Thursday, April 17, 2008

Are you an American Gamer?

The gaming world has three different types of games.

Japanese: The first widely accepted popular game type, the Japanese game, is one that most people are familiar with. Frequently, these games tend to have more in-depth plot and cerebral requirements than games of other regions. One can argue that these types of games are the "weird" games that one's older sister writes off as being "nerdy" when speaking about them to their friends. Japanese games tend to also follow the tendency of Japanese culture to be more artistic or have unusual, fantastic premises either based on very realistic but tweaked scenarios, or complete fantasy adventures a la Final Fantasy. Often games are developed with a more international view but with a Japanese twist (and sometimes twisted to the point where localization for other markets is deemed impossible).

American: American games emerged during the era of the Xbox (mostly because there was no American console manufacturer prior). These games tend to be more rooted in real life than others. An American game's plot or premise will tend to exist on a platform based on the real world, where a Japanese game player to lends himself more often to believing the plot exists in an alternate/parallel universe. American games also tend to involve less strategy (compared to popular titles such as Final Fantasy) and be based on less fantastic types of action, such as street racing or first person shooters. Often times, less advance planning is mentally required when playing an American console game.

Euro: European games tend to be a melding of American and Japanese games, despite gamers in this territory often being given delayed releases or heavily altered titles. European games tend to be artistic and less localized than American titles. Many European titles will also contain historic references or multicultural references. Games from this region are relatively new and their unique flavor is still in the works but all signs point to an emphasis on art.

So why do these disparities exist? Several reasons can be hypothesized, however I will only list a few.

The first reason for different game types lies in culture. While perhaps seeming shallow at face value, this is the most complex reason for the difference in games. Sure, Japan and the US have different cultural interests - the Japanese tend to be more open than Americans for the most part - but certainly things often overlooked matter. Schooling Japan is different than American, and one can even go out and argue while Americans aren't "stupid", the Japanese certainly demand much higher standards in education than have been established in the US. This obviously can play into a population's interest in software demands, interactivity, and contributed innovation to any industry. Likewise, the Japanese have established a national directive stating creativity should be a primary concern of the country to drive the economy, where the American economy has historically been on top and national cultural priorities have been placed on other things, such as personal recreation - like street racing and sports, for instance.

Continuing this reason into the next we come to geography and impact on ethnocentrism. Japan is a small country and with limited natural resources the country has connected to the international community and gained the associated perspective. The US has a significant amount of natural resources and space, and as mentioned previously, has been able to place primary cultural interests in more recreational items. Simply put, a lot of the American public has never had a reason to be interested in the cultures and experiences of other countries when a strong economy has allowed individual members of the population to pursue their own personal interests exclusively. As a result, significant localization and tweaking is often executed on a Japanese game before a US release. Very often many games will not be released at all, such as the case with Super Mario Bros 2 or several of the Final Fantasy titles back in the 1990s, due the expectation the American culture would not accept the title or franchise. The American public's intense interest in personal interests has also spawned a library of software based around these activities, many of which are often found only in the American culture due to lack of need for international connections. Couple this with the tendency for American games to be rooted in real life along with self-absorbed activities and you have a recipe for poor sales in other regions. Think Xbox 360 in Japan.

The last major reason I will throw out for thought is technology. The Japanese have historically been associated as the wizards of technology and have made a killing in the market as a result. In the late 1980s and 1990s American games could not sustain themselves against Japanese titles, due to American titles being less engaging than their counterparts in terms of less exquisite graphics and more clumsy understanding of gameplay technology. A Final Fantasy title was simply more impressive, and as a result immersive, when compared to other titles. In fact, the first recognizably "American" title, despite being developed in the UK, was Goldeneye 007. By comparison, five Mario titles had emerged on the market at the time, praised for pushing technology and gameplay experiences, with the most recent being Super Mario 64 and its solid grasp of 3D.

My intent in this piece is not to say Americans are selfish or the Japanese are picky - this is hardly the case. Certainly there are gamers that can appreciate titles from anywhere and plenty of crossover does occur between tastes and titles on any market. I myself, find that I have very Japanese tastes, mostly due to my upbringing and historical experiences but I definitely enjoy a good game of Burnout Paradise and Portal when I get the chance. Cross-regional tastes are emerging, accelerated by consoles like the Wii, which offers both experiences. Here's to hoping each region gets to enjoy other regions' contributions to the vast game library of the world. There are some real gems out there.

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