This week our film to watch was Hi Score Girl, a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Rensuke Oshikiri. This film had a separation of sorts to the recent films we have watched in class, most likely it was the unique animation style and strange voice overs I haven’t experienced before that made it different. In saying this though, I enjoyed this series – it had stunning animation, a cute story line and many interesting cultural references I picked up on. The main theme I will be focusing on in this post is arcade culture in Japan – something I have witnessed and experienced before in my travels to Japan, but after seeing this film I want to dive deeper in my understanding. I want answers to the following questions; why are arcade gaming centres still so popular in Japan? Is there some kind of cultural significance arcade centre culture offers Japanese people?
The whole storyline of this film Hi Score Girl is centred around the arcade gaming scene where gamer Yaguchi Haruo dominates with his famous identity as a pro gamer. It even seems that Yaguchi’s relationship with Ono is centered around their mutual love for arcade gaming.
In the short times I spent in the main cities of Japan – Osaka and Tokyo – the arcade centres were booming, and I mean literally bursting with people at all times of the day. School kids seemed to come after school, people came on their work breaks, and almost anyone in between was just about there. This was like nothing I had ever seen before, nothing I was used to back at home. This is because arcade centres’ popularity in Western countries and in Australia has plummeted, it’s hard to find an arcade centre near where I live. If there’s any arcade games near me it’s probably at Flip Out or at the local bowling alley… It’s hard to fathom the difference between the ghost town arcade places here, and the big five storey arcade centres in Japan lit up with lights and music. It was surreal and completely different to the game culture I know.
So the big question – why are they still SO popular in Japan? According to Expat Bets, arcades are part of the Japanese culture – a way of living if you will. Post WWII, the Japanese economy transitioned into manufacturing which brought more advanced technologies into the industry – where the arcade industry was born. With money, a capable manufacturing industry, the need for more urban leisure activities and the hunger for novelty – it was a perfect mix to strengthen the arcade industry.
Apparently, local people will usually go to arcade centres near their place of work after a stressful day, and some arcades are even located near train stations which allow gamers to play games while they wait for the train. Amusement arcades may be a fading force in most Western countries, but in Japan they’re still a vibrant part of popular culture. Also, gaming is not just a hobby for young men – the wide range of activities on offer attracts a diverse crowd. This is something we can see in Hi Score Girl, where Ono is a professional gamer, even better than Yaguchi. This was interesting to me, because in my culture, gaming is an extremely male dominated world and most games have been designed for men (cars, guns, thugs, all that). So it’s pretty cool that these arcade games have been tailored to suit anyone’s interests of all genders. The game culture I know is quite intimate – usually I’ll just play GTA with my roommate in our home (very rarely) or sometimes I’ll play tetris on my phone when I’m bored on the train. For me, arcade centres do not come to mind when I think of “games”.
Japanese games often include specific references to cultural objects, food items, furniture, Japanese folktales and ancient texts and architecture all associated with Japan, which has been believed to form a sense of national identity – especially as arcade games are so popular (Hutchinson, 2019). Arcade games have own a distinctive place in the country’s cultural history and in the evolution of pop art. “They have become quirks of corporate pride and cultural habit” (Lewis, 2017).
It’s interesting to know that strong manufacturing technologies have enabled to create such a big culture around arcade gaming in Japan. It brings people together, is an escape from work and is embedded in the everyday lives of Japanese people. While I was in Japan I tried a few of the games and they are awesome, so I understand why it’s so popular, that along with the atmosphere is completely addictive. I saw school kids playing together laughing and I even saw business men come in with their clients and colleagues. It’s crazy how an arcade centre offers that sense of connectedness and belonging.
Fumagalli, R 2014, People playing pachinko, traditional Japanese game. Lottery, arcade game, videogame, video games, slot machines. Kyoto, Japan, image, Alamy Stock Photo, viewed 28 August 2020, <https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-people-playing-pachinko-traditional-japanese-game-lottery-arcade-game-72159583.html>.
Heslehurst, J 2017, The Ten Best Arcades in Tokyo, image, Compathy Magazine, viewed 28 August 2020, <https://en.compathy.net/magazine/2016/07/09/the-10-best-japanese-arcades-in-tokyo/>.
Hutchinson, R 2019, ‘Japanese culture through videogames‘, Routledge Contemporary Japanese Series.
Lewis, L 2017, ‘Game on: Why Japan’s arcade are still winning’, Financial Times, weblog post, 9 February, viewed 28 August 2020, <https://www.ft.com/japanarcades>.
Tanaka, Y 2018, ‘Understanding the arcade culture in Japan’, Expat Bets, weblog post, 29 September, viewed 28 August 2020, <https://www.expatbets.com/japan/understanding-the-arcade-culture-in-japan/>.
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Reblogged this on Digital Asia.