcadegame

I have been conducting research on old Japanese arcade games for the last few years now, and I came to realize some time ago that there is not many accessible resources for footage of old arcade games from the 1970s and early 1980s. The architecture of these games, combined to the difficulties associated to keep the hardware up and running, typically make them difficult observe in person. Besides tiny pictures published in a few obscure Japanese mooks that are now out of print, it remains difficult to obtain footage of old games of the period that mostly fall in the shadow of epoch-making games like Western Gun or Space Invaders. While one can easily find original footage of a game of Space Invaders, footage of a game like Astro Fighter remains much more elusive. Both for satisfy my personal curiosity and to provide some sort of easy-to-access resource for reference purposes when teaching about arcade games from that period,  I started a little Youtube channel called “Games inspired by Space Invaders” back in 2017. I just though now about formally introducing it…

The plan for that channel is to make available footage of a corpus of games immediately released after Space Invaders in 1978 and that take design inspiration from Tomohiro Nishikado’s famous title. Historically speaking, the wild success of the game took the industry by storm at the end of the 1970s and inspired many companies to adapt some of the mechanics that made the game so exciting, or to simply copy the game entirely. In all of the games featured on the channel, one can identify specific design tropes such as the advancing invaders, the iconic shooting mechanics, and other fictional elements. Maybe the juxtaposing the games through platform that Youtube provides will help formulate a narrative of the impact that Space Invaders exerted over the arcade industry during its early years. Keeping this possibility in mind, the channel will stay updated as often as possible to reflect my latest discoveries of titles of interest.

 

 

Ofuro+ramen+game center=?

The Asahi Journal publicized this week the opening of the first location of a new ramen restaurant chain called Nintama Ramen that aims to merge together three of Japan’s best gifts to the world: public baths, game centres, and ramen noodles. The establishment, demonstrating the constant transformation of the style of game centre operations in the country, is situated at one of the trucker stops of national highway 51 nearby Tokyo. It is primarily targeting a clientele of travellers and weary drivers looking for a short rejuvenating break on a long-distance trip. While arcade games have always been part of the broader leisure strategy employed by hotels and hot spring resorts to attract and retain customers, this seems to be a first example of a venue that combines these three seemingly disconnect services in this fashion.

Publication – Text Mining JRPGs

The article I have been working on for many years now has been published through the Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds. The paper grew out of an experimental project that I conducted for the completion of the field papers requirements as part of my PhD degree that the MLCS department had at the time at the University of Alberta. I essentially text mined hundreds of JRPG reviews in order to find meaningful discourses that would help scholars understand the formation of the JRPG genre as a discursive phenomenon. While not all the results introduced groundbreaking elements to the history of the circulation of JRPGs in the anglophone Western world, I believe that it provide enough new elements that could serve as a base for the emergence of renewed inquiries on the genre, as well as reaffirm previous claims backed with statistical evidence.

Perhaps the element that surprised me the most was that, starting from 2009 onward, JRPGs started to be written on in a much more negative fashion than in previous years. The contrast between these two generated topics covering both positive and negative language offered some paths worth investigating:

Negative connotations attached to the genre clearly outnumber positive ones with JRPGs becoming objects of harsh critique at a time of an important industry-changing technological shift in game production and marketing. Although JRPGs did have a generally positive reputation in the first few years of the twenty-first century, their image was tarnished by the end of the decade as their higher presence in the media exposed them to conflictual reinterpretations through a phenomenon compa-
rable to Appadurai’s ‘tournament of values’.

Overall, I think this is just the beginning between text mining and me. Having gone through all the steps to publish this sort of research (both to conduct and explain the project), I am now in a much stronger position to tackle more ambitious projects on gaming culture and digital humanities methods using my own tools. If you have any game-related text data sets that beg to be explored, don’t hesitate to reach out!