When looking at the media landscape throughout the last hundred years or so we see different media fields repurposing and remaking works from each other. Books would be turned into movies, movies into books, songs into plays, plays into books, you get the idea. Revisiting old stories under a new light was nothing particularly uncommon. Sometimes for the better, often for the worse. While remaking or reimagining works has always existed in some form, the modern media has been mostly concentrated on remaking films and television shows. This could be mostly attributed to the sensibilities that are driving franchises, which end up making the most money. A single film might be marketable for a while, but when something new comes along, customers’ attention can be easily stolen away. What better way to keep that brand on the surface by constantly pumping content based on that popular thing? Franchises have survived catastrophic failures, like Highlander II: The Quickening, though similar bombs have effectively killed any viability of an Intellectual Property for decades.
Nowadays, it seems that IPs are harder to kill than ever before and corporations are banking on them like no other. We have over thirty years old franchises still seeing new entries, and while some aim to produce a new kind of experience, others rely on nostalgia to drive things home. These decades-old things were new at some point, and while they will always be new to someone, all the major ones are deeply carved into our cultural mindset. Darth Vader, the lightsabre, Captain of the starship Enterprise, horrible face-raping aliens, Ring to rule them all, Three Laws of Robotics, the truth is out there, down down-forwards forwards Punch makes a fireball and so much more what we know is through cultural osmosis. We know these things as modern media are the continuation of stories of old. Now we have the best tools humanity has ever had to spread these new ideas and stories out there for everybody to read, see and listen to, but we’re using these tools to revisit the same old stories with a new lick of paint. Even the Marvel movies that get celebrated are largely recreations of what was already told, just with few new twists there. Twists, which ended up making Thanos, one of Marvel’s strongest villains next to Dr Doom, a lacklustre shadow of his comic counterpart with only glimpses of the shades and colours he could’ve shown on the screen.
That is an issue that all long-running franchises have to deal with; new writers. While a chance to create something special, it’s also a massive risk that they’ll just fuck things up.
While the 1990s saw tons of reheats from the 1960s, the last two decades have been constantly called the era of remakes. While not wholly accurate, we can’t really deny a trend of taking dormant past IPs and trying to breathe new life in them. Charlie’s Angels has been revived at least twice during the new millennium, and the last time they did that was a massive failure in every respect. Ghostbusters was also revived twice (with the upcoming movie being the third time) with the Atari game being a success both financially and critically. The same can’t be said for the 2016 film, which almost ended the franchise then and there. The third time’s the charm. I don’t really want to mull over all this, you know what IPs have been successfully implemented to the new millennium and what hasn’t. We never needed a new Terminator or Predator flick, but we got ’em anyway, with each new movie being worse than the last. If you need a franchise ending example from recent years, look no further than The Predator.
Not even Star Wars has been spared from reusing old content for nostalgia. Despite Kathleen Kennedy making loud statements that they will pave a new road for the modern era of Star Wars for the new audience, they’ve resorted to nostalgia upon nostalgia all the while reusing old concepts and characters. Rather than taking the franchise in whole new directions, we’ve been revisiting characters and stories that were already told in a form or another. Pretty much everything Lucasfilm is currently pushing out in regards to Star Wars is revisiting old characters and concepts. Rather than pushing the IP, it has caved in to recycle.
The same can be applied to Star Trek, where each of the new series has somehow tied itself to past characters and concepts rather than trying something new and bold. Yet we had to see characters from Pike and Spock to almost the whole cast of The Next Generation. This sort of reliance on old and comforting characters and stories is largely a safety line; you can’t really fuck up too badly when the built-in audience will slob all over the franchise whatever you do with it. Herein lies the danger; you can burn your audience if you don’t handle the legacy of a property right.
Old marketing wisdom is that keeping your current customers is easier than gaining new ones. Looking at whatever media field you want, it seems like this has been twisted to something along the lines of Creating new IP is more dangerous than banking on an existing property. While the two don’t really exclude each other, we’ve seen the built-in audience being kicked away for a decade now. From games to films and television, we’ve heard the song of Get New Audience. Gamasutra went to the distance of telling us how gamers were over, a statement that has been echoing among the gaming press for a while with no results. Considering how closed and incestuous gaming and film industries (especially in the US), it’s no surprise that the same attitude would find its way to Hollywood. Many of the products that are now being made are not intended for the pre-installed audience. The marketing of course will always try to rope them in nevertheless, but as we’ve seen with pretty much all of these new entries, they’re not really wanted.
Everything was new at some point, and media can’t really be pushed forwards with rallying around the same shit all the time. While we haven’t seen major new entries to some of the oldest modern media icons, like Tarzan, they’re still there waiting for someone to take ’em for a spin. Dare I say that’s a problem to itself. Corporations want to bank on their IPs to the extent of not giving a damn how they are being treated on a larger scale, and damaging a franchise’s reputation and brand recognition has become an ever-increasing problem in the modern era. This is due to everyone being more connected to everyone else, and information is spreading like a running wildfire. It has become far harder to screw customers over. Perhaps that is also why corporations want to bank on old IPs, as they can sell the creators as fans among equals. By this point, I hope you’ve realised that’s an utter bullshit marketing gimmick.
If you have seen Masters of the Universe: Revelation‘s first five episodes, you’re probably aware of the latest example of this. Creators claim to be big fans, yet the story is another retread of What if Skeletorwins? storyline, the characters are not accurately portrayed and their major character points are missed and even large portions of unique elements are just either misunderstood or outright twisted out of shape. For example, Orko was portrayed as a lousy character that never amounted to anything in his life, either back at his home Trolla or at King Randor’s court. This, despite every iteration making a point that he is a great magician, one of their best, who just happens to have ended up in a dimension where magic works differently, thus him having a hard time making it work. In further expanded material, Orko’s position is that of a spy who was to keep tabs on the Power Sword and whoever wields it. In this light, Orko could be said to have acted for the sake of the cause. Instead, MOTU:R gives us a pathetic creature that tries to explain his tragic situation and backstory in order to artificially squeeze tears from the audience just to be killed. It’s hack writing at its finest and gives no real justification for either Orko’s death or otherwise, as it is so long-winded that any of the characters could’ve made any half-intelligent move and saved the day.
The backlash from MOTU:R has replicated pretty much the same patterns as any of these similar revived IPs with bullshit entry has, like Ghostbusters 2016. Some fans have found it objectionable content, and they have been in turn mocked. Not their points of arguments or anything that could be considered constructive, but rather the customers themselves have been mocked and belittled in the pettiest of ways combined with a healthy dose of slander and name-calling. It’s not a rarity nowadays for creators to talk down to consumers, often even attacking them. While this might win some browny points among their peers, the consumers will associate this negative PR with the creator and the brand. The aforementioned Ghostbusters 2016 is a perfect example of a short-lived shitstorm, after which pretty much everyone outside the Hollywood bubble agreed without many mincing words that it was a rather terrible movie.
A lot, if not all, of this drama and contention, would be easily sidestepped if all these re-used IPs were completely new and original instead. In this scenario, the works would be able to stand on their own legs without the baggage of old franchises. They’d also be able to realize that whole thing of creating a whole new consumer base and choose their own target customers. This would largely prevent any old farts from using decades of content as points of comparison, and thus criticism. It would be a win-win. Except this would mean they’d need to create something new that would be in direct competition with these already established franchises, and that requires a wholly different approach.
Yet we need new content, new ideas and new stories. The media landscape can’t survive on these old franchises for the rest of the executives’ lives. These people might be the most exciting or imaginative, yet they call the shots. Creators on the other hand should learn how to play them. Alternatively, circumvent the system altogether in whatever ways they can. You may ask if making a story like MOTU:R would be possible with a new IP, and the answer is yes. As the show already relies on flashbacks, there’s really nothing that could have prevented the series to be a whole new show with a whole net setting and characters.
Do you know why the Xenomorph is the featured image? Because it is arguably the most influential movie monster that was not based on a mythical being. Its influence is felt to this day in pretty much every single field of entertainment media and you can see it being ripped off, referenced and inspired by on an almost weekly basis. Even the classic Universal Movie Monsters had their inspiration in other stories. The Xenomorph, however, was something different. It strikes a different kind of core in the audience and opened new doors for horrific creatures. Despite the Predator being considered equal in terms of design, it is more human and can be understood to a large degree. While attempts have been made to create something that could be considered to compete on the same level of sheer uniqueness, very few monsters have come even close.
The wall to create something that could be the next Xenomorph, or the next Star Wars, is stupidly high. However, the entertainment industries, especially Hollywood and its bubble, have to get ready when old IPs stop making money. Disney has seen and felt how it feels to mismanage a billion-dollar franchise and lose money more and more with each new movie with Star Wars. It’s a downhill roll, and the only way they can climb up is to put something new to the table. Yet, even now, old and established is being tapped. Be it for the core fans or in chase of a new one, this losing battle should be cut short.
The world needs new stories to be inspired by. Even when it comes to money, it would be best for these corporations to bet on it as a long-term plan. Sadly, the more time passes, the more convinced I am there are no long-term plans with anyone. It’s all immediate action and short-term gains, be it in entertainment, politics or whatever.
One of Japan’s most important export product is its culture. For numerous years, their ministry has taken serious notice of their cultural goods making large-scale sales abroad. Cartoons, comics, novels, electronic games and even pornography has seen a constant rise in popularity since the Second World War. Even before that, there were people who were fascinated by this culture that is that much different than the Western hemisphere can offer.
However, this is a rather new event. Japanese culture was not exported by the government itself, but rather by foreigners who entered the country and brought it with them as they returned to their home counties. Whether or not it was because of the infamy of the Japanese actions during the war, or because the culture in itself was not seen as a profitable good to be imported. To this day, import of Japanese culture is seen as a taboo in some parts of the Asian world. For example, South Korea discourages and often outright censors depiction of Japanese culture in their media, which has lead companies to provide modified versions of their games for Korean markets. For example, the samurai Mitsurugi was replaced with Arthur, a European character that just happens to don Japanese armour and sword. Other fields of censorship South Korea frequently employs is regarding Shinto symbols, which get scrubbed from both television programmes and comics. Thailand has a long history with self-censorship, which has extended in policies against media displaying .e.g. Buddhist imagery. Sri Lanka also issues with certain religious concepts being showcased on air.
South Korea nevertheless has imported numerous Japanese products via copyright infringement and piracy among the official releases and has presented numerous Japanese-original products as their own. One of the more famous examples of this might be the design of Robot Taekwon V, which is a modified Mazinger-type design. The later designs in the series incorporate elements from Mobile Suit Gundam and especially from Combat Mecha Xabungle. Numerous bargain bin cartoons, like Space Thunderkids, exhibit numerous types of plagiarism Koreans practised at the time, ranging from music to character designs.
Koreans taking after a Japanese product should not be a surprise though. Japan improved its relation with their fellow Asian countries during the 1970s and 1980s, which in turn allowed their industry to grow even more by exporting their products. It was during this period when Japanese technology gained its fame, with cars making their way across the world and names like Sony were associated with high-quality products par none. A little company called Nintendo also effectively saved the American video game industry while struggling to compete against Sega in European markets.
Even earlier than that, the world had already begun to see the sort of creativity Japanese media was enjoying. It is thanks to Gigantor and Jonny Sokko and His Flying Robot (Tetsujin #28 and Giant Robot, respectively) that America associated Japan with giant robots, which was only enforced by the upcoming slow but sure burn of animation. Speedracer and other Japanimation paved the way of current trends for Western acceptance of anime. While current mainstream might discourage anyone from visiting these localized products, where characters, stories and sometimes even music were replaced via Americanization, they nevertheless helped these shows to gain a larger audience. They may not have been accurate, or even faithful to the original Japanese product, but that was not how you made business at the time. There was no market for original-language products in the same manner, in many ways, there still are not as many countries across the world still heavily localize and dub for the local market’s consumption.
Whether or not something is localized, unless completely redone from the ground up, you cannot divorce localized material from its original counterpart. The language may change, the story might change or maybe even the whole point of the product might change, yet the core idea will still stay and shine through. All the discussed examples, whether localized or plagiarized, are inherently Japanese on idea level and in concept.
All these shows were imported by individual entities and corporations, so they were mostly to make money. Some products, like the original Godzilla, did see a subtitles release before its localized version, which is an example of a foreign product made to fit the home market in a proper way. Without that, we would not have Godzilla in the global pop-culture landscape. It wasn’t until the late 1980s when Japan’s Takeshita government took the first true initiative to market Japanese culture abroad via exporting Japanese television programmes to other Asian countries. The Japan Media Communication Center, JAMCO for short, was established in 1991 by joint efforts of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Post and Telecommunication. This led to the translation of Japanese television programmes into English as well as developing shows specifically for export markets. Most of these shows were aired in other Asian countries, but many of them also found their way into the Western world. It’s easy to see a show like Iron Chef being promoted for foreign markets thanks to its local popularity, and it could be easily trimmed down from its hour-long episodes into shorter episodes.
All these efforts were furthered in 2001, when Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s (METI) Media and Contents Industry Division established a think-tank examine what challenges and prospects there were in promoting Japanese culture, especially its media contents, to overseas market. In fact, even before that METI had recognized the growing trend of Japanese culture-products to have a rising trend in export, and estimated that multimedia industries, that of electronic entertainment, music, films, software, broadcasting and such would generate over 55 trillion yen, a boost that post-Bubblegum Bubble Japan could’ve used. It would be an understatement that the Japanese government was becoming well aware of the potential of their cultural export.
The combination of Japanese products’ quality and the further steps of having Japanese media presented as Japanese has created its own brand image. Made in Japan is still seen as a certain brand of quality, but nowadays just Japan delivers a certain kind of image of the cultural landscape and the type of products it offers. The constant export of Japanese media goods has furthered the expansion of their culture, with electronic entertainment and multimedia products being in the lead. This might be due to Japan having a much longer history in multimedia productions, something that did not hit the Western world until the 1980s.
Outside electronic games, Japanese comics and cartoons have experienced almost a thirty years rise in popularity in the Western markets, with the late 1990s early 2000s experiencing a breakthrough boom when a new generation found anime. The blooming Internet culture at the exchange of the millennium continued the older VHS fan subtitle culture in digital form, and freely shared shows with added subtitles spread Japanese popular culture even wider. In many ways, the current state of affairs, where almost every new animated programme gains official subtitled release of some sort, is a direct result of this fansub culture and the piracy it promoted. It was, in effect, years of the best kind of promotion and advertisement, which lead these people taking steps to be involved in the industry and make sure that the market would get what it yearned.
Without a doubt, METI’s think-tank is partially responsible for the rise of Japanese media in the Western hemisphere during the previous two decades. When you combine both the existing yet largely untapped market’s yearn with government-driven agenda to promote these products, it is easier to understand how Japanese media products became for more common that what they already were. Japanese cartoons and comics went from an underground culture to mainstream, with anime and manga became terms much more recognized. They became a brand of their own, which effectively state A product of Japan.
While this post is focusing on media, it should be noted that Japanese cultural exports also include martial arts. The martial arts and ninja boom of the 1970s and 80s were largely thanks to Japanese influences and Hong Kong cinema. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of the properties that is, in effect, a result of Japanese cultural exports and their prevalence in the United States (even though that’s still media). It should be emphasized, that almost every city has at least one form of martial arts school that ties itself to Japan. Be it karate, judo or other forms of budo, the Japanese martial arts have a high status and is one of the more important cultural exports Japan has ever had, but they themselves don’t make much revenue. Nevertheless, Judo was considered significant martial art to the point of being accepted as an Olympic sport at the 1964 games.
Furthermore, Japanese innovation such as Just-in-Time manufacturing Toyota pioneered alongside lean manufacturing have left a worldwide impact. Companies like Motorola and John Deere have employed these in their manufacturing decisions. I would amiss if I would not mention the 5S method, which lays out how to organize workspace for efficiency, which also affects standardization.
If I am to believe the Japanese people that I have conversed with throughout the years, as well as the occasional cultural report I have read, the Japanese enjoy how foreigners take interest in their culture and its products. It is something they take pride in. Works like Super Dimensional Fortress Macross effectively celebrate the culture by weaponising it against the alien species Zentraedi, as they lack their own. To be specific, Macross weaponises the early 1980’s idol culture and makes songs an effective counterattack to disharmonize enemy actions and show that war is not the only option in life. Macross has continued to use songs, idols and robots as a means to celebrate each decade in its own ways, which shows how long-lasting the property is and how much faith Japan has in its culture.
Incidentally, Macross II would aim to undermine the superiority of the idol culture, as its staff considered the idol culture outdated and that it’d become obsolete by the end of the decade. They bet on the wrong racehorse
If you look further into their media products, you will see a pattern forming, where their own country and its people are in focus almost exclusively. Even in works that take place outside Japanese borders (or in fictional worlds) they have heavily implemented their own cultural landscape. Final Fantasy VII may be one of the most globally celebrated roleplaying games, but everything from its design language, storytelling, character designs, music and play is stereotypically Japanese. You have thin heroes with comically large weapons, a mix of science fiction and fantasy in a manner where there is no distinction between the two, cheap drama that is executed in a most exquisite manner and numerous other elements that can be described as Japanisms.
Japanisms are what could be described as storytelling stereotypes or tropes that exist and are specifically used in Japanese media. It also includes cultural concepts and behaviour that is very much their own thing. To use an example from modern stories, in romance stories the childhood friend of the main character often is in a losing position, thus creating a unique character trope. Japanisms can be silly in their own right, and can often detract the story they are in, they are largely embraced as expected, almost essential, parts of certain genres. These Japanisms also constantly evolve when it comes to the media, with the whole other-world genre taking more and more cues after Japanese roleplaying games instead of general fantasy to the point of actual play mechanics and RPG status screens becoming one of the tropes. The whole genre has become so common, that even foreign publishers have adopted the Japanese name for its, isekai, to further illustrate the contents to customers in-the-know.
These Japanisms are one of the reasons why their cultural exports are of interest and make sales. Be it transforming robot toys or whatnot, certain concepts simply take form in a different culture in a completely different manner. Just as you find stereotypically American ideas in their caped hero comics or novels, French stereotypes in their cartoons and British mangy grossness in their media, Japan has the things you can only find in their products and that interests people. The Britons were the only people who could have come up with 2000 AD’s Judge Dredd due to their culture much like how Superman was the ultimate realization of an immigrant to the Americas in the early 20th century.
With the global information exchange constantly growing and ideas exchanging hands, consumers have become more and more aware of exclusive goods. Importing cultural goods, like pots, books and such, has always been a thing, yet towards the new millennium, this has become more and more a mundane thing. While we might have bought a car that was made locally on in the neighbouring country, we have found ourselves in a word where we can get anything from anywhere, if we just want to go through the trouble. Appreciating cultural differences has become more common at the same time, though the United States has stereotypically been the top dog of having others appreciate their cultural differences rather than the other way around. The current global trend of having one, overwhelming global culture to overrun all others is a direct legacy of American export of culture.
As the Japanese government has a history of investing themselves in the exportation of their cultural goods, they have also been concerned about its nature. In June of 2020, Ken Akamatsu of Love Hina fame explained in his Twitter account that he was invited to the House of Councilors questioning sessions, where the government asked What measures are needed for Japanese manga to survive in the world? Akamatsu’s reply was that freedom of expression must come first, as he sees this as Japan’s strength over overseas competition. His fear is to see foreign platforms, which already have larger global influence and market shares, dictating rules and regulations on Japanese originated comics. According to him, the members of the parliament agreed with his sentimentality.
His view is opposed by D.J. Kirkland from Viz Media, who has been vocal for changing and producing manga for Western markets. According to Kirkland, there is going to be a conversation between stakeholders in Japan and Western publishers when it comes to creating content that appeals more to the Western audience. His view that anime is a business is a correct one, yet his intentions largely leave the original creators and their intents out of the equation. Kirkland also ignores that anime and manga have been specifically made for the Japanese market alone and its success as an export product leans heavily on this. Kirkland’s word at its face value, he also considers that US and Western market to be one and the same when this isn’t the case. France, for example, doesn’t exactly rely on English language releases of Japanese works nearly to the same extent as some other countries. English language releases from the US certainly make themselves around the world and do skew the numbers, but the point still stands.
Akamatsu’s worry regarding governmental or industrial over-regulation is relevant. He was the key person in stopping Japanese corporations taking actions against the Japanese homemade comic scene, the doujinshi scene, which sees people making their own created comics they do not own and publishing them at events. This is infringing copyright, something all the companies would have all the power to stop, but due to the nature of doujinshi being a major part of the Japanese popular culture, they are allowed to continue with this half-decade long tradition without much trouble. In fact, majority of the Japanese comic creators have some roots in the doujinshi scene, such as ever-popular CLAMP, and it is not uncommon to find a popular creator having drawn adult material before moving to mainstream comics.
Sony has also showcased how its internal censorship has affected the PlayStation as a platform, as a brand and its library. With numerous games being rejected from the platform, forcing the removal of content and content having to change to meet their Californian HQ’s standards, we have already seen a shift in how Japanese creators’ content has been dictated by an outside force. As Sony has concentrated to cater to Western, or rather, American taste, they’ve lost sales and position in Japan to Nintendo. Furthermore, Switch sales have increased as their more lax policies still allow creators and developers to continue in their usual fashion. This has increased overseas importation of Switch games, as numerous titles get Asian-English releases nowadays. I’ve covered Sony’s censorship before in this blog. You can find the posts on the topic here, here and here. I probably missed one or two.
Some Japanese corporations like Square-Enix have taken precautions to quell possible conflicts by changing pre-existing designs. Final Fantasy VII Remake Tifa’s design got criticized for unnecessary changes, while others still criticized the design for unrealistic body proportions. Character Maam from a 1991 Dragon Quest comic, Dai’s Great Adventure, also saw a redesign from her original Martial Artist class design when revealing mobile iteration of Dai’s Great Adventure.
Censorship on Japanese products isn’t anything new in itself. Ever since Japanese comics and cartoons have arrived to the Western front, be it the US, South America, or parts of Europe, they have seen some degree of censorship. Sometimes its removal of religious imagery as in older Nintendo games, sometimes its removal of blood from comics and cartoons, covering up bare skin or making sure characters say they saw a parachute after blowing up an enemy robot. Viz themselves have a long history in censoring comics they localise, removing whatever they find objectionable at a given time, sometimes making panels look weird even out of their proper context.
The main difference is that all these have been external changes. Whatever Viz Media has done to censor the versions they publish is their and their customers’ business. The original creator was not limited by anything else but what he had discussed with his editor and staff. What Kirkland, and some of the Japanese government may be proposing, is to control the output of the creators at the source, practising self-censorship and limiting what they can and cannot to create. It would be imposing outsiders’ values and views in order to make Japanese cultural products more palatable for them.
What Sony is imposing on their worldwide developers, and what Ken Akamatsu is fearing, is cultural colonialism.
Homogenizing Japanese products according to outside rules would mean losing all the edge they have held over the competition. Cultural colonialism ultimately destroys the uniqueness of culture and replaces it whatever it currently acceptable by the people who enforced it in the first place. The American censorship is flippant at best, and as they show themselves as the face of the Western world, they would be in the lead of spreading their view of correct and proper culture. The US might not act as the world police as much as it used to in terms of military power, but that’s because war has changed. Now, the war is about information, controlling it and impacting how people behave. By trying to make everyone think and act the same, it becomes easier to exert power over people, even if they’re in a whole different country. Controlling what can be produced, or in what tone, is one step in controlling the way the culture begins to think despite what reality is.
The Japanese culture is a result of their long isolation until they were forced to open trade connections. While many Western nations have their identity moulded through constant interaction with neighbouring countries, Japan has always had the luxury in many ways unique from most of the world. This does bring its own baggage, which has resulted in less than favourable view of Japan around Asia. Outside a few tribe cultures that have had no contact with the rest of the world, the Japanese culture is in many ways closest to an alien culture a Westerner can easily access. Throughout the years this has caused certain fetishization of the culture, which has created the occasional Exotic Orient boom, in which various items and people have been exhibited to the public at large like some circus freaks. Racism has played some part in this, as numerous times these booms haven’t really cared whether or not depictions have been correct, and Asians were seen largely interchangeable with each other. This lead to things like kung fu being a Japanese martial art or Korean language cited as Chinese. These have become less common place nowadays, but the idea of Exotic Orient still raises its head sometimes, but in a more positive light nowadays thanks to the efforts of Asian nations themselves making themselves known brands.
The Japanese government’s worry over Japanese comics losing place in the overseas market is baseless. Currently, Shonen Jump comics are outselling Marvel and DC in the US. Various European countries have a steady flow of Japanese titles on their publishing lists. France especially has an impressive library of Japanese comics, perhaps the most in the European sphere that does not speak English as their first language.
The government would have to worry if the industry itself or the government would begin to regulate the creative industries for Western markets. For the last thirty years, the Japanese government has done a lot to promote Japanese culture and its products, thus have seen a steady rise in overseas exports in every media field. While some programming has been specifically made to fit overseas market tastes, only a few individuals have taken straight actions to produce overseas market-specific products, like Mazinger. However, more and more mixed media projects concern themselves with the overseas market, resulting in shows that end up on Netflix and built to fit the global streaming service. In itself, there is nothing negative in trying to make products appeal to more than one market. That is just business. However, that approach does not take anime and manga’s primary target consumers to be the Japanese. The true uniqueness of what manga and anime as brands would offer would be removed, and the brand of Japan would be exchangeable with whatever other countries. In other words, under cultural colonialism, that uniqueness would vanish.
Nevertheless, if the Japanese media would be regulated to suit foreign markets, they would undermine all the efforts the government has seen thus far as it would lead to current market objecting. It would be the opposite what the market has loudly wanted for decades now; uncensored, uninhibited works that are presented in the same forms as they originally were in Japan. Of course, by installing regulations at the source, the customers wants and wishes could be underhandedly circumvented. Outsider regulation at the source could, of course, cut costs when the localizing company publishes it, as there might not find any need to edit the content as it was already made for their liking. While the occasional overseas market-specific piece isn’t all that rare, they are also transparently pandering and lower in quality. Numerous properties have been turned into international brands later in their life, which has given away their visible deterioration of quality and loss of that original spark.
If it was just a few companies pushing for this level of censorship, they could be stepped around by using other companies or forming new ones. However, if these regulations would come from the government, it would damage the Japanese media industries deeply and heavily. A market suicide of this scale would be unpresented. Not only the government think-tanks would have to device new ways to market now-censored products that supposedly should sell better to the Westerners, but the companies that enjoyed large customer bases would have to spend insurmountable amount of money for marketing in order to keep now-damaged market while trying to expand it with these new pieces.
Furthermore, the generation that initiated the new millennium anime boom in the West will be replaced with a new one in the upcoming decade or two, and chances are Japanese media will see less consumption naturally at a global scale. This is due to the new generation always wanting to replace what their parents thing. This is the natural relation between parents and children. The best way Japanese government and the industries can combat this is to have their new generation of creators to take reins after the old masters, something that seems to be natural for the Japanese culture.
The question that lies under all this is What has made Japanese cultural products so appealing? The answer can be shortly be given as They’re Japanese. A product of another culture always offers a whole new alternative that can’t be found anywhere else. Perhaps it is the aesthetics that hit the right spot with some, perhaps it is the story beats. Maybe it’s all those Japanisms that inhabit each and every work to the brim. It still has to be admitted that Japan might need to cater to the overseas market in any case in the future. This is due to their constantly ageing population, which drops the buying power the nation overall has. The inverted age-pyramid keeps growing as the childbirth rates keep falling. This will ultimately require a shift in the Japanese culture when it comes to foreign markets and to foreigners themselves, but what kind of shift it’ll be we’ll have to wait and see. In a connected world as ours, it might be hard to imagine Japan closing itself once again, but that isn’t completely out of the question if physical connections are lost and we become connected only digitally. Nevertheless, at some point, there will be a need for people who would rather make comics and cartoons to work in other fields due to social changes, but that too will result in cultural works that reflect their times.
Japanese media, and their culture, is unique. The Japanese people know this and they celebrate it, more so than some other countries out there. They don’t hate themselves. They’re not afraid of showing it either, and they wish to share it with the world, if possible, with certain limitations. Their nation and the identity it has is strong and cohesive with a large number of regional differences to give vivid accents to any work. To break Japan’s export of culture with cultural colonialism would be heavily damaging, if not outright erasing the identity cultural products voice. Cultural exchange should not be this sort of one-sided corporate exchange, but where both sides agree and celebrate each other’s differences while agreeing to disagree with the incompatible ones. These are individuals and private companies who have a set target audience, and they should not be forced to cater other audiences or their whims if they choose not to.
Nintendo has been fighting piracy since they started the whole electronic gaming business. Donkey Kong the arcade game itself was a prime target of piracy, with copied arcade boards popping up frequently due to its popularity. The NES / Famicom piracy was massive despite the whole physical cartridge thing, with numerous Asian countries producing copies of the system and selling those systems and games across the globe. Hell, the Soviets / Russians enjoyed Dendy console as their mainline NES copy, with effectively all games being pirated copies of some kind. The SNES saw this practice much less, but few did fall between the cracks, with Super Noah’s Ark 3D being the most known in the West. Now, the N64 barely saw any piracy, as the concentrated efforts had moved to the PlayStation. In some ways, you can determine what system is the most popular in any given system generation by how much effort is there to put piracy into effect and how successful it has been. It’s no surprise then than the GameCube piracy was less enticing than PS2, mostly because a more popular system also has the most games for people to take a crack at. Then we come to the Wii, which wasn’t just a popular system, but a massive success and its piracy wasn’t just easily accessed; it was made into something everyone in the mainstream could do by themselves and take advantage of. Before this most systems required either external carts, an external device plugged in or physical modification to the PCB to make piracy easier. With PlayStation, you could just have your local electronics store install a BIOS chip that jumped over checking if the disc was legit or correct region. Then you could burn PlayStation games willy nilly. There was also an external box that allowed you to boot into a special menu and skip that checking routine. Wii U mostly had piracy because it was easy to implement after the Wii, but it never really had titles people were interested in. There’s a reason why Nintendo kicked it out rather fast and started the 9th console generation well before Microsoft and Sony were putting their systems out.
Seeing Nintendo considers themselves taking a hefty blow in their sales because of piracy with the Wii (in reality, it’s because Nintendo effectively abandoned the system mid-way through its lifecycle and gushed out garbage instead of putting further effort into high calibre titles) they have been taking rather heavy-handed actions against piracy with the Switch. Such things like the Switch having physical traces on the PCB that get burned out with certain updates to effectively suing everyone who might enable the system being cracked open for whatever reason. The latest hit was against Le Hoang Minh, who was selling RCM Loader, a dongle that would enable homebrew to run on the Switch. While Nintendo can’t attack Minh for piracy per se, their attacks as of late have been against groups selling dongles like this, or groups that are offering service that would modify the Switch to run homebrew software. In Nintendo’s eyes, these are all against the rule of law and End User Agreement as well as breaking copyright by circumventing the system’s protections. Nintendo DMCA’s these people often and drags them to court.
I’m not going to dance around the subject and claim that people who are purchasing these items and services have the end intention of running homebrew on their system or other more legitimate methods. It’s rather clear that piracy is one of the many end-goals here and both consumers and corporations have to live with it. However, most actions these hardware companies take to prevent piracy end up damaging the legitimate customers. For example, Sony removed the ability to run Linux on PlayStation 3 because someone managed to find a way to run homebrew through it. Not only a complete element was removed from the system, but Sony ended up paying millions because of that as they had advertised the system with Other OS capability. Now that the Switch destroys physical traces on the system, it might cause troubles down the line. Of course, fighting piracy with online-only systems and digital-only sales is one method of battling piracy as well, both of which don’t do favours for the general customer. If anything, battling piracy has only caused customers to lose control over their games and system, which actually has turned a minor section of these customers looking into homebrew and piracy even more in order to take full control over the products they bought and own.
Is Nintendo in the right in their crusade against these homebrew enablers? They believe so, and they believe their DMCA’ing and taking legal actions to protect their intellectual property that they see is being infringement by circumventing protections. Team-Xecutor, one of the more prolific teams offering homebrew for the Switch, accused Nintendo of legal scare tactics and censorship. There’s little doubt Nintendo wouldn’t try to intimidate groups like Minh and Team-Xecutor first before taking full legal actions, although throwing censorship in there is a dubious claim. However, all these products that enable homebrew can be seen as part of the Right to Repair movement. Apple and Nintendo, and effectively everyone else who offers electronics, is in the same boat here, as third party products, be it goods or services, would take repair and service revenue out from their pocket. In some cases, like with Apple and third-party repair parts, they would lose control over the overall device and its parts. This is under the guise of offering better and more qualified service, which is straight-up bullshit. This total control over the systems has stemmed from customers trying to fix their own devices or had third party members trying to fix it for them and then claiming warranty from the corporation. It was more or less a 50/50 chance whether or not they would repair or replace the product, but more often than not they’d end up replacing it simply because that was the cheaper option. Nowadays large amounts of customers still play the system and claim warranty on functional items. Stores rarely check these products and simply send the supposedly faulty device back and the customer gets a new device for free, and another few years of warranty. Warranty which they’ll go claim back, effectively getting a replacement device every few years. This is just one common example of how the customer-provider relationship is being abused constantly by the consumer. It becomes rather understandable why companies would want to take total control over the devices and software the customer purchases simply to prevent unnecessary losses gathered from customers effectively screwing them. In the end, all the customers at large get screwed.
Whether or not these products that allow homebrew on the Switch actually infringe Nintendo’s rights in any way are less important than the results they cause, and that is piracy. While piracy is seen as a massive threat to any entertainment industry and portrayed as such, it is in actuality completely different beast. There is no better form of advertising or showcasing the value of a product other than giving it in the hands of the customer himself and the giving freedom to go town with it. Many films and music albums have been sold when people have seen and listened to a pirated copy and the same applies to the game industry. Game demos was found to damage game sales because they showcased how terrible those games could be. All sales are final is the mantra certain companies want to repeat, as they know the product they’re selling is in many ways faulty. Both sides should find a way that wouldn’t infringe either side in good faith, but that’s something that won’t ever happen because that’d require consumers to change their habits and mindsets to a large degree and corporations to lose most of the control they have over products they’re now selling. Seeing as global corporations are moving towards abolishing the idea of owning anything you buy, replaced by a subscription model that would give them complete control over the product as well as make them more profit, that’s something we’re never going to reach. Ultimately, piracy, IP and trademark infringement are used as excuses to further destroy whatever control and ownership the consumer. You’re more or less expected to consume just the same but never see the end product truly in your hands. If and when things are digital, this applies doubly so. Even with a company like Nintendo with a family-friendly image, the end goals seems to be the same as with every other company; work to consume, but never to own or control what you are consuming.
For the slightly-less-than-a-decade, I’ve kept this blog I’ve noticed one thing that’s been increasing year by year; the reduction of customers’ agency. It’s been going on ever since World War II, as corporations became ever more global and information technology kept maturing towards the globally connected era we’ve entered. It’s all about the control of the product, nothing more, nothing less. You would think this just a minor problem, but considering things like homes, cars, the everyday equipment we use to make food, you name it, are products that corporations wish to gain control over. This would be laughable if it wasn’t already taking place with the media we consume.
The finest example of how customers lose agency is with streaming media and online stores that don’t give you full freedom to the product. The examples, of course, are Netflix and Steam. Their users have allowed convenience to take over their own agency, the control of the product they consume. While both Netflix and Steam allow you to consume the content they provide at your pleasure, it’s under their rules. Netflix decides what you can watch in its selection much like how Steam’s library decides what you are able to buy. While this seems natural, it also means they are a controlling middle-man, the ones saying what can and can not be on their virtual shelves. Not only this works against the consumer with the limited selection, something that the Internet has made moot when you could buy whatever game with slight searching, but that’s not possible nowadays as the majority of PC games have become Steam-linked. You are unable to play them without the digital console in the middle without resorting to cracking them. Even when you buy the physical disc, chances are that the default installer instantly jumps to Steam with no other way to play it. You have no options, you lack the control. The same goes what Netflix offers with its model, taking away the control of the product. The difference being here is how Steam allows needs you to download the games and to some extent meddle with them and you retain the right to play them, as long as you go through Steam. You have no control over Netflix. If a show is dissipaters from the catalogue, it’s gone.
Subscription is the word for both. You subscribe to the license or to the service, which means the users are completely willing in most cases to waver away their own agency and control, and all the responsibility those bring with them, to the corporations running these services. In the case of entertainment media this seems fair, yet again the customer has no control. To many the idea of having physical media at your house seems distasteful, some even hate the idea of physical items taking space. Both of these are things that require the customer to carry weight on their backs rather than dumping them elsewhere. Despite there being many who don’t want that physical media are happy that alternatives exist, but there are no alternatives that would allow them to extend their own agency and control over the products. All they are getting is the equivalent of a movie ticket.
Hollywood was extremely afraid of losing control over their product when VHS was first introduced in the 1970s. What would happen if customers bought their own copy of the movie, which they could watch over and over again? The theatres and studios would lose money now that they couldn’t control the product the customer owned. They introduced a move to install a magnetic wipe head into VCRs, which would gradually blank the tape as it was watched. By the third time, the customer would lose most if not all of the tape’s content, forcing them to buy a new copy. This idea never came to be, but its vestiges are now in the types of Netflix, where the customer has no control whatsoever.
Netflix has taken everything out of the customers’ hands. The product, at a glance, is the service of streaming series and films. It’s also the second-best way to save space by allocating all that to Netflix digital services, as long as you’re willing to wave away your rights. Much like Steam, Netflix can cancel your subscription at any point they see you breaking their contract. Similarly, some argue that you never bought movies, films or games in general, just their license. The difference, of course, being that by having a physical item in my hand negates this, as none of the companies can come to my home in any legal measure and take that product away.
All this is highly debatable and most people will dismiss both of them. However, this service model of a subscription is being extended to things like cars, printers and washing machines. Rather than buying a machine of your own, you subscribe to a service of which you pay monthly. You would never own it, just pay for the privilege to use someone else’s machine. If something were ever to happen to it, or the service owner deems you to break any of the rules, you’re screwed. It’s the same with cars, and now with smart cars driving themselves, even the responsibility of learning to drive is taken away from the customer.
That’s all this is ending up, ultimately. When the customer is losing their agency and rights to own anything, everything is locked out from their hands. Apple is a massive example of this as their practices both in hardware and software is as anti-consumer as it could be. Their updates are bricking older machines, they refuse to sell spare parts to their devices and offer higher-cost exchange programs instead. The systems are built to fail as well, with flaws that could be nothing less than intentional. Apple’s systems and products are a lifestyle, and their customers buy into that as much as they do into their products. Of course, whatever you do on your Apple devices also means Apple has the right to sell your data to advertisement companies and such, something that they have in common with Google and other big tech companies. Even with Steam and Netflix, they get data from their users they can make money on. Your privacy is nonexistent, and that is sadly something we all have more or less accepted a necessity. It shouldn’t be, and this is one of those points where the law is behind the times. I’ll outright argue that selling user information should be considered an illegal invasion of privacy despite whatever agreement clauses these companies put into user contracts. It’s one more thing where consumers lose agency, and it’s one of those things gets talked about yet nobody is making any moves to actually do anything about it.
The whole Right to Repair seems to be doomed. Companies like John Deere and Apple are fighting it in very dirty ways, but this is all about controlling the product again. They don’t want complete control over the product, but also the way they’re used and everything tied to them. Both corporations aim to lock the customer to their dealers alone in a manner nobody else could service their devices. With John Deere this is even more evident in how this would effectively remove all the competitions from the aftermarket and repair section as there has been a rather long tradition of optional and alternative parts from cheaper manufacturers. Parts that might have been slightly worse, but had the exact same performance. With John Deere moving more and more towards a similarly closed ecosystem to Apple, farmers will find themselves unable to find parts to fix their machines without needing to pay premier prices, but also they’ll find themselves in a situation where field modifications or modified software locks them out and bricks the system. It’s a matter of time, not whether or not this is possible. Apple is already doing this. You can’t even change the screen or the camera between two new Apple iPhones without the phones freaking out and making features inaccessible. It appears that smart devices are the ultimate way to lock control away from the users unless they decide to modify the system to remove these elements, e.g. de-Google an Android phone. Even then, if something is burned to the hardware to make the device effectively non-functional intentionally, the only way for the customer to go would be to not buy such a product and go for another product that wouldn’t infringe the customer’s control. This isn’t even a question if someone would want to modify or not, if there were a need or not, but rather simply whether or not the customer would be able to. When the customer doesn’t have any choice and all there is one singular option, we’ve lost large portions of personal and individual rights to what we’ve put our efforts into gaining.
Hell, you can’t even buy a non-smart TV anymore. Everything has a chip innit to spy on what you do with the device.
What’s the ultimate end goal here? At this pace, the customer will end up losing more of their rights and the agency they have towards the things they purchase. Purchasing itself will turn into a subscription with products, and products will be tied to a service. With that, the customer’s control over is taken away, after which more and more of our lives will be controlled by an outside power. When you leave everything to the corporations, they’ll take it gladly. The customer is expected to consume, but only under the terms of the provider with no personal control whatsoever.
Most of the previous could be considered a small nuisance, something which we could let go. However, it’s a slide that won’t stop. While ownership is a contested concept, what’s behind it are ultimately strong values of determination, personal responsibility and willing to take control one your own life. These should be clear things to adults. You have to find a way to make a living in order to strive towards your own personal goals. Some of these goals might be at work, others in personal life. It asks determination, and responsibility to carry the necessary tasks out. We can’t play all day long doing nothing or live on other’s wing. Certainly, there are those who would provide for others, yet that means losing your own agency and control in the same manner corporations are taking away customer’s agency. Making our own decisions while we are dependent on someone, or something else, makes us only a slave to the system which can exert control over us however it would wish to. Hence, we must take control of how we live, which requires the two first aforementioned bits. Yet we’re willingly and constantly allowing corporations terrible consumer practices and invasions of privacy as well as underhanded service models to undermine all these. Hell, all those devices at your home, that listen to you during every moment, were introduced by likes of Amazon and Google rather a governmental power. Rather than a nation becoming that stereotypical evil oppressor we know to hate and fight against, we’re gladly willing to let all our responsibilities go and embrace these devices with open arms. At this rate, there will be two points; One where the customer refuses to give away his freedom to choose how they live with all the responsibilities it brings; the other where everything we have is owned by someone else and we have no control over our lives.
It all really ends in taking responsibility on the actions and decisions we make. Something like taking a loan for school is ultimately a decision and a responsibility we must make, and then undertake the task of paying them back. The alternative is that we have no responsibilities, and thus no choices to make.
Imagine if they the Batman was taken out from his comics and replaced with someone who isn’t Batman. Sure, Francis there will say that’s happened multiple times and he’s right. Yet every single time we’ve always returned to read further adventures as Bruce Wayne as Batman. The status quo returns. Same with Peter Parker, who has been replaced by other Spider-Men for some time. Like by Ben Reilly, who happens to have the best iteration of the classical Spider-Man suit. Superman has died and has come back to life. In any given new entry to the Transformers with Optimus Prime, you can expect him to die. Hell, for Transformers to have the same basic cast with some changes to setting and characterisation, yet all the roles and core characters are the same. People make connections with characters and their stories and wish to continue follow their stories. It’s not just something to consume, it’s almost like following how an old friend is doing.
Comics have made introduction of new characters a finely tuned craft. You first have the original comic for character A that’s successful, in which you introduce character B. Character B makes an impact enough and gets spun out to his own comic book, now expanding both the world of the comic and the lineup. Valiant Comics in the 1990’s was well versed in this and managed to build an organic and cohesive world. Malibu Comics’ Ultraforce book, their version of The Avengers or Justice League, was planned year beforehand and every team member’s storyline would meld into the Ultraforce story. Best thing is, it was planned well enough that it’s only apparent in hindsight and the stories themselves weren’t hampered by this plan. To this day I find it sad that Ultraverse comics and characters are dead. Marvel bought Malibu Comics just to get their advanced colouring techniques in 1994, and after the comics were cancelled around a year later, none of the concepts or characters have made appearances, sitting in Marvel’s vault gathering dust. Still, new characters get introduced constantly, but not many stick around enough to get their own books. Some times it is the executive decision to drive in a new book based on a new character with no real connections established previously, though that doesn’t always go as hoped.
The same base concept applies to any entertainment media, be it books, movies or TV-shows. Take the show Cheers as an example. People loved and cared for these characters, and despite Frasier not being a main character initially, he proved popular enough to be spun out to his own namesake series for eleven seasons. James Bond movies have tried to spin some of the characters into their own movies, but there hasn’t been any luck in that for multiple reasons. Budget always being one of them. James Bond has seen more success with James Bond Jr. in book and in animated form, though that’s somewhat arguable as it seems majority of the current mainstream audience only knows Bond from the movies.
Nevertheless, the method of creating supplementary characters and expanding the world has proven to be both lucrative and consumer friendly. You can do whatever you want with a new character and his setting all the while keeping the originator intact. You can even make the same choice as Marvel did with the Ultimate Spider-Man ans introduce a new version of the classic character. What seems to be the opposite action of this is replacing old characters with completely new ones through whatever methods the writers employ. Sometimes its totally replacing these characters, sometimes its rewriting them to the extent that what made these characters themselves in the first place is no longer there.
There are of course examples when a total shift in a series works. Star Trek: The Next Generation is an example of this, despite it not appearing so at first. The discussion which series is better and which had the better cast is as old as the show itself, many considering it a worthwhile addition but never reaching the same cultural status as the original. After all, it’s the original cast people were attached to, not this new cast with a French bald guy as the captain. I would argue that time has proven that the TNG cast and their stories were worthwhile addition to Star Trek, which opened further possibilities to expand the franchise in much larger ways. While Voyager, Deep Space Nine and Enterprise are largely debated within their fandoms, the overall consumer doesn’t deem them as worthwhile. Star Trek hasn’t managed to capture the audience in the same manner since TNG went off the air. The rebooted Star Trek universe hasn’t reached the same level despite reusing old characters, but in these movies the characters were largely unrecognisable from their old selves and more like caricatures of themselves. It’s an example of using recognisable names and settings without taking advantage of them or telling further stories about these characters. They might as well be blank slates, something completely new.
Star Wars has of course always struggled with the old and new cast. The Golden Era of Star Wars comics was when Marvel originally licensed the comics, exploring all the adventures Luke, Leia and Han were having. Splinter of the Mind’s Eye largely falls into this category. Dark Horse began to expand the universe with new settings, cast and characters with little to no connection to the original cast, but nevertheless didn’t conflict with those characters. Even further, stories like the Shadows of the Empire were treated as if they were movie events without the movie. Nevertheless, new stories based on the universe were met with as much critical acclaim as stories based on the original cast of character. Whether or not Disney intentionally let down fan expectations is somewhat an open question. While it’s not uncommon to drastically change characters, it can backfire immensely if it’s not organic change and is completely untold. Disney Star Wars has the habbit of not expanding on events or reasons. Instead additional one-liners trying to function as exposition has been put in, which shows more how lacklustre the overall planning process and writing has been. Return of the Jedi left things off in a hopeful, bright manner, which was effectively killed by repeating A New Hope. Luke’s bright future was killed off by him becoming a murderous hermit, Han’s position as the husband of an heir of a dead planet was nulled and all the roles these characters had were removed in order to promote new characters. To lacking success, as Disney Star Wars has taken a profit plummet ever since their released their first entry. Incidentally, Mandalorian has been received in a better manner, mostly because it has expanded already familiar universe without infringing on the established characters, something the movies are at fault to a large degree.
Some writers will laugh at the audience for connecting with fiction. To some it’s a passionless job, something they do for money like any other office worker. Some creators do create a similar connection, while others simply come in to do whatever. Nowadays it’s not exactly a rarity for a recognised and already established brand to have a writer who want to do their own thing without any regards what’s already come. While we can argue over how much a writer needs to be slave to the past writing, what they can’t ignore is the customer expectations and wants. If they end up butchering the characters, the setting and overall overturn what the audience has come to love in a work, well, they can only take the heat. The continuity of these characters stories, even if they’re new stories with little connection, is the living flesh of the audience’s attention and love. Cut that away, and all you have is meat that can be consumed once, and all you’re left is bones and guts.
What are you going to do with a brand that is unrecognisable from what made it popular in the first place? Replace it with something completely new is the answer sometimes. Other times, the best method is just to reverse course and turn back.
The concept is well tested and solid; have your main story supplemented with additional works, such as comics and novels, that expand on the core work. This sort of franchising has become extremely popular to the point of being a standard practice and very few standalone projects get made any more. Even the Marvel Cinematic Universe has seen its stories expanded in aforementioned media. This always leads to the question of canon, where the main piece always trumps over whatever the side material has stated. Hence why canon barely matters, when anyone in charge can say what really happened, sometimes wiping few comics away, sometimes erasing whole decades of supplementary material.
Nevertheless, they’re secondary at best. Licensed works to make some money out of the IP while the main thing is wiring its next stuff up. The stories and characters told in these works don’t really matter, and never have. Only decades later, when fans who grew up with these materials, may make references to them in proper works, giving them some legitimacy in the eyes of fellow fans. That’s all fine and dandy, no harm done by having someone in the background mentioning Life Day and reminding the people in the know how bad Star Wars Holiday Special is. It’s butt of the joke, it’s done to death, we get it.
Star Wars and Star Trek are great examples of this as both have extremely extensive supplementary material to go with the main works. The general rule has always been that what’s on the screen overrides whatever’s in other works. While they’re advertised as further adventures of our heroes, and for the time being they probably are, they’ll always be overridden when the IP owner comes up with something new, something that can be capitalised on. Prequels and midquels are sort of comfortable ground to many, as they’re mostly based on sayings and history told in the main works, so it’s easy to take the premise and go town with it. It doesn’t exactly require creating something completely new from the ground up. Hence why you often see sequels lifting material from the old stuff or reusing characters and settings. Jean-Luc Picard and all the re-used assets from the cutting room floor in Disney Star Wars movies are examples of this.
All this a somewhat inconvenient arrangement, but it makes two things possible; it doesn’t demand the audience to rummage through hundreds of pages to understand a new TV-show or a movie, but also allows them to engage with the IP and characters further. There’s this silent agreement with all the parties that it is probable that all the side content will be ignored when a new movie or show rolls in. Which happens all the time with pretty much every single large franchise out there.
There are of course times when this fails. The Rise of Skywalker had a collaborative event in Fortnite, where Emperor Palpatine’s speech was introduced. The returning villain and one of the major points of the plot, which was used in the beginning crawl, The Dead speak, was introduced and used in the aforementioned event. This effectively cut a section out from the movie, the message Palpatine send to the galaxy to announce his return, something the characters all react to and is the impetus behind the movie’s events. If you weren’t playing Fortnite at that time, you effectively missed something the core work, the film, should’ve had.
Too often Star Trek and Star Wars novelisation have been used to correct mistakes and loopholes in the main body of works. Loads of Trek novels based on The Original Series episodes were used to effectively fix continuity and conceptual errors within the episodes themselves. Similarly, The Rise of Skywalker‘s novelisation reveals that the Palpatine in the movie was a clone. Whether or not this is canon is of course for the fans to debate, as none of the corrections and fixes are rarely talked in the main body works. It’s not uncommon to see books and comics being published that fill in holes with some plot putty, sometimes even explaining whole backstories and events that were completely lacking from the main works. We can understand that a movie can’t set up decades worth of background story in a short time, and sometimes it doesn’t need to. The original crawl at the beginning of Star Wars Episode IV is work of sheer genius, setting up the premise. Further into the movie, short discussions about the Clone Wars as a background material elaborated on some bits, but those there to colour the world further. With Disney movies we have the gap between Episode VI and VII, which is just a void. Even after the last movie we barely know what happened, where did the First Order truly come from and why did the Emperor allow the Empire to fall just to wait thirty years building Star Destroyers under ground with gimped navigation systems. Maybe it’s Abrams’ mystery box killing the work again, maybe it’s just outright bad writing. These explanations of course are found in the supplementary material, meaning the work can’t stand on its two feet.
You could of course argue that this weaves the main work and the supplementary works together better, that it allows exploration of these events and concepts in a grander scale compared to what movies and television could. This is completely true and has been supported by multiple franchises for some decades now, mixing and matching each other punch to punch. The problem is of course the future. Be it removal of old canon or a new “real” work taking place of that timeframe and overriding the current works, supplementary material never really can stand the test of time. Not unless the creators are adamant on keeping one continuity and will always take notice what happens across the whole franchise. That task is nearly impossible, though if you were to hire bunch of people just to follow what the hell’s going on in your setting across all media, it would become manageable. Imagine if your day job was to read every Star Wars book and comic just to tell the future writers of whatever series or movie they’re making what stories and settings have already been used, and what are their historical consequences. Somebody’s dream job right there.
While you could boil this down to Canon doesn’t matter because it always changes, but that’d be missing the point here just slightly. We’ve seen the main work been put on the chopping block and some of its important elements have been cut off, only to appear elsewhere. This weakens the main work, but it also makes the story’s canon that much weaker. If you’d need one more example of this, the 2009 Star Trek reboot movie doesn’t ever tell what Nero was doing in the past after he came through the wormhole. In the movie, he’s just sitting there doing nothing and waiting for Spock to pop in. However in the comic he was captured and enslaved by the Klingons, making his escape and reclamation of the Narada that much more important. After seeing his home world destroyed, seeing Vulcans’ inaction as betrayal despite putting everything he had in their hands, and then forced to the past and for years being unable to do anything to prevent that from happening, Star Trek could’ve had its best and most understandable villain. All that was from the movie, making him just a jackass with a vengeance. It’s only a matter of time before someone writers a new book or a comic that explores this further, erasing already established events in the comic, which already is questionably canon. The comic version’s story is that much stronger compared to the movie, but it’s the not the story. It’s just an alternate take, which some people supplement the movie itself with.
Here’s a way you could make cross-media function for their own benefits without taking away any from the main work. The Mad Max game from 2015 was supposed to be tightly connected to Mad Max Fury Road, but ultimately wasn’t. The two would have supplemented each other, but only in a manner that there would not have been anything missing from either work. For example, the Pursuit Special is missing its spoiler in the movie. Not a huge detail, something most people probably missed altogether. However, in the game it would’ve been a collectable item with some story tied to it, adding to the overall story of Mad Max. We don’t know what these details were going to be, as the game was completely revamped and reused two decades worth of abandoned concepts alongside concepts for possible future movies. If you’re a fan of Mad Max, the game should look and feel extremely disjointed and somewhat schizophrenic because of this.
This is really convoluted and lengthy way to say how works, even sequels, need to be standalone enough to be consumed as-is without any surrounding media taken into account.
I’ve covered Sony’s and their censorious practices on the blog for some time now, for a good measure. While Sony themselves haven’t spoken much about their censorship they practice much in the public, outside on particular interview with The Wallstreet Journal, all the other information we have are from developers’ own words and actions. For example, Senran Kagura 7even has been significantly delayed due to the game needing to be be reworked because of Sony’s censorship wall. However, with the release of The Last of Us 2 their practices of censorship must be put under scrutiny. If Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s Tifa had to go through a redesign, where her bosom and clothing was altered due to concerns of offence, how does a sex scene, where one of the participants is cheating, work under Sony’s internal rules over games’ content? While this seems to be double standards, that’s not the case from Sony’s end.
Let’s call the scene what it is; pornography. The porn scene in The Last of Us 2 is different from e.g. Omega Dungeon‘s titillation because it’s not overtly intended as fanservice, to use the term loosely. The difference between the two is that Omega Dungeon is wholly slightly naughty in content, but it’s treated with levity. It doesn’t take itself seriously and knows that it’s in good fun. The Last of Us 2 however takes itself completely seriously and tries to treat itself as a great work of drama and art, in which it fails when the developers introduced self-congratulatory scenes across the game and allowed the story to take precedence over the game. The porn scene itself is the developers masturbating over their characters and the setting they’ve built around them, what it implies of the characters’ actions and motivation in the same manner a teenager would usually do. This is a cultural divide how the United States and Japanese approach sex in their games. For the US, it can only be served in games in this manner of self-patting porn and in no other mean. For Japan, sexuality and cuteness are more tied to each other, and sex is fully explored across the board as porn. Rather than shying away from it, the Japanese media tends to have a healthier view on it, where different approaches are explored on multiple levels, from just having something as the background material to visibly explicit on the screen. Sometimes intended to arouse and titillate, sometimes just as a major part of the work itself. Visual novels are a great example how Japanese media can handle sexual content in all of its variations. Sure, the US has its share of porn games, yet the most people can cite is Custer’s Revenge and even then the rest of the whole US Cavalry Commander raping an Indian takes precedence. As the old saying goes, American media cuts away all the sex and leaves all the violence. This seems to be rather accurate when it comes to how Western games are seen in Japan, and how Sony’s current censorious practices are. Then again, Canada is to be blamed for the Harlequin novels, which is just porn in text.
Omega∆92 made an interesting supposition regarding Sony’s censorship reasoning, which isn’t all that far-fetched compared to Sony bending a knee to the Chinese censors as well as to gaming disorder. In short, it compares current Sony to Sega of America of 1996 to 1998, when Bernie Stolar was adamant not to allow Japanese titles on the Sega Saturn. He notes that during the first years of the 2000’s the PlayStation 2 saw success in visual novels, like Clannad and Tokimeki Memorial, though I’ll drop Kimi ga Nozomu Eien in there too, despite it being an All-Age port. The note that Japanese developers weren’t familiar how much development time the HD Twins, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, required rings true, as noted by developers of Final Fantasy XIII where they where overwhelmed how much more work HD consoles required. They ended up dropping the towns and making the game a corridor run. The rise of the mobile market was lucrative and required less work, something that still hits home (though games like Magicami put some console games to shame in multiple fronts, especially the DX version.) The rising cost of HD game development was noted, and the financial crisis at the turn of the decade did make a dent on what games got developed and localised. Japanese games didn’t sell or weren’t popular, but admittedly it was also a cultural gulf. Video games that the Japanese audience prefers aren’t the biggest sellers in the West, and vice versa. Many Western games are treated as overtly violent kusoge, shitgames of the worst kind with no other reason but to present ugly death and gore.
The global economy got better around 2015 and more games begun getting localised with bigger fanfares. While Yakuza had been a cult classic since its first game, it had gained momentum to punch through to the general audiences, similarly how Persona games had become successful alongside titles like Nier: Automata. Not to mention Monster Hunter making its first big Western breakthrough on the 3DS, which paved the way to the success of World. Japanese games, while always popular, saw niche titles getting attention from the general public. Cult classics were becoming true classics. This was the exact time when Sony moved PlayStation headquarters to California and installed their internal censorship. Omega∆92 makes the argument that Sony of America wants to humiliate Japanese games on the global stage after most Sony’s own Western IPs were flopping, while Japanese titles were gaining ground. This is also the reason why Sony wants to keep certain third party IPs and creators close to their heart, because that’s all they really got to entice people when it comes to top tier exclusives. While this connects lots of dots, as he puts it, this seems to be dismissive. Rather, this is Californian PlayStation HQ wanting to drive culture and politics.
We know that the Californian HQ is the one handling the assessment and censorship of games on PlayStation platforms, and that is causing issues not just in language, but in culture as well. The people who are spearheading Sony’s current censorious ship don’t have issues with nudity and sex, as they’ve given The Last of Us 2 free pass (though that scene was directly cut out from the Japanese release because it was against CERO rating system.) What they have issues with is when it’s not depicted the way these heads want it to be, and the way Japanese culture shows sexuality is very much different. You can’t have skinship mode in Senran Kagura RE:BURST, but that doesn’t mean it could have similarly blatant intercourse without censorship either. Arguably, shoving bare titties on the screen while being penetrated from the back in rough sex is worse than the player building digitally physical relation a game’s character. The politics of course is apparent in the situation, as The Lastof Us 2 is rather clearly a political game, and the porn scene is part of it all. Naughty Dog got far more freedom to do whatever they wanted with their game and its supposed art than most Japanese developers for no real reason.
A game like The Last of Us 2 would not have been made a decade ago. Not because of its contents, but because of the financial state of the world. We are better off now than what we were ten years ago, though that might change soon. The game was in-development just at the right time and was released at the brink of economical uncertainty. Even entertainment goods are suffering. If we had similar macro-economics five years ago, The Last of Us 2 would not have entered production, and Star Trek Discovery or Disney Star Wars probably would’ve been in the same boat. At least not in the manner they are now, as positive economical climate allows businesses to give trophy-freedoms, allow their staff to create works that clearly wouldn’t sell any other time. Sony isn’t really concerned about this, not at this time, as the powers in California aren’t thinking in terms of game quality or sales, but what’s acceptable in current politics. Politics always change, and while I believe this era of California driven PlayStation will be pushed softly into the annals of history as end-page references, publishers and developers have made note of these policies and moved their titles slowly towards the Switch and Steam. The aforementioned Senran Kagura RE:BURST is fully uncensored on Steam, and only its Western PS4 release is censored. It managed to come out in Japan before Californian censors were at full throttle. The political pendulum has swung too far, everything is taken to its extreme to protect one side of the discussion while attempting, and sometimes succeeding, to drown the other. Sometimes it appears as taking over a district, sometimes as censorship of cartoon tiddies. Whatever standards Californians at Sony think they are enforcing aren’t global and barely even US-wide.
An element video and computer games have to them is the necessity for the player to suspend their disbelief twice. The first is, and the one players are most aware of, is within the game’s own setting. We can suspend our disbelief that Mario can jump as high as he can or run endlessly without exerting himself. Take any game and you can find any number of elements that we freely suspend our disbelief about, because they are games. Not many games overall, outside sports, have a need to adhere to the rules of reality. There is no magic, yet there are no issues of understanding and using magic in a given fantasy game. It’s part of the system. However, even before that we have to suspend out disbelief with the technology, on the matters that are not about the game itself. Things like having save slots, passwords to continue or even creating a character are separate entities from the game’s play itself. We expect these things to be part of the whole deal. We expect the games offer a fantasy world we can escape, but we’re still in need to use the tools that the games are built to function on.
While game worlds exhibit elements of different worlds, they’re tied to their social functions. Using somewhat old terminology, the fantasy of these games crosses with the necessity of cyberculture. The player, as part of the cyberculture, often demands elements that do not fit with the fantasy of the world, like Non-Player Characters directly talking to the player rather than to the player’s in-game avatar, like whether or not they would like to save their game. Players’ socialising is also completely apart from the game most of the time, though some players do play their role properly, not breaking their character in-game. The human brain is capable of handling two opposites as true, as players treat the fantasy the game offers as reality just as much as the true reality the game functions in. The fantasy of the world, while contradicting its necessity to be tied to being a software that can only be on a screen we control via input devices as dictated by the game’s rules, is no less is not broken by the necessity of reality.
To use Monster Hunter as an example, we know humans can’t wield the kinds of weapons the game shows. There is no in-game explanation either, it’s part of the deal. The same with monsters themselves and many of the fantastic elements the game has to offer. Controls is an example where the dualistic mindset steps in; we can’t simply do Action X, because the game’s design and code doesn’t allow us. This is part of the rules of the game, despite the games often showing movies how the hunts really look like within the context of the world itself. Items are part of the mechanical elements of the game, where you can carry only this many items in a given number of slots in your inventory, though nothing actually shows on your character that you have them. No backpack or the like on the character.
Some games aim to dissolve the distinction of the two layers. Rather than having the player save their game, the game makes the player write a diary entry and does not make references to the player’s own actions. It’s the player avatar writing the entry, keeping the layer of fantasy unbroken. Yet this is rarely done in favour of making clear to the player what function is what within the game’s rules. To use Ultima Online‘s saving as an example, the player could not open a menu and click Save Game, as that breaks the game’s fantasy. First the player must gather the necessary equipment to camp, like a tent and firewood. Then the player must find a fitting spot to camp and initiate camping procedures before he can log off from the server. The player can’t simply cut the connection at any time he wishes, as that gains him a penalty, where the player character is forced to lay still and possibly be mugged by thieves or mauled by wild animals. EverQuest handles this differently by the game announcing camp preparations with a countdown. The fantasy is not broken, instead it has been replaced with a narrative element in both examples. With games like Final Fantasy, there is no consideration for the fantasy itself. The game and its in-game external functions are treated as two different things.
Games like Baldur’s Gate allow breaking the game’s fantasy even further through constant renewing of the player’s party and character, being able to rewrite the backstories as many times as they want and renew pretty much everything about the party as much as they want. In online mode, a player can bring in a character from their single player campaign that might be significantly higher in levels and progression in the single-player campaign. The fantasy of the game requires moulding that sort of character back into proper spot in that online campaign’s progression, otherwise the fantasy of the game world is broken down by the game’s own in-game external functions. Baldur’s Gate treats itself as a hybrid of what it is, thus allowing its fantasy to be very easily broken by the necessities of its Dungeons and Dragons roots. The game doesn’t try to mask majority of its mechanical functions with its fantasy. Incidentally, while the aforementioned Monster Hunter doesn’t go its way out to include any real ways to keep its narrative functions, a lot has been discussed if the monsters’ Life energy and states should be shown to the player. The game’s design relies the player to further themselves into the fantasy and observe the behaviour and actions of the monsters to determine how badly they’re hurt or if they are enraged. While the game’s rules makes these very apparent by drastically changing the monsters’ actions and adding new elements to the monsters, like raised spikes or glowing eyes, it has moved an element of the technical into the fantasy.
The separation of the fantasy and its mechanics have become clear, and the two-layered fantasy is mostly gone. It has become more a meta subject for some of the developers and designed to toy with, with Metal Gear Solid being one of the best examples how a game’s world can intentionally break the fantasy by using the mechanics accessible to the players themselves, like reading contents of the Memory Card to enforce the idea of Psycho Mantis’ psychic powers and necessitating the player to use the second controller port to fight him. That, and using the controller’s vibrating function as a massage device. This kind of meta approach, while breaking the fantasy, also ties the two layers together, making it meta. However, in the same vain other developers have been chasing the cinematic and Hollywood presentation of Metal Gear Solid to the detriment of the medium, fracturing. the game’s fantasy further.
Video and computer games’ main narrative elements comes from the player’s actions. Each play, in themselves, is the story the game has, not the readily made framework the player progresses through the game. The play’s narrative can easily mask the necessities of the game’s rules and mechanics by giving them further narrative elements. While the players themselves will break the fantasy by meta-discussion about the game, the fantasy of the game world itself can be kept wholly cohesive. However, the wants of the players themselves often necessitate breaking the fantasy in order to offer them things like Quick Saves or the like. While we can argue that we’ve advanced in designing games and their interfaces, the modern electronic media and cyberculture is very much different from what it was ten, twenty years ago. Video and computer game designs reflect this, where the player driven narrative and story has been replaced with an emphasize on the pre-determined framework, despite modern technology allowing far more complex game progression to be designed and realised. The paradigm in current game design however wants to fight this, as it has been separated from the technological fantasy of controls, mechanics and rules. Rather than games being presented as a cohesive whole, with the layers being as melded as possible, the current paradigm in design wants to present the games as sectioned as possible. Perhaps it is because different teams are working different sections of the game, where the need to make clear-cut definitions betweens them becomes apparent. However, the consumers at large don’t see to mind this and are capable sidestepping the necessity to suspend their disbelief with fantasy due to simple nature of games running on rules.
During the last three to four decades the worldwide popular culture has enjoyed large amounts of content that hits itself back to the middle-ages with a touch of fantasy. Dungeons and Dragons is first on the tongue of many who play it and it would be dismissive not to mention the influence of Tolkien’s works played in part. Some of the largest video game franchises stem from these sources when traced back enough, while games like Ultima Online and EverQuest almost directly were inspired by. The influence of the The Lord of the Rings movies as well as Harry Potter, and even Shrek, the modern revisionist fantasy is strongly felt. We can go ever further back from the early 2000’s to the 1980’s as well, where titles like Dragonslayer and Conan the Barbarian were making ways in the genre. They all share the same fantasy tropes of castles, swords, dragons, fairies and magic ties them all together in one massive heap. Not only that, but IT books used to be full of lingo directly related to fantasy, with titles like Dreamwaver 4 Magic or The C Wizard’s Programming Reference. Hell, even when installing a program you might open up something called the Installation Wizard.
All these are tied to old stories about knights and dragons, fables and tales of lords and gods. Stories like King Arthur, Waltharius, Prose Edda and whatever story your countrymen tell as their national epochs all contribute to what we see in modern popular culture, especially in electronic gaming where games across the board freely borrow concepts, names and places from. While you have games like Valkyrie Profile that adapts Ragnarök as its background while exploring humanity and its effects on a divine Valkyrie, other titles simply take the names and drop them into a given setting like how Final Fantasy does with its Summon spells more often than not. While we lean back to these old tales to large extends, the modern world has allowed to continue telling stories in more effective ways. Movies, books, comics, animation and whatnot you have in the popular culture can be often put breast to breast with old epics and make comparisons between the characters and events. Captain America, in his own ways, is the United State’s very own Samson.
Using these names and concepts is an effective way to convey to the customer what are buying into at any given time. The aforementioned Installation Wizard works like magic, with the user not needing to concern themselves with the details in installing a program. It’s like magic, no need to explain how this works. It’s not always the classical terms or works that get referenced. Band names are often an example of this. Names like Shayol Ghul and Lanfear are both references to the Wheel of Time books, where both carry rather sinister and dark connotation. You wouldn’t be surprised the former is a Black Metal band while the latter plays Power Metal. Modern fantasy has played a major role as the inspiration for large amounts of rock and heavy metal. A game example to refer an idea through name alone would fall to Nihon Falcom’s Ys-series, as it is a direct reference to the city of Ys, or Kêr-Is in Breton, which sank in the ocean. Not much else was lifted from the original story other than a vanished city that had to pay for its foolishness.
While fantasy (especially the medieval fantasy that reaches well into the Renaissance) has been rising in popularity slowly but surely, works that could impact the cultural mind have become relatively rare. Not since Harry Potter have we seen a true fantasy work that turned people true believers of sorts. Perhaps the latest fantasy work that left a permanent impact was Dark Souls and its lieu of copycats and a forced genre naming Soulslike, which harkens well back to the day of Doomclone. As a piece of story, Dark Souls may not offer much and heavily leans on its own inspirations, one of which is the fan-favourite Berserk. However, as a game it offers one of the best modern examples of ways people share their own particular stories. The framework of Dark Souls is nothing special in itself, not even its method of leaving the player to tie the background story together through environment and item texts, something even Metroid Prime utilised through its logs. However, it offers one of the best examples where player actions is the bulk of the story. Sharing these stories, how an enemy was faced with a particular weapon, or how they were battling another player, is an essential part of the overall experience. Sometimes its shared through streaming, where the player effectively becomes a theatre performer and the game is his stage. Maybe they’ll just ragequit after Pinwheel kills them, ending that particular tale right there. Here lies the Hero Skarnix, yet another dead.Dark Souls took what was already there and mixed it all together to create something new from the old, though it must be mentioned that FromSoftware had already laid out the framework with Demons’ Souls and King’s Field series of games. However, Dark Souls is the one that truly broke through the cultural wall as a defining work.
Classic sword and sorcery fantasy seems to be a sort of thing that’s easily accessed by anyone. We understand the romance between a hero and the sword, the dream of heroic tasks we could undertake and overcome. Sometimes the twist is macabre and depressing, lacking in any hope, but even that we understand without much explanations. Life’s unfair and only we ourselves are in charge of our own lives. Make the best of it. Perhaps there’s a bit of nostalgia as well in there, as the World Wars tolled so many to the point of needing to invent Dada. Despite fantasy games offering complex mechanics and vast storylines, at the core there is simplicity that modern day doesn’t offer. Some prefer even historical stories prior to Renaissance due to lack of cannons and other similar projectile weapons, when all you had was steel and catapults.
While Science fiction had a similar rise as fantasy when we had the great writers, from Doc Smith’s Lensman and Asimov’s Foundation to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Arthur C. Clarke’s A Space Odyssey, modern science fiction hasn’t seen much success either on print, video games, films or television. Whether or not it is because of modern audiences simply being tired of science fiction, or that most modern writers can’t build a story that’s as entertaining and brain racking as the aforementioned authors’ works, the genre’s a passé. Fantasy, on the other hand, is ageless as it creates a false history to build upon. It doesn’t need to make guesses or assumptions what might be in the future or ask What if… Thus even science fiction weapons that have entered the general lexicon as most powerful are based on extensions of cultural history and fantasy, light sabre or laser sword being probably one of the best examples.
In time we’ll see new forms of media popping up and new ways to create content to tell stories of heroes, of might and magic, or wizardry and quests for glory. They’ll still stand on top of what we have now, just as the works we consume are standing on top even larger giants. After all, the culture of telling stories and playing games is ever-evolving.
The Finnish National General Broadcast News, or YLE news, recently had a piece about video and computer games being more than entertainment nowadays, that they now comment and depict social issues as well as touch upon hard philosophical as well as explain stories. This naturally is horse shit at its best, as this would imply the half century games have been around didn’t consist of wide variety of games that were exploring topics that other forms of media have. Ultima alone made its legacy of creating a game where the player’s Avatar creates rules and virtues to improve people’s lives and give them faith. The follow-up games was all about perverting those ideals and how they can be abused the worst way possible. That’s just one example, with the Japanese PC platforms also containing their own adventure games with even more exploration of culturally relevant topics. I don’t mean VNs, think more along the lines of Sierra adventure games and you’ll be on point. Then you had titles like E.V.O. The Theory of Evolution that still stands as unique simulation-RPG, that the SNES sequel doesn’t exactly stand up to.
The issue of course that entertainment was depicted as something that doesn’t handle topics that require the audience to think. Literature, music, all forms of games, films and television are all *just” entertainment. Something being entertainment doesn’t suddenly mean they wouldn’t be able to discuss topics that would make the audience’s head ratchets clatter. Some people find their entertainment to be all about the discussion about current topics and politics, where they are required to consider issues that oppose each other as well and weight on the benefits of unsavoury actions. Other people like bang band woosh flash kind of entertainment where you can watch Iron Man punching Hulk in the face for fifteen minutes. Both are as valid as entertainment, but they’re different kind of entertainment. Both offer their own thing for the audience and the audience consumes them at their own pace. The difference is, of course, that games are active entertainment. The player is required to make the decisions. This isn’t what the news meant, as it had the classical approach of pre-written narrative being the core. After all, that’s the narrative about video and computer game storytelling, rather than the significance of playing and player being the most significant part of the story by creating a unique tale through player’s own actions and decisions. It’s strange that there are no news or studies made how much decision making in any given game situation affects the play or the player’s current mind set.
Because games are a form of entertainment the player takes place, player’s actions and decisions have all the ramifications within the game’s world itself. Sure, most players will blow things up just for the fun of it because they can and there are no repercussions, but in the same breath we can say that the same actions wouldn’t be taken in real world. That’s why games don’t work as a training device for general population without being conditioned for it and help of external real-life devices, as games are played. It’s interesting to see how little the media discussed playing being the most essential part of games, with terms like gameplay, game-loop, designs and whatever is the current buzzword thrown around to describe the simple of the player taking in the game rules and acting on them both physically via the input device as well as playing in their mind the role the game is giving for them. While it’s quint to see papers wondering how people can relate themselves in the characters on screen and refer their actions and events in first person rather than referring to the character on the screen, it also tells that it is common to see video and computer games as a separate thing from usual playing. There is no difference in a player controlling Mario in Super Mario Bros., controlling the horseshoe in Monopoly, playing the role of mother in playing house, referring to yourself when playing with dolls or being the dwarf in Dungeons and Dragons. All these forms of play have the same point of putting the player in the actor’s role and being there. For whatever reason this is seen as a more juvenile form entertainment, and all the forms of entertainment that are passive and ask the viewer to be a non-participant in are the more elevated thing. Funny that, that was one of the arguments what separates art from video games, where art can only be observed and not interacted with, despite interactive art and instalments have always been a relatively common thing.
Is this art, or is this a toy?
Toys are some of the best of entertainment. The toys we play with changes as we grow up, but the act of playing with something doesn’t. It’s also interesting to notice that at some point we “grow up” from something, but much later in life we return to them. Action figures and model kits are an example of this, but the best example might be doll houses. For whatever reason, at some point doll houses become a passé to a teenage girl who abandons childish toys, but just as often she finds herself playing Sims on the PC to pass time. Later in her life doll houses become a thing again, but this time she might build everything herself. From readily made toys to serious hobby, but in the end, it is still playing around. Just with more gusto and more expensive toys.
Video and computer games, much like all the other forms of entertainment we consume, don’t suddenly evolve or step up from their lower-ranking or childish spots. Games are, have always been, entertainment that put the player into uncomfortable positions to make hard decisions due to their nature of play. Often through competition either against the machine or the other player. However, these are momentarily events and something we can’t pass to anyone else, just like all play is. It isn’t that people stop to look at the veneer on the surface, but rather the simple lack of understanding how electronic gaming is no different from the rest of the play cultures we have. The form may be the different, the underlying actions and intentions are the same. Despite we’ve had few generations that grew up with electronic games now, they’re still treated as a second or third tier entertainment compared to the more classical form of media. Then again, modern comics are about a century old now and the view on them haven’t changed despite multiple generations have passed and their status as a form of proper art and storytelling has been challenged every which way. Perhaps this is another form of classism, where we have to create hierarchies instead of accepting that one form is no better than the other, as they are intended to be consumed in different manners with different end-goals. What is expected from a challenging piece of media has been relatively common due to sheer lack interactive element before, and now that we do have a whole new media dimension in our hands due to the digital revolution, the expectations are all fucked up. Perhaps in order to justify our interests and hobbies we often prescribe already accepted nominations and expectations of others. That way if we love to eat a BigMac and think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, we can describe it in the exact same manner as we would describe the most high calibre steak. This sort of reflection is sadly somewhat common, which forces arguments to lean on existing media and views rather than building new arguments and perceptions for the benefit of electronic gaming. Whatever the kids are into now can’t be better than the thing you grew up, after all.
Entertainment doesn’t need to be mindless and stupid. Some of us find it entertaining when the media challenges us to think, or in case of games, challenges to base and act our decisions that have ramifications larger than any other form fiction can depict directly with the inactive consumer. It only depends which game we are playing. We’ve always had games of all needs we’ve ever wanted.