Robert Cummings (Xenophobic
Gamertag: Jacob Singer 45):
Ok, on
the CHUD message boards ( at least in the video game forums), I’ve developed
this reputation as a bit of a Japan-basher. That I’m anti-Nintendo, anti JRPG
(that’s Japanese role-playing games to you people who have actual lives),
anti-cutesy, and, some might say, anti-fun. And I suppose that
reputation is at least partially deserved. So I thought that in this Bit
Players edition we might talk about how and why Japanese gaming has influenced
us over the years for good and bad.

First off, I’m 46 years old.
I doubt I’m anybody’s gaming target demographic. I can remember being fairly
thrilled as a young teen when we got a Pong console at our house.
We eventually moved up to an Atari 2600. I learned to program in BASIC on a
Texas Instruments TI-99/4A home computer (thanks, Bill Cosby!). I’ve been into
computer and video gaming ever since, and, as PCs became more powerful, I found
myself investing more and more time (and money!) in my gaming hobby.

Then one day a friend of mine
was gushing about his new Nintendo game console. I’d heard plenty about them,
naturally, but everything I’d seen seemed like it was a game platform for kids.
On the PC I was playing flight sims, strategy games, adventure games, games
with daunting manuals and occasionally steep learning curves. Sure, some were
silly, derivative, juvenile — all the usual culprits — but for the most part
they seemed intended for people who wanted something more than jumping on
mushrooms. Again, I was pretty sure I was not their target demo.

I don’t want to get too
long-winded here, so I’ll turn it over to the next Player. I just wanted to set
the groundwork for where I’m coming from. This is a roundtable, after all!

Brian Condry (Gaijin
Gamertag Medium Dave):
Ok, I’m about 20 years younger than Oldy McOldster over
here. So my initial fond videogame
memories don’t consist of giant black monoliths and playing with silicone,
hoping it’ll perform some mathematic equation.
I started out playing my friend’s NES, which means
Japan’s invasion of my soul started early. I’ve played some decently old games on the PC
(man, floppy discs rock!) and feel I have at least some street cred in that

Man, does anyone remember
that one game where you designed stunts and flew planes through them? It was like a movie set and you set cameras
and shit? Man, that was fucking
hardcore. I loved it. It had a duck.

I got hooked on JRPGs back in
junior high and high school, when Final Fantasy 3 (as it was
known on the SNES or 6 nowadays) and Secret of Mana got their
filthy claws into me. Since then, I’ve
played a goodly portion of the RPGS on PS1, PS2, PC, GBA, N64,
360 and Gamecube. I started to watch
anime and not just for the tentacles.
And I have to say, after all these years…
Japan is starting to piss me off. Maybe I’ve just gotten more mature (yes, I’m
M-rated) in my tastes but near everything from
Japan now just seems…juvenile. Hey, Blue Dragon! Yeah, awesome! You kill enemies and dig through golden poop
to find items! HAHAHAHA!! Those wacky Japanese! Look, I’m not saying chainsawing through an
enemy is any more or less juvenile than that, but at least my character looks
manly as shit when he does it. I’ve
started to feel more and more distant from Japanese games especially JRPGs,
which used to be my gaming bread and butter.
But as I grow older and expand my horizons, and not just in gaming, I
find myself getting further and further away from the Rising Sun. Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t be
frothing at the mouth for Final Fantasy 13.
I’m just a whore like that.

Kurt Miller (Shampoo dinner
gamertag: Barnaby Fist):
Video games have been
largely a Japanese product. Most of the games I played in the arcades and on
consoles had names like Nintendo, Namco, Capcom, and Konami associated with them.
Maybe I was just too young to see it otherwise, but when Nintendo released the
NES, I didn’t see that as
Japan invading western sensibilities. They were just bringing
a facsimile of the arcade experience home. I played Super Mario Brothers
in the arcades, and now I could play it at home.

Perhaps the stereotypical
eastern style (fey heroes, crushing whimsy, ponderous speeches) is most
apparent in the role-playing category, but I’d never spent much time with them.
I wanted to run, jump, fly and shoot, not talk to a villager and make some
big-headed munchkin sparkle. Besides, role-playing was something you did with
dice, and far away from girls.

But there’s nothing
inherently wrong with being whimsical or silly with games. That’s often why
they’re fun. Look at the hyper-saccharine weirdness of
Katamari Damacy.
Nothing could be more “Japanese”, and yet I think it’s one of the most creative
and brilliant games of that last five years. It’s not being bright and happy
that turns me off. It’s when there’s a situation that requires guns and knives
and they give me a hero that looks like a 12-year-old girl. If I need to roll
up cows and pizzas in a big ball, then I expect bright spandex. But if I need
to eradicate an entire invading alien menace, then I expect an avatar that
looks like a piece of beef jerky from hell.

Alex Riviello (I Feel Asleep!
Gamertag: Creature Corner)
Robert’s got 2
decades on me too (what’s that in olden terms,
one score?) but we started somewhat at the same place. My dad had
an Atari 800XL (basically a keyboard with a whopping 64k ram!) and a book with
all kinds of computer games that were really more trouble than they were worth
to type out. I remember typing pages and pages of code for some stupid game
called Popcorn that was fun for about 3 minutes. Besides that I
used to play with my aunt’s Commodore 64, where Mail Order Monsters made
me love customizing characters and Rescue on Fractalus scared the
shit out of me. (Seriously, when the alien tried to break into your ship? Made
me poop my little boy shorts.) Atari 2600 was my next system, as I learned to
hate E.T. and do the A-B switch trick for when that goddamn
Marshmallow Man came after me in Ghostbusters.

After much pleading with my
parents I finally got a NES… from my aunt and uncle, who were more sympathetic
to my cause. I was hooked. Super Mario Bros. is still one
of the most purely fun gaming experiences I’ve ever had, with 3 probably being
the pinnacle. I didn’t think of it at the time, but lots of those games are
just plain friggin’ weird. And they’re getting weirder. See Killer 7.

It’s like when I first
discovered Japanese cinema in high school. There’s this whole bizarre style,
this whole other culture that is just so hard to get. The sense of humor is
completely different over there. It’s even worse in the video games where they
can just go bazonkers. There’s so many clichés that are true of the genre, like
the whole androgynous villain thing. I never understood that. I don’t know why
they always have bad guys that look pretty enough to fuck.

Ian Arbuckle (Razor Ramon
Gamertag: ArbuckleIan):
I’m a late bloomer to
world culture. In my prime, malleable childhood gaming days I had nothing but a
PC to work with, and limited access to game demos. (Let’s hear it for that
venerable institution: the local BBS.) My parents held a staunch defensive line
against consoles in their house, so the only time I got to play on a Nintendo
was at the house of a friend who was only my friend because he had a Nintendo
at his house.

In my teens, I won a
PlayStation in a contest, rented and played Discworld on it, then
sold it to another friend who was only my friend because he had money. (I’ve just
realized how lonely my childhood was.)

What I mean to say by all
this is that last week I went out and bought the Final Fantasy
port for my PSP. And I’ve been playing it a lot. By choice.

I haven’t avoided Japanese
culture and games because of a conscious decision; I’m not xenophobic so much
as I am xenostupid. So, I’m beginning my education into the world of Japanese
gaming with bright eyes, a bushy tail, and the warnings of all my compatriots
to stay as far away as I can from anything that mentions religion in its title
or game text.

(In my defense, Final
isn’t the first Japanese game I’ve played. Also, I will
make a valiant attempt to beat up anyone who says an ill word about

Alex Riviello: Phoenix Wright is the perfect
example of what never would fly over here, but is perfectly at place in a
Japanese game. It’s beyond silly, the characters are over the top, but it works,

I don’t like the idea that
games have to be completely serious; I like that manic sense of fun in my

Jon Cassady (Tea Party
Gamertag: Jlcquest)
: I’ve had a deep connection
to gaming for most of my life. When the Nintendo hit big, I spent months
playing as much as I could at friends’ houses, so desperate to have my own
version of Metroid or Zelda. Back then my life was gaming.
It’s probably a part of the reason why I tie moments of my life to the games I
was playing.

The year my brother was away
at college was the year I spent exploring the sealed cave in Final
Fantasy IV
. Mario Kart is now eternally linked to my freshman year in the
dorms. I know that I can never play Goldeneye, Nightfire or for that
matter any 007 game without thinking of my two of my best friends. And when I
think of Super Smash Bros. Melee, I will always remember the little girl
at Fry’s who destroyed me and how it changed my view of gaming.

That year (2001), in addition
to the release of the Xbox, Gamecube, the GBA, Halo and
GTA: III, it was also my first year of law school. It was a year
that changed gaming and between the stresses of school and having no money, I
just wanted games like they used to be. I wanted comfort and that comfort was
no longer there. Instead, the gaming evolved and I was left behind. I barely
played anything between September 2001 and May 2002.

But you can’t go back, and
eventually I did come out of my gaming shell, discovering that I loved some of
these new games. I loved these games so much, that even today, I spend my free
time either playing or writing about games.

Nowadays, I try out games I
might not have earlier accepted or written-off as silly. I doubt that many of
the Japanese games I’ve played (save for the JRPGs, which are comfort food)
would have in my consciousness 10 years ago.

I still have my fears and
prejudices. Despite repeated assurances from Alex, I can’t pick-up

Brian Condry: I think Phoenix
is a perfect example of what is going to be my next point: no
matter how good a Japanese game is, somehow, they will find a way to make less
fun. P.W. for example. It’s silly and weird and yelling at your DS
is fun, but the text……….is………so……………slow and it has some of the most
nonsensical logic I have ever seen. It
doesn’t ruin the experience, but it definitely makes it less than. And while we’re on the subject, does everyone
in Japan read at the speed of a retarded box turtle? Because Jesus Christ, the past five or so
games I’ve played have had slooooooooooooow text.

Anyway. I’m with you, Jon. No matter how much they hurt me, I always go
back to my JRPGs. Except for
. I think the demo for
that broke me and I’m going to leave for good.
Persona 3 strokes my hair and tells me how much (select
appropriate gender) loves me.

Kurt Miller: I haven’t come across any games in recent memory that
make you wait for the text to roll out. You can tap the DS screen to make the
skip the text scrolling in
Phoenix Wright, so that should speed
things up for you, Brian. But it irks me when some of these games get too
chatty for their own good. A game like
Phoenix Wright relies on
text as part of the gameplay, and it’s where the game’s surprisingly competent
sense of humor (considering the tradition of shoddy translations from east to
west) is drawn from. Something like
Advance Wars DS or Metal
has no excuse to go into superfluous exchanges between characters.
It takes me out of the game to sit there watching these dumb little puppets
blab at each other when I should be mobilizing tank units or tip-toeing around
in a cardboard box. That
is something that I find to be unique to
Japanese games. I haven’t found many western games to get mired down in useless

Jon Cassady: Brian, I understand the reaction to Blue
. To rip off the Simpsons, the box should say “could this be
anymore Japanese.” But I enjoy that it is an unapologetic throw-back.

Brian Condry: Yeah, but
Kurt, there’s still those gobs of text that take too long, no matter how fast
you tap the screen. I think it was the
second case in Phoenix that I was just constantly tapping the stylus to move
things along. It was interminable. The most recent offender in retarded box
turtle speed is Hotel Dusk. Holy
fuckshit. Planets died in the time it
took to finish one conversation in that game.

I’ll give you throw back,
Jon. I understand it, too. There are plenty of people who enjoy some
good old fashioned gameplay, as evidenced by the sales of XBLA and Virtual
Console games. I just think that we’ve
gotten past a lot of the stuff it does, things that were
requirements back in the day because of hardware and software limitations. And while the JRPG is a
genre that resists change so much that it has to be dragged kicking and
screaming into its next evolution, it’s a genre that could really use it.

Robert Cummings: To be sure, there are horrible cliches on all gaming
fronts, East, West, and in-between. It just seems to me that far more Japanese
games seem to stick these cliches into games where they simply don’t
belong. Don’t get me wrong, I like whimsy,
and some of my favorite games have been silly, or abstract, or, dare I say it,
even cute. But it seems like many Japanese game designers just can’t
stand the idea of an adult avatar swinging that sword, or driving that
‘Mech, or blowing up that alien. What is this fascination with having almost
every single protagonist in their games teenagers? Why do the female characters
have the faces of 11-year-olds and the bodies of porn stars? Why do so many
male protagonists look just as feminine, and then some, as their female
counterparts? Why is there so much purple and white hair?

Yeah, I’m being a little
silly, and I know there are moronic cliches in Western games as well. I just
find it confusing that a truly beautiful, original-looking, and downright Japanese
game like Okami doesn’t sell well in Japan, but yet another
overwrought, juvenile and tedious JRPG will sell like hotcakes. Of course, they
probably wonder why the hell we buy a new copy of Madden every