On Starving the Humanities in Japan: 4Humanities’ View

Over the last weeks, with lots of help from others, I wrote a position on what is happening in Japan, On Starving the Humanities and Social Sciences of Students and Funding in Japan: 4Humanities’ View. The blog entry presents a 4Humanities view on what appears to be a troubling pattern of de-funding the humanities, arts and social sciences under the mistaken view that they do not contribute to economic growth. The evidence, at least is Canada, is that humanities students do get jobs and do do better than those without university education. They may not do better than those getting a degree in petroleum engineering, but we surely don’t need only engineers. (See my entry on Ignoring the Liberal Arts.)

More worrisome than what is happening in Japan is the politicization of higher-education in North Carolina both at the board level and now with the appointment of a new President of the UNC system, Margaret Spelling. Johann Neem has a disturbing essay in Inside Higher Ed on Margaret Spelling’s Vision for Higher Education. Even more interesting is Neem’s essay on what academics could do if universities become vocational schools, Taking It to the Streets: Preparing for an Academy in Exile.

Journal of the Japanese Association for Digital Humanities

Announcing the first issue of the Journal of the Japanese Association for Digital Humanities. I am on the Editorial board of the Journal, but the real credit goes to Charles Muller, Christian Wittern and Kiyonori Nagasaki who are the working editors. This journal represents the maturing of the Japanese digital humanities scene. They have a Japanese Association (JADH) which was founded in 2011, and became constituent organization of ADHO in 2013. Now they have a journal. As Charles Muller, Editor-in-Chief, puts it in his “Dear Readers”,

While Digital Humanities has been practiced in Japan for more than two decades, up to now, little is known outside of Japan regarding the content of Japan advancements in this field. We therefore aim to rectify this situation by initiating a first-tier peer reviewed international journal published in English. Although we hope to be able to shed light on projects in developments in Japan, we will be accepting article submissions from DH practitioners around the world on a broad range of topics.

Pachinko Development Story

Wandering around the KYORAKU company web site I came across a recruitment section including two manga that tell (dramatised) stories of the development of machines. The image above is from one of the manga that tells the story of the development of a pachinko Winter Sonata, a popular Korean soap. Pachinko machines like this are developed to attract more women into pachinko parlours as audience numbers are declining. I was struck that the team, at least as shown in the comic, has no women designers, which raises the question of whether there are any women designers?

Nintendo asking for ad revenue for gaming on Youtube

CBC and others are reporting on a new Nintendo Creators Program where Nintendo will take a percentage of the ad revenue associated with a YouTube channel or video with playthroughs (Let’s Play) of their games. See YouTube gaming stars blindsided by Nintendo’s ad revenue grab or Nintendo’s New Deal with Youtubers Is A Jungle Of Rights. This will

The Nintendo Creators Program presents this in their Guide as an opportunity to make money off their copyrighted materials,

In the past, advertising proceeds that could be received for videos that included Nintendo-copyrighted content (such as gameplay videos) went to Nintendo, according to YouTube rules. Now, through this service, Nintendo will send you a share of these advertising proceeds for any YouTube videos or channels containing Nintendo-copyrighted content that you register.

This program is only for “copyrighted content related to game titles specified by Nintendo”. This is probably because Nintendo has to be careful to not be seen as making money off playthroughs of other publisher’s games.

This new policy/program raises interesting issues around:

  • Fair use. Is a screen shot or a whole series of them that make up a playthrough covered by “fair use”? My read is that the publishers think not.
  • Publicity from Playthroughs. YouTuber’s like PewDiePie who post Let’s Play videos (and make money off their popular channels) argue that these videos provide free exposure and publicity.
  • New Economic Models for Gaming. Is Nintendo exploring new economic models tied to their copyright? Nintendo has been suffering so it makes sense that they would try to find ways to monetize their significant portfolio of popular game franchises and characters.

Nintendo Is Finally Bringing Mario to Mobile Phones (with DeNA)

Wired and others have stories about how Nintendo Is Finally Bringing Mario to Mobile Phones. They are entering into an alliance with DeNA by buying DeNA stock (and DeNA will buy Nintendo stock.) Iwata (Director and President of Nintendo) and Isao Moriyasu (President and CEO of DeNA) made a joint announcement. You can see a translated version of the presentation on YouTube here.

This is a big change for Nintendo as they have been losing money as the traditional console gaming industry loses market share to casual and mobile platforms. I had heard ex-employees say Nintendo would never make the transition, but stay committed to tight integration of their games and dedicated devices. Obviously things have changed and now Nintendo will be deploying their IP to smartphones, especially to reach a global market. Nintendo stock closed 27.5% up.

My understanding of Iwata’s explanation was that they now see mobile versions as building their fan base and therefore helping sell dedicated devices/content. They are afraid that they will be marginalized globally if they don’t expand the reach of their IP. They have now decided how to use smart devices as a way into dedicated systems.

Because the interfaces are different, they don’t intend to just port existing titles to mobile platforms. Instead they will work with DeNA to create new content specifically for smart devices.

Database of Japanese Manga, Anime, Games, and Media Arts

The Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs has released a first version of their Media Arts database (only in Japanese). This database has, among other things, about 36,000 game titles. I think the games database was developed by the team at the Ritsumeikan Center for Game Studies (RCGS) – they were certainly working on this when I visited.

You can read an announcement from Anime News Network here.

Nintendo still unable to solve smartphone puzzle

The Nikkei Asian Review has a good article on how Nintendo still unable to solve smartphone puzzle. At the recent Replaying Japan 2014 conference I had a talk with some of the folks at Ritsumeikan who have insight into Nintendo. We talked about how Pokemon is controlled by Nintendo so the announcement of a Pokemon Trading Card Game for iOS is significant. It shows Nintendo is experimenting with tablets in a way that still protects the heartland (consoles and core franchises.) If the experiment works they might try some of the other franchises. If it doesn’t they can pretend Nintendo never bowed to app pressure.

The clock is ticking for an aging Asia

George Magnus has written two insightful articles in the Nikkei Asian Review on the impact of an aging population on Asian countries. The first, The clock is ticking for an aging Asia goes beyond the usual stories on Japan to look at other countries including India. The second, Strategies for winning the demographic battle looks at what is being done and what could be done.

What does this mean for the games industry in Japan and, more generally Asia? First of all, we need to remember that the Asian games industry is growing dramatically as the large countries like India and China get wired and videogame-capable systems (smartphones and tablets) become accessible. It will be interesting to see what happens as this audience ages. Second, we in the West are not necessarily the obvious export audience for Japanese games – Japanese companies may turn to focus more on South Korea and China than North America and Europe. There are cultural continuities that make certain types of Japanese games more likely to appeal in Asia than in the west. For example, warring state games – ie. games that have as a background the shared mythology of medieval warring states (whether the period of civil war in Japan or that of China.) Third, we could see Japanese companies developing games for the west in the Philippines as they move development offshore the way they have moved ship building.

To be honest, I am just guessing. I feel we need to understand the Asian game market to understand Japan (rather than thinking of Japan as our other), but I’m not sure where things are going. Magnus’ articles are the best news I’ve read on the issue of aging populations for some time.