Category Archives: English

#PokémonSaS Project at the CSDH/SCHN 2020 Conference

I will be presenting the text mining project on the Pokémon Sword and Shield Twitter community that I previously introduced a few weeks ago at this year’s CSDH/SCHN conference on June 5th. Academic associations are facing the challenge of quickly adapting their summer conferences to a format suitable for online exchanges in the context of the ongoing epidemic. This involves, amongst other things, less time dedicated to formal presentations and more emphasis on questions, which is, in my opinion, the most beneficiary part of the whole process. I am looking forward to hearing about new developments in digital scholarship, and discussing future avenues for the analysis of our database.

Meanwhile, you can access the conference paper on Humanities Commons, and a visualization of our Twitter corpus on Tableau public.

Square Enix Commercials: Nostalgia and Human Connection

With the upcoming release of the long-awaited remake of Final Fantasy VII (or at least the first instalment of an alledged trilogy), I have taken interest in the marketing strategy that Square-Enix has employed over the last few years to sell its new titles in Japan. Television commercials of two of the company’s major works, Dragon Quest XI and Final Fantasy VII Remake, have been noticed for relying not so much on content and features, but on a mix of nostalgia and the contextualization of the games as communication tools.

Dragon Quest XI TV commercial.

Final Fantasy VII Remake TV commercial. Apparently, this commercial is the longest ever aired on Japanese television.

In both videos, it is not the games, but rather the players that are put forward. Individuals are juxtaposed to one another in order to emphasize the plurality of settings and ways in which the game is experienced. The Final Fantasy VII commercial puts us in the shoes of a neophyte confronted to a social world where everyone seems to communicate through memories related to the game, a situation salvaged by his budding interest in its universe and the promise to enjoy it with his partner when it comes out. Here, the games are not presented as engaging stories or challenges worth taking on, but as vectors of human connections.

This situation is much different, however, to commercials of other minor games released by Square Enix during the same period. Despite the status as mobile games tied to equally long-running franchises, Romancing Saga Re:universe and Final Fantasy Brave Exodus have not had the similar treatment. Their marketing strategies rather relied on other elements such as game features and comical mise en scènes. Despite the direct integration of social mechanics in the core of the product itself, these do not seem to define the discourses of these games as much as they were a decade ago with titles such as Puzzle and Dragon.

Game advertisements in Japan have evolved tremendously since SEGA aired the first commercial for the arcade game Samurai in 1980. The change in focus from game features to human connection is probably not unique to the examples mentioned above. However, as the game industry is turning into a purveyor of “fandom” rather than consumable products, we might see more commercials adopting the unique tone developed by Square Enix to present games as an entry ticket to a community.

 

 

New Position: Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at UQÀM

I have once again been neglecting this outlet for quite a while now despite a few major changes to my situation as a researcher. My last blog post was dedicated to announcing the successful defence of my PhD dissertation. However, at around the same time, I had received news that my funding application to secure a postdoctoral research fellowship position at UQÀM to the Fonds de recherche du Québec was approved by the agency. I forgot to officially announce the good news here, so I wanted to take some time to properly introduce the orientation of my second major research project.

Since my arrival in Montréal two years ago, I have been working closely with the Homo Ludens research group on a variety of projects, but with no clear agenda of my own beyond adapting to a new research environment and agenda. However, Prof. Maude Bonenfant and I made plans to make my presence in the research group more concrete with tangible research outcomes by supporting a research fellowship application at UQÀM though which I could further my specialization in data-driven game analysis, as well as share my expertise with the group. Fast forward a year or so, and a successful funding application for a two-year research position, and I now have my own office and the chance to spend a considerable amount of time research text mining applications to game studies projects and, excitingly, make use of them for a concrete long-term project with fellow graduate students.

The core objective of my research fellowship is to provide a comprehensive overview of the different text mining tools and methods that can be used in the machine-assisted study of video games and video game culture. This is somewhat of a fresh subfield as data-driven work in game studies is as prominent as it has the potential to be considering to extent to which digital game is made of primarily born-digital texts and database structures. The main project in which our methodology will be tested will be an analysis of the reception of the upcoming Pokémon Sword and Shield games for Nintendo Switch based on data gathered from Twitter from the perspective of gameplay mechanics, a topic aligned with this year’s overall theme of the Homo Ludens research group.

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One of the promotional events for the release of Pokémon Sword and Shield

I started the position in June, but a mix of conference travel, institutional strike, and the need tie up a few loose ends prevented me from starting to dedicate most of my time to furthering the objectives of my mandate. Consequently, the project is still in its early phase, but I plan to share information about it in a more timely fashion from now on.

As a final note, I just want to reach out to all text mining researchers out there who might want to share ideas or insights about the specifics on conducting research that bridges between game studies and digital humanities. I would like to report on the progress of the project on this platform as often as possible, and possibly use it as a way to discuss issues and the various roadblocks that we will run into. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you feel that any aspects explored here speak to you!

The End of a Journey: Thesis Officially Deposited

As I am traveling back to Japan to attend the 2019 Replaying Japan and DiGRA conferences in early August, I want to take a moment to official announce that my journey as a graduate student came to an end last week when my thesis deposit was officially accepted by the University of Alberta. This marks the culmination of a seven year-long adventure that started by discovering the fascinating world of Japanese arcades when I was living in Japan in 2012. Little did I know when I started my initial research on this topic that this world would occupy the main part of my intellectual life for almost a decade. I feel grateful for my institution, the University of Alberta, my thesis supervisor, Prof. Geoffrey Rockwell, and for the support provided by the many agencies (MEXT, SSHRC, and GRAND) that funded the project along the way. But as I enjoy this weight being lifted off my shoulders, still feel that I am leaving a project that still has many more facets lefts to explore. As I am reflecting on these past years I wonder, is this really the end? Are there really ends to this type of endeavor?

Many meaningful observations and pages of notes did not make it into the final version of my dissertation. While a part of me longs to engage them in complementary projects, I also feel the desire to explore entirely different topics as a junior academic. The field of game studies changes drastically in the space of ten years. The GamerGate controversy shook the foundation of game culture, virtual reality is bringing a new aesthetic paradigm to the market, and, most importantly for me, Japanese game studies is more visible than it has ever been. On a personal note, I am also much more involved in the exploration of the potential of text mining techniques in the study of games and gaming communities. I would seem that, for the time being, work on the spatiality and material conditions of game centers will have to wait until an opportunity to reexamine my ideas arises.

Perhaps a research project can never be over, but should be voluntarily halted for others to evaluate its contributions and suggest new paths of investigations. It is important to remind oneself that research is not conducted in a vacuum. Punctual releases of the status of one’s thoughts in the form of papers and, in this case, a dissertation, be them imperfect or incomplete to the eyes of its author, is an important step towards the production of knowledge. Perhaps this realization is the only way to cope with my current feeling of leaving a whole range of questions unexamined.

Sakura Taisen in the time of Reiwa

Two historic announcements were made in Japan during the past week. Both are completely unrelated, but I nevertheless decided to force them into a comparative framework. Let’s see how well that works.

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Image CNN

Japan is right on schedule with the plan of turning the page on the 30 years of the Heisei era by announcing the new gengo, or era name, much to the delight of twitter users and idea-starved food conglomerates. Commemorative potato chips anyone? The new era name, starting May 1, 2019, is set to be Reiwa, or “auspicious peace” if we refer to Abe’s press conference. Other, probably more concrete meanings based on the characters’ common understanding, would point at a translation closer to “commanding peace” or “commanding harmony”. In both cases, the new era name seems to translate the current administration’s tendency towards a stronger right-wing national affirmation in the face of contemporary challenges and conflicting international relationships in the East Asia region. Considering that Heisei could be, in retrospect, defined by the two major natural disasters that bookend the era, major epoch-defining terrorist attacks, both foreign and domestic, as well as the more tangible aging crisis and the spectre of unruly North Korea, the choice is probably meant to inspire optimism in Japanese society. A new emperor will not solve any of these problems, but might breathe some much-needed vitality to Japanese public life.

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Image Zerochan

The second announcement does not quite have as much gravity as the first. Indeed, SEGA is set on breathing new life to Sakura Taisen, a franchise that, for all instances and purposes, had been lying dormant since 2005.  Shin Sakura Taisen, the announced project’s name, is still very short of specifics since the only available information released about the game is but a single two minute-long promotional video, but already certain elements are worth a closer look for fans of the series. No gameplay elements have been revealed, but it is already clear that recent developments in the Japanese VR design principles are bleeding into more mainstream products. Looking at the first images of the game, it seems obvious that SEGA is taking account of Summer Lessons’ camera work and the sense of scale that characterize VR products so as to renew bishōjo games’ old formula. More than anything, it is the first-person perspective and the focus on eye contact that reminds me the most of Summer Lessons.

However, one should not forget that, primarily, this game as always banked on feelings generated by its unabashed nostalgic national affirmation through the reinterpretation of Japan’s pre-war prosperity that eschews issues of colonialism, war of expansion and fascism. Themes of the series have focused on the domestic struggle between tradition/modernity and mysticism/science in an era of transition. In Sakura Taisen, Japan is at the centre of the Asian world, and “commands” a form of harmony between colonial territories under the auspices of the Empire that the fighting maidens of the game protect against domestic demons. The visual identify of Sakura Taisen is rife with flags, military uniforms, and other symbols that echoes the national and military mobilization of social life that emerged in the Taisho era.

Shin Sakura Taisen is announced at a time when Abe’s government is taking steps to direct the country’s symbolic direction, as opposed to a constitutional one, towards a stronger affirmation of nationalism that could be characterized as more authoritarian. It is because of the insistence of fans’ desire to re-actualize the series’ cleaned-up depiction of the Taisho period, perhaps in need of some empowering representation of Japan, that SEGA has finally decided to approve the project after a hiatus of fifteen years. Taking into consideration that Sakura Taisen originally came out in 1996 in the middle of the ¨lost decade¨ where optimism was at a very low point after the financial crash, its runaway success as a social phenomenon could be read in conjunction with the catharsis that its worldview provided to gamers, a demographic that has often expressed sympathy for nationalist right-wing politics. It offered an imagined window on the Taisho era, a time when Japan could confidently compete with Western nations for global influence, without considering its darker moments.  The series lost its purpose when its characters started to travel to France and the United States in the fourth and fifth opuses, but a return to Japan, set chronologically in 1940 just before the start of the Pacific War when the Empire of Japan was arguably at its most authoritative, signals that SEGA finally understands the appeal of this series of games and its broader media mix: its function as a device for positive national representation relying on a rewriting of history. It presents a fantasy of what a Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere could have been.

It is still unclear if this new game represents the desire to recapture this untamed national affirmation and positivity for Japan’s future made possible by an authoritarian leadership, but it raises enough few time-sensitive questions that justifies keeping an eye open on it in the coming year. Indeed, newsworthy events sometimes echo one another in revealing ways. Will Shin Sakura Taisen be the first significant gaming product of the Reiwa era? In any case, it is time to dust off my Sega Saturn and Dreamcast to do justice to the series’ previous entries that I have yet to play and, at the same time, see how much of the ideas presented here hold up.

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.

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.