asiascape vistas

Techno-Culture, New Politics, and Philosophy in East Asia

Asiascape Vistas is a forum for discussion about the many and various dimensions of cyberculture found in or originating from East Asia. Its focus is on the interplay between these media and questions of politics & philosophy. Contributions are from the academic collective responsible for the core project, but other contributions will also be considered by that collective.
If you wish to contribute to Asiacape Vistas, please send an email using the form on the contact page.

Replaying Japan in Edmonton

In August, I had the opportunity to present a paper at the Replaying Japan conference in Edmonton, Canada. This was the second gathering of scholars from all over the world working on Japanese games organized between the University of Alberta in Canada and Ritsumeikan University in Japan. The kind support from the Goto-Jones VICI project (NWO) allowed me to join the event.

Although Edmonton is not exactly next door to Leiden, I am very glad I could do so. This was a rare opportunity to meet and discuss with an expert group of scholars working on Japanese videogames in a very nice atmosphere (as you can see on the photos provided on the conference website). Combining great keynotes, a variety of technological, cultural and other perspectives on games, including regional game creators' experiences, the conference stood out in that it opened a space for dialogue between researchers and practitioners from many countries and made a serious and successful attempt at reflecting on the richness, diversity, complexity and transnational character of games. What is more, the organizers and volunteers spared no pains in order to make the conference an inspiring, fun, and even relaxing event; an unhurried schedule and very skilled volunteer interpreters for Japanese were as much part of this as raw snack vegetables and lots of coffee - not to mention a very nice dinner.

What was it all about? As the title promises, we replayed Japan - for example in the first keynote delivered by THE Nishikado Tomohiro, creator of Space Invaders (1978). He reflected on the almost single-handed creation of the game, bringing with him all the way from Japan his Space Invader notebooks from the 1970s: a mixture of graphics sketches, circuit-layouts and hand-written assembler code. In case you didn't know this: the invaders were human in the first instance, but Nishikado ultimately decided that killing humans was not a good idea, and invented his space invaders. These, in turn,

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With some exceptions, like the UFO, the aliens, as many science fiction theorists have noted, are not so alien after all...

While Nishikado reflected on his own creative process and on one of the most influential moments in Japaneses videogame culture, Mia Consalvo took one step back, tracing the influences of Japanese games on "Western" game designers and urging us to pay more attention to the creative flows across countries, regions, and cultures. She proposed to distinguish games "from Japan", which could have come from anywhere, and games "of Japan", which reflect on their cultural production context directly. Martin Picard, in turn, traced common discourses scholars of Japanese games are confronted with, in the attempt to negotiate between universalism, cultural specificity, and exoticism. He developed "geemu" (Japanese ゲーム, for "game") as a term for games in Japan that reflects on the historical development they are embedded in.
A Canadian Industry Panel, an introduction to cutting-edge AI-research by Vadim Bulitko (whether you like it or not, it seems that we feel more agency in games that automatically adjust to our preference and give us exactly what we want), as well as a very interesting poster and game presentation session, added to the variety of perspectives present at the conference, which was equally reflected in a wide range of rich papers. I'll not go into much detail here, since each paper I heard deserves much more space and time than I can offer here. Rather, I'd like to refer the inclined reader to the conference proceedings on the website, which contain all abstracts, as well as the photos found on the same site.
My own presentation was part of a great panel on violence in Japanese games, in which Mimi Okabe, Ryan Scheiding, and myself tackled violence from very different perspectives. Mimi proposed to understand the extremely violent sex and rape scenes in the Japanese BL game Enzai as a playful way of turning the body into a spectacle, which is capable of interrogating power relations as well as existent stereotypes of manga and anime character types like the beautiful boy (美少年 bishōnen). She concluded that exaggerations of violence can function as a tool for political intervention and liberation from existing frameworks.
Ryan Scheiding, in turn, looked at the problematic and often racist depictions of Japanese soldiers in historical war games. By comparing specific cases in several popular games with earlier depictions of Japanese soldiers, or "treacherous moneymen" in media like Bugs Bunny etc., he shows how stereotypical representations have persisted and evolved in contemporary games, calling for more sensitivity to such representations among scholars and the gaming community.
In my own presentation, I focussed on the series Metal Gear Solid, arguing that the games confront their player with a complex and ambiguous and provocative experience of violence, between critique and glorification, ultimately forcing the player into a state of exception in which his or her actions demand for reevaluation beyond priorly applicable frameworks and norms. Thus, the games create a free space in which play, including playful violence, is possible.

Overall, the event was rich with new ideas and acquaintances, and definitely a great contribution to drawing together scholars scattered all over the world working on the still developing field of research one of my main interests lies in. I can't wait for the follow-up event next year!

Once again, my thanks to the organizers and all participants for a wonderful event and to the NWO and Chris Goto-Jones' VICI "Beyond Utopia" for supporting my participation!