Tuesday, August 26

...and the women?

If men are from the "west" then women are from the "east". More specifically Japan. I say this because I am not well informed on games of eastern nations (China, Korea et al.) beyond those developed in Japan. I also wish to point out that Japanese game development is far more gender balanced than this piece may suggest. However, if there is a place where Yin informs in game development it is currently Japan.

Probably the best known Japanese game franchise is informed with a feminine design aesthetic. The Final Fantasy series of games, with its androgynous male heroes, its themes of identity and self discovery (7 and 10), love (8 & 9) and justice (12), and even its art direction (Yoshitaka Amano's artwork is very soft, delicate, flowery and feminine). Each game in this series has at least one token masculine role demonstrating greater empathy to its own qualities than western counterparts. These characters are usually physically strong, mentally weak, lacking both the capacity for lateral thought, often uneducated and social retards. For example, there are three in FFX, Wakka the big simpleton, Kimarhi the stubborn brute and Auron the troubled loner.

Feminine design principles inform many of their games. Soulcalibur 4 allows for free mixing of gender roles and gender appearances, even going so far to include masculine voices in the female character models and vaguely effeminate voices in the male character models. The Survival Horror genre of games - which I believe, perhaps incorrectly - originated from Japan (with games like the original Resident Evil) have a blokey fixation with violence while being informed with a Yin principle of violence against stronger, tougher and more numerous opponents (mostly). While fist fighting is a predominantly male domain, it becomes feminine if the fighters are fighting physically superior opponents. I've never really liked the survival horror genre because, for me, its visceral thrills too closely model the heartbreaking reality of spousal abuse.

Then there are games like Katamari Damarcy. While a game like this is hard to classify I believe that it is defined by feminine traits. It's social networking, community participation, community assistance themes place it directly into the social arena of the feminine stereotype. Even the act of rolling stuff up has a constructive, lateral, co-operative feel to it.

In the Persona series of games you progress more easily if you maintain social networks. For that matter, the dating simulation game was invented by the Japanese. Games about music (Parappa the Rapper, Jet Set Radio), lines (Vib Ribbon), flowers (FlOwer, PixelJunk Eden), gardens (Shiki-Tei), going on a safari to photograph animals (Afrika) all suggest a greater focus on the internally focussed self referential qualities of Yin.

This doesn't mean that Japan is devoid of masculine games. Tomunobu Itagaki and his Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive series of games is aggressively male and this is reflected in the way his games play and their design aesthetic. His recent spate with Tecmo reeks of masculine principles and his bio includes a brief court case where a female co-worker alleged harassment. While Itagaki was acquitted of any wrongdoing, if I were a profiler, I would know that his personality is clearly inclined in this direction. Itagaki is also something of an aberration in the Japanese development scene. He should seek work in the "west" as that is where his design principles flourish.

I have no real idea why this is though. My inflammatory perception is that the Japanese are a small, delicate peoples who survive through a better understanding of their whole being, drawing on lateral thinking in everything they do. Alternatively it could be because of the 'boy love' comics I gather are really popular over there.

Do you see it the same way? Is game development in Japan feminine? Japan is certainly more balanced when it comes to gender roles, gender stereotyping and gender subversion. Is that because they are more civilised than the west, or less?

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