Posted by: seanmalstrom | July 6, 2011

Japanese ‘culture’ isn’t the reason why Japanese games no longer sell worldwide

From gameindustry.biz’s interview with Kojima…

Speaking to Gamesindustry.biz in a brief interview at Gamelab in Barcelona last week, Kojima revealed that he feels technology is making cultural differences more apparent thanks to increased verisimilitude.

“With recent technology there’s more capability for expression in games,” said Kojima in answer to a question about the expression of culture in games. “We are able to put in more cultural differences from each country, racial differences. So we’re facing a similar situation to that which faced Charlie Chaplin. He didn’t need words to express himself in his movies but suddenly he had to include words in order to stay relevant.

“With this increased capability of expression through games, I think it’s a matter of learning how to use it,” he continued.

REALLY!? So it is only because of the ‘increased expression’ that technology allows which is causing this?

I am certain that it is not the ‘expression of culture’ that is behind this. The only difference in culture is how the West and Japan begin at different starting points when making a game.

I will prove this. Grab any random Western game developer, stick him in a room, and then grab a random Japanese game developer, stick him in a different room. Ask them the same thing, “Describe to me your new video game you want to make.”

The Western developer will say, “The game is LIKE another game in THIS way…” The Japanese developer will say, “It is not like any game at all!”

This long noted difference between the Japanese and Western developers actually revolves around one thing: creativity.

The Japanese developers have a devotion to this thing called “creativity” (which they cannot define but are sure it exists). They believe the game developer is an ‘artist’. And they believe any restriction on the ‘vision’ is a ‘bad thing’.

The Western developer may fall under the spell of “creativity”, but nowhere to the extent that the Japanese developer does. The Western developer accepts the premise that there are reasons of Nature why people are attracted to certain types of games. The Japanese developer does not believe in the teleological viewpoint.

If I say, “The final purpose of a video game is to give pleasure to the customers,” I doubt a Western developer would argue with me. But the Japanese developer would not agree with this. To the Japanese developer, game development is a process whose purpose is his creativity. What is important is not whether customers are satisfied. What is important is if the developer was ‘creative’ or not.

I come from an engineering and science orientated family. The opposite of creativity is not ‘boring’ but rationale. Creativity is just a license to be irrational, for a modern man to act like a drug induced shaman. Despite the massive population explosion of the Industrial Revolution, why is it that there are so fewer quality artists compared to the Mozarts and Michelangelos of the past?

People forget that the Humanities used to be rational. Poetry used to be mathematics, i.e. music. Today, poetry is defined by ‘creativity’ where ‘poetry classes’ teach students to ‘get in touch with yourself’ and not know any rhyme or meter. The result is the complete destruction of all poetry business in America. Other mediums such as plays, movies, and music are also suffering.

Now think about video games. The first video game makers were engineers. Who else could make the computer do anything? Only an engineer could. Due to this requirement, video games began in life to have rational content. Even Super Mario Brothers ended up rational as it is nothing crazier than Alice in Wonderland. Show me an early video game, and I will show you rationality in the content.

No one made video games to be creative. I know this because I was making games during that time period. You were happy if you could get the computer to do what you wanted it to do. THAT was the challenge. No one looked at game making as idiot writers do ‘poetry sessions’. No one said, “I want to make video games so I can be… CREATIVE.” People made games because they were fun, and they were hoping they could consistently sell them so they wouldn’t have to get a real job.

What drives me to anger is that now that is not good enough for game developers. Now, they wish to be ‘creative’. Apparently, making games for a living isn’t “good enough”. They demand to ‘express themselves’. But since they do not possess great souls, they cannot express anything worthwhile.

While it is true that video games now can express greater graphics, this has nothing to do with ‘culture’. This has tilted game creation to the artists. Game companies must hire all these artists in order make their games colorful. These artists lack the rationality of the engineers who originally made video games. So these artists go about content creation in a non-rational way which they call ‘creativity’.

Look at the Final Fantasy series. It is not the expression of Japanese culture that has ruined the series. It is the Japanese obsession with ‘creativity’ that has ruined the series. The earlier games were far less ‘creative’ and performed much better.

A recent hit game is Minecraft. There is absolutely nothing ‘creative’ about that game. The game is about a bunch of blocks (as is Tetris). It is not about Minecraft’s lack of display but of the lack of creativity.

The reason why Call of Duty games perform well is, also, due to the lack of creativity. Call of Duty revolves around rational content: adherence to military arms and tactics. No one is making things up (except in the single player campaign which everyone complains about).

This is a classic example of Malstrom taking the conventional wisdom, turning it inside out, and watching everyone become ‘shocked’ and ‘surprised’ as it becomes right.

Kojima and Iwata say that as game technology allows more expressions, Japanese culture finds itself putting off Western customers. The old games sold worldwide because of the lack of this expression.

I say this is bullshit. The truth is the adherence to ‘creativity’ is creating irrational content that is putting off all the customers (Japanese market is dying, they aren’t buying this stuff). The old games sold worldwide because the content was fashioned by engineers who designed the content in a rational way.

Show me a best selling game, and I will show you rational content. Call of Duty has the military. Grand Theft Auto has the urban city and its gang warfare. World of Warcraft had the typical Lord of the Rings lore. People don’t know this but Command and Conquer was designed using the first Iraq War military vehicles with some traditional sci-fi twists (a stealth tank that cloaks). A game like Civilization works because the content is rational. The Civilization competitors all died because they kept trying to throw their ‘creative’ future technologies in there.

The reason why Western games have more worldwide presence and are a healthier market than Japan is because the Western developer doesn’t yet believe in ‘creativity’ as the Japanese do. Every programmer knows that if you input garbage in, you get garbage out. It works the same way with content. You put in garbage content, you get garbage sales. The irrational belief, known as creativity, does not believe in this. It believes that creativity, alone, creates sales. And if it doesn’t, that means the customers are stupid and need to get with the program. I don’t have to say how destructive that attitude can be to a business.

Gaming was better when engineers, not artists, made video games. Games were rational, made sense, and were consistently fun. Now, despite how pretty games are, they make no sense and feels like garbage.


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