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.

Replaying Japan 2014

Last week we organized Replaying Japan 2014 here in Edmoton. This was the second international conference on Japanese game studies and the third event we co-organized with the Ritsumeikan Center for Game Studies (in Japanese with English pamphlet).

The opening keynote was by Tomohiro Nishikado, the designer of Space Invaders – the 1978 game that launched specialty arcades in Japan. He talked about the design process and showed his notebooks which he had brought. Here you can see the page on his notebook with the sketches of the aliens and then the bitmap versions. I kept my conference notes on his talk and others here.

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The conference was a huge success with over 100 attendees from 6 countries and over 20 universities. We had people from industry, academia and government too. We had a significant number of Japanese speakers despite English being the language of the conference. After the conference we met to plan for next year’s conference in Kyoto. See you there!

This conference was supported by the Japan Foundation, the GRAND Network of Centres of Excellence, the Prince Takamado Centre, the Ritsumeikan Center for Game Studies, CIRCA, and the University of Alberta.

Demographics in Japan

How are Japanese demographics, attitudes towards sexuality and marriage, and gaming connected?

I decided I should check my assumptions about an aging Japan and looked around for some data and articles. One interesting study I came across, from Goldman Sachs, is titled Womenomics 3.0: The Time is Now (PDF). The report has information about birth rates and dependency ratios. They expect there to be a 2:1 ration of workers to dependents (children under 15 and the elderly over 65) by 2050. The report calls for initiatives that encourage more women to join (or stay in) the workforce.

On the subject on attitudes towards marriage and sexuality and how those are changing in Japan, I came across an interesting article in the Guardian titled, Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex? Once you get past the human-interest sex frame there is a nice summary of some of the statistics and issues. The article suggests that the declining interest in getting married, having relationships and having children is not just a matter of women who don’t want to give up their careers, but a larger trend amongst men and women. They suggest it may be occurring in other countries too, especially those hit by the recession.

The Guardian article led me to a report by Eberstadt titled Japan Shrinks about the implications of the drop in fertility rates. The author makes an intriguing aside to the effect that, “Remarkably enough, there is a near perfect correlation between the demise of arranged marriage in Japan and the decline in postwar Japanese fertility.” More importantly he lists some of the possible side effects of the changing demographics. For example, young workers leaving Japan in order to escape the burden of supporting the elderly.

What does all this have to do with games? Well, the Guardian article and others make a connection between the attitudes to relationships and the availability of virtual relationships. Eberstadt spells out a possible connection when he writes:

  • In a recent government survey, one-third of boys ages 16 to 19 described themselves as uninterested in or positively averse to sexual intimacy.
  • Young Japanese men are, however, clearly very interested in video games and the Internet: In 2009, a 27-year-old Japanese man made history by “marrying” a female video game character’s avatar while thousands watched online.
  • Japanese researchers are pioneering the development of attractive, lifelike androids. Earlier this year, a persuasively realistic humanoid called Geminoid F was displayed in a department store window, appearing to wait for a friend.
One might also mention the thousand of dating sim games, ball-and-joint dolls, erotic porn, and other virtual substitutes for relations available in Japan for both men and women. To what extent are people worried that these games and virtual life-style options are part of the fertility problem (ie. the low rate of births)? Some of the discussion around otaku culture seems to focus on whether or not otaku are escaping into virtualized fantasies.