Category Archives: field trip 2016

Field Trip: Last Day

This is the last day of the field trip, it has been fun and instructive. I went back to the Diet Library to get a few more news clipping from the 1970-1990 era of game center history, but I realized I already had pretty much all I needed. Now I need to pack all the material I got into my suitcase, and since the light bulb died yesterday, I will be doing that with my cellphone flashlight. Lovely!

My flight is at 4 PM tomorrow. I will be very happy to be back home and finally start processing all of that information into nice case studies to apply my theoretical framework upon. See you in the prairies soon!

Day of DH 2016

On a whim, I decided to join the Day of DH movement yesterday. I created a small blog that you can access here. The time difference with Japan made it a little challenging to figure out the logistics, but I believe that the experiment was worthwhile.

Day of DH is a global event where DH scholars create a blog associated with the official Day of DH homepage and share whatever they do on that specific day with the community. This year, Day of DH was on April 8th.

As a DH scholar, I often get asked what DH is all about. This event is an attempt to answer that question by tapping into the large diversity of DH scholars to provide an answer that is both crowdsourced and can be further analyzed with text mining techniques. I expect some word clouds and other interesting things to be generated after the results of this year’s event; I am very much looking forward to look at all of it.

An Evening at Mikado

I visited many game centers since my arrival to Tokyo, but there is one in particular that deserves a dedicated post on this blog. That game center is Mikado, home to a thriving fighting game community as well as some unusual arcade games.

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Hiroyasu Katô, whom I featured in another blog post, was kind enough to introduce me to this unique venue along with a few other interesting game centers in the Nakado area of Tokyo. We both wrote notes and took many photographs to document these spaces as much as possible for future current and future projects. When we arrived at Mikado, we were fortunate enough to make full use of Prof. Katô’s personal network of fighting game experts; he had many acquaintances on-site that were in a position to introduce us to the overall social fabric of the place.

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Mikado is a retro-style game center specializing in titles that emerged during the 1990s fighting game boom. Top players from all over Tokyo gather here to learn, exchange and participate in the daily tournaments held in the venue, all commentated by the owner himself. The sense of community is strong; fans schedule weekly meeting around the machines to share techniques for specific fighting games (events called taisenkai), and fan-produced strategy guides for obscure games can be found amongst the various piles of flyers lying around. The staff is constantly working on the machines wether it is to change the setting of a cabinet or to fix a circuit board with soldering iron. All of that is being done at arm’s length of players and the tournament show-floor; while customers are usually kept at bay from all maintenance activities in most of the large-scale game centers, here, repairs are conducted in plain view. Tournaments matches are projected onto giant screens facing the main staircase to facilitate spectatorship as the venue becomes more crowded and walking around turns into a challenge in itself.

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But Mikado is more than just a hub for fighting game aficionados, it also curates a collection of unusual games that, despite their debatable ludic qualities, somehow carved a new place for themselves into this venue. Prof. Katô introduced me to an arcade version of the dating simulator Tokimeki Memorial in which players go on dates with various characters of the series. Interaction is limited; in key moments of the game, the user must quickly answer a tricky question from his date partner. The game features a pulse sensor onto which the player’s left hand need to rest. The “right” answers to all questions in the game change based on the correlation between the sensor’s reading and the “tone” of the reply’s line. Try to cover up a nervous state of mind with a detached reply, and its game over. Apparently, Mikado hosted tournaments of this game in the past; I can imagine very well how a game that is so perfectly unsuited to public performance could generate hilarious situations when the crowd gets involved.

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The other game that one again demonstrates the specific culture shared by Mikado gamers is a strange 1988 baseball game titled Moero!! Puro yakyû hômuran kyosen. Everything about that game screams kusoge (shitty game). It is basically a home run competition game that looks like something  straight out of the Atari 2600 era. The player must hit continuous home run in order to continue. Fail twice in a row, and it’s game over. The game has acquired a reputation for being the fastest arcade game to give users a Game Over screen. A typical game session lasts about 30 seconds, but, as I experienced, that system never fails to provide a big laugh. Mine lasted almost as long as the time I spent playing. Insert 100 yen, and then, sugu owaru (immediately over). Mikado gamers certainly have a great sense of humour and somewhat seem to enjoy being the laughingstock of that joke of a video game. I doubt that gamers in 1988 took the joke that well though. In a way, that game was salvaged from the great library of the forgotten video games of the 1980s to be repurposed as one of the multiple pillards of Mikado’s local gaming culture. According to a conversation with another of Prof. Katô acquaintances, Moero!! stands as that infamous “ridiculously unforgiving game” that everybody familiar with the venue needs to try at least once. There are even special buttons awarded to players who hit twenty home runs.

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These are just a few of the elements that set Mikado apart from other game centers. It reminds us that the experience of playing video game leans on so much more than on simply what appears on screen. Playing in public, specifically, exposes that experience to the influence of local factors that are sometimes very unique.

Le Musée des machines à 10 yens

Je suis allé au Dakashiya gēmu hakubutsukan dernièrement (Le musée du jeu des magasins de bonbon de quartier… pas trop joli comme traduction ). Je ne m’attendais pas à grand chose; une petite pièce vide pleine de veilles machines fonctionnant qu’à moitié et supervisé par un vieux monsieur blasé. Finalement, c’était tout le contraire.

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L’endroit était bondé de toutes sortes de gens qui semblaient prendre un réel plaisir à jouer aux machines à 10 yens. Le sympathique proprio Akihito Kishi est définitivement un passionné de ce genre de machines dont il tente de préserver l’héritage pour les générations futures. Le fonctionnement de chacune des machines est clairement expliqué sur de petits papiers collés sur leurs vitrines, et les machines plus fragiles font l’objet d’une petite notice disant de ne pas trop les brusquer afin d’en préserver le mécanisme.IMG_2159

Les jeux à 10 yens sont des machines électromagnétiques dans lesquels on place une pièce de 10 yens et, à l’aide de leviers de ressorts, on tente de lui faire parcourir toute la surface du jeu de façon verticale sans la tomber dans les trous. Il existe beaucoup de variations, mais le principe reste toujours le même. En cas de réussite, un coupon est relâché de la partie inférieure de la machine. On échange le dit coupon contre un truc à manger par la suite. Ce genre de machine fut très populaire au Japon durant la deuxième moitié de l’ère Showa (1926-1989), il s’agissait probablement d’une bonne méthode pour “soulager” les gens de leur excédent de petite monnaie.

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Je me suis procuré de livre de Mr. Kishi sur place, il en a profité pour m’indiquer quelques autres endroits à visiter à Tokyo en lien avec la culture du jeu rétro.

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Bref, ce fut une première occasion de manipuler ce genre de machines et de constater toute l’étendue de leurs diversités. En fait, outre ce qu’il contient préserve, ce musée a la particularité de ce trouver physiquement au genre d’endroit où les machines à 10 yens on probablement le plus été joué historiquement, c’est à dire, une minuscule rue marchande au beau milieu d’un quartier résidentiel assez tranquille (et difficile d’accès dans ce cas-ci). On peut dire que ce contexte spatial accentue l’expérience proposée par le musée, beaucoup plus que si, par exemple, il avait été fondé dans un centre-ville ou un “department store” générique. Ici, les éléments structurant l’expérience muséale n’est pas strictement confinée à l’espace du musée lui-même, mais, dans une certaine mesure, ils s’étendent aussi tout l’écosystème marchand et social du quartier au complet.

Au coeur de Tokyo, à deux pas d’Ikebukuro

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Voici mon nouveau chez moi pour le prochain mois. Nous sommes en plein Higashi Ikebukuro, près d’une des stations de train les plus achalandées de Tokyo. C’est très central, ce qui va faciliter mes déplacements. Je vais probablement passer beaucoup de temps au Club Sega en face de la station afin d’en faire un “case study” pour ma thèse. Otome Road est situé à deux rues de là, on va voir si l’environnement de ce game center s’en trouve affecté.

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Le bâtiment est assez vieux et c’est définitivement moins confortable que mon dernier appartement, mais je m’y attendais. C’est aussi en cohabitation, j’espère que l’on ne se tombera pas sur les nerfs.

Voilà, il reste un mois. La saison des sakura débute dans quelques jours.

The Aura is in the Production – Hiroshi Deguchi’s Keynote at Mechademia Conference 2016

I attended the 2016 edition of the Mechademia Conference in Tokyo last week-end. It was a great occasion to hear some great papers on manga and anime that I know very little of. I also had the chance to meet various important people of the Japanese cultural scene. One of them was the venerable critic Hiroshi Deguchi, researcher at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and long-time member of the Comic Market organizational committee. I took some note during his keynote address entitled “Japanese Manga and Cultural Diversity”.

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Challenging traditional notions of “happy stories”

Mr. Deguchi’s talk demonstrated how the world of manga is providing diversity in the form of alternative “life world” narratives that challenges traditional notions such as family or gender roles. However, these narratives are not produced by artists working within the mainstream manga culture, but from the fringes often associated with the otaku subculture. Otaku culture, therefore, is interpreted as resolutely post-modern in the way it encourages self-expression and the quest for individual happiness unbounded by any “arbiters of meaning”.

It is here that his talk took an interesting turn. Mr. Deguchi’s other important point was to establish that the representatives of high culture, those who usually shun the seemingly derivative subcultural productions, are supporting a hierarchical system that is “artificial” within the Japanese context. Mr. Deguchi demonstrated how Japanese visual culture in the Edo period was characterized by some of the aspects that are usually associated to Japanese dôjin culture such as the heavy emphasis on mundane subject matters and eroticism. It is only after Western cultural standards started permeating the Japanese cultural landscape in the 20th century that a distinction between high and low art was established. Referencing Walter Benjamin’s concept of the “aura” of a work of art, Mr. Deguchi stated that in the case of dôjin derivative works, there is no question wether an “aura” is present or not within a reproduced work (print or otherwise), rather, the “aura” is to be found within the dôjin activity itself. In other words, in the production itself. That “aura” is defined by a sense of belonging to a community of like-minded people who create derivative work for the pleasure of engaging within a community.

Mr. Deguchi’s association of post-modern subculture and traditional Edo visual culture as a way to legitimize otaku productions and situate them as the contemporary embodiment of the “real” Japanese culture is not completely new as far as I know. I remember a similar argument made by Murakami Takashi within the theoretical groundings of the Superflat movement by linking Ukiyo-e aesthetics and contemporary animation. However, what Mr. Deguchi’s talk made more explicit was the how the diversity of narratives created by fringe manga artists is directly in line with current sensibilities regarding representation politics.

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In itself, this interpretation bridges with Western academia in an interesting fashion. It is true that some of the examples provided during the talk put emphasis on how queer life worlds and non-normative life styles can be represented in positive way within fringe subculture, but I can foresee the limits of this discourse for foreign intellectuals. Japan is often the object of criticism due to its tolerance of manga featuring sexual violence (of any kind), and, more recently, such criticism came from the UN directly. The question of whether this judgement is legitimate or not is still up in the air and, in Japan, the UN’s report is itself being denounced. It seems that diversity and representation politics are often challenging concepts to negotiate between Western countries and Japan. I am looking forward to see how academics will address the subject in years to come.

Direction: Tokyo – Mechademia Conference 2016

 

Je viens tout juste de terminer mon allocution à Ritsumeikan (45 minutes de présentation en japonais comme baptême du feu) que je dois maintenant déménager à Tokyo pour le dernier mois de ce voyage. Ça passe vite.

Je vais manquer quelques événements intéressant à Kyoto, mais j’y aurai l’opportunité de présenter mes travaux et de finaliser ma recherche de documents dans les semaines qui viennent. Je serai à la conférence Mechademia près de Shibuya ce vendredi 18 mars pour parler de JRPG et de fouille de texte.