Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

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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.

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.

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.

Creative projects using Twine for C LIT 243: Fairy Tales and Folk Tales

 

 

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was introducing a special assignment for the summer version of the course C LIT:243 – Fairy Tales and Folk Tales. The term is almost over, and now is the time to share the works of some of my students with the internet at large.

These stories are meant to be contemporary reinterpretations of classic fairy tales themes, characters or storylines. Student integrated both the themes we analyzed in class, as well as some coding techniques allowing them to join story passages together, create branching paths (either arborescent, axial or networked narratives), as well as integrating some amount of macros and variables. We analyzes a few fairy tales-inspired Twine stories as part the in-class time dedicated to this project, and perhaps these stories could be used by other instructors in classes with a similar interest on interactive reinterpretations of classic fairy tales.

 

The Big Bad Wolf

Written by Ashley Bray, Breana Walsh and Steeven Jobin

 

Miss-education of Snow White

Written by Aaron Brown, Todd Pelan and Janina Graham

 

Hannan Takes New York

Written by Anonymous

 

Grandpa’s Fireplace

Written by Lynsey Stewart and Iliana Pappas

 

Out of the Cind

Written by Anonymous

 

Level Up! Recent Research Interview

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I was interviewed by the German fanzine Level UP! editor in chief  a few months ago, and the interview itself was made available just a few weeks ago. While the interview was conducted in English (and is till available in English on the website), the whole thing was translated in German for publication, which amazes me. Having done a few translations in the past, I know that this is extremely time-consuming.

As for the interview itself, I talk a lot about my current dissertation project, as well as my side projets on JRPGs. I would like to thanks Mathias again for this opportunity, this was very useful for me to once again situate my thoughts on the matter of transcultural video game circulation, and explain the place that text mining might come to play in order to explore some of these issues. Don’t hesitate to take a look if you are interested in any of these things!

Symposium: Digital Narratives Around the World

The symposium that I have been preparing alongside Prof. Astrid Ensslin is being held today. I am glad that we could set time aside to host this event; many professors and students from around campus are converging to share the status of their research on the topics of storytelling and digital technology. These ranged from reading surveillance systems (Rockwell) to creative use of digital mapping for personal storytelling (Mackey).

You may follow the conversation online on the symposium twitter hashtag:

#YEGdigitalnarratives

Thanks to all participants!