Japanese Culture Through Videogames

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Japanese Culture Through Videogames

Rachael Hutchinson

Routledge, Oxon, UK, 2019

ISBN: 978-0367111380

In Japanese Culture Through Videogames, Rachael Hutchinson aims to bridge the two fields of Japanese Studies and Game Studies, addressing a relative paucity in the literature of using videogames as a lens through which to interpret and analyse Japanese culture. It is an admirable aim, and one that Hutchison is more than equal to, the result of which is an extremely well-researched book and one of the most interesting academic texts that I have read in quite some time. 

The book is split into three distinct sections: Part 1 explores how Japanese culture has been packaged as a playable object in videogames; Part 2 examines ideology and critique in Japanese videogames, focussing on issues ranging from absentee parents to bioethics; and Part 3 analyses the difficulties of the Japanese war game in the context of Japan’s military and colonial history. Throughout the book, Hutchinson adopts two approaches: a close reading of a game / game series  (e.g. Hiroshima and violence in Metal Gear Solid) and a broader cross-section to consider a range of game genres in relation to a particular problem (e.g. fighting games, action games, and soccer games to examine how difficulties of representing Korea in Japanese games is closely tied to Japan’s colonial past). These approaches introduce the reader to a number of different scholarly discourses in both Japanese Studies and Game Studies, with Hutchinson’s writing style being informative and accessible for newcomers and veterans of both the featured games and the associated disciplines. 

Central to the book is the idea of jidai no nagare (the trends of the times) when analysing videogames. This is a term first coined by the Japanese game scholar Ishii Zenji, and which is used throughout the book to provide meaningful context to how Japanese culture can be experienced and considered through its videogames. Whilst all of the chapters are equally adept at presenting detailed academic rigour in an accessible manner, ’Nuclear discourse in Final Fantasy’ stood out as a personal favourite. As someone who had dedicated thousands of hours to this franchise it was fascinating to be guided once more through the different narratives and ludic experiences of the games and to re-consider these moments in terms of Japan’s historic and current attitudes towards both nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. After reading this chapter, I will never look at the Magitek Armour of Final Fantasy VI in the same light again…

Understandably (and well addressed by the author in the conclusions), this book could not possibly cover every genre of Japanese videogame, but it would have been fascinating to see Hutchinson’s take on how Japanese culture can be experienced through dating simulations and otome (maiden) games, perhaps responding to the work of scholars such as Kazumi Hasegawa and Hyeshin Kim in considering the gendered identity and narrative construction that is present in these games. On a personal note, I would also enjoyed a further exploration of the ‘Otherness’  and ‘Japanese space’ of the Persona series (the perceptual realism of Persona 5 is discussed briefly in Chapter 1), but if anything this is simply testament to the fact that I was just greedy for more of Hutchison’s analysis!

In writing this book Hutchinson has undoubtedly succeeded in bridging the two fields of Japanese Studies and Game Studies, and it should be considered as an essential text for students and scholars in both disciplines. I sincerely hope that Japanese Culture Through Videogames ends up reaching an even broader audience however, as it serves as a thoughtful and elegant guide to anybody who is interested in how videogames could (and should) be used to experience Japanese culture.