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The Effects of the Video Game IndusTry On Japan

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Much in the world today is of Japanese origin. Indeed, Japanese influence can be seen all over the world--on television, in comic books, in video games, in electronics, in the film industry, and even in music. In fact, currently, 60% of all the cartoon shows being broadcast on television the world over are from Japan. (Croal) Indeed "Japanese anime characters have established a substantial base of fans in Europe and North America" (Shuhei). Similarly, the Japanese video game industry has been very successful in the world. It has proven to have many positive effects on the world, even though many people have repeatedly tried and failed to vilify it. Perhaps one of the most important industries in modern Japan, video games have both opened up great possibility for Japan's economic future and caused the rapid spread of its culture in the world. The rise in the Japanese video game industry elevated the country's standing in the world.

The first video games ever were created in computer labs of prestigious and well-known colleges by studious types, whereas in modern times, video games, complete with complex storylines and characters and with sophisticated music and game play, are created by paid professionals. The very first video games were invented by students at colleges with big computer facilities, because they had "nothing better to do. [Making games] soon became a competitive field of play for these students." (Kohler, 24) Soon after, video games became something to sell, and at first were available for Magnavox TVs, played on the Odyssey systems made especially for Magnavoxes. (These Odyssey systems were not as consoles are today--i.e., they did not have multiple games, only one game installed in the system, with the first games not even closely depicting what they were supposed to show. One game, a tennis game, was simply two white "dots" that were actually squares representing the players or rackets, and one line down the center of the screen signifying the net.) Then, games moved over to computers for a while, after a string of very primitive gaming consoles (which, strangely enough, happened to have the controls for the games on them, with the players having to keep score with paper and pencil, for some of the first games). These computer games were mainly based on board games, Dungeons and Dragons, and other fantasy/fiction games with a small emphasis on the graphics of the games. (Fierman) Soon, industry-changing games were released by companies who, before this point, had games only in the arcades. Along with these games came Shigeru Miyamoto's invention of the gaming console (these had been invented by now) with a very stylized and appealing design, and with removable controllers, connected to the system with cables. Innovations like the ones of Miyamoto kept making the industry grow, as it became bigger and more effective in the world's markets. Now, video games have evolved into an effective means of entertainment (at least stereotypically for males of 15-25 years of age), even better and more money-making than the movie industry.

Japanese video games' originality was what gave them a good hold in the relatively new and rapidly rising industry. Japanese culture was the major factor making Japanese games different from any other games. The Japanese people's will to easily accept technology, after having stayed away from it for years, epitomizes Japanese culture's amalgamating nature. Despite the technological advancements that Japan went through, there has always been a traditionally Japanese factor in all of Japan's development. The Japanese brought anime-style characters into games because of their overwhelming popularity elsewhere. In fact, Japanese video games are very heavily influenced by Japanese culture--the styles of art and music, and the various aspects of modern Japanese theater. Another major aspect of Japanese culture--the importance of depictions over writing--is obviously relevant in video games. As writer Frederik L. Schodt, author of two books and many articles on Japanese comics, puts it:

[The Japanese consider comic books to be] an effective...way of transmitting information, and they use them everywhere...[people now] live in an age that emphasizes the image...[and therefore] naturally have no bias against comics. They are...the shikaku sedai, the 'visual generation.' (Kohler, 6)

The video game industry as a whole has had a generally positive effect on the Japanese economy, and the lifestyles of its people. One of the biggest innovations in early video game technology was that of the so-called "programmable" home gaming console, which was one in which different game cartridges could be made to fit into specialized slots in the console, as long as these cartridges were specialized for the console. (Fierman) One of the main economic advantages that this innovation brought was the hiring of designers to work on video games--prior to this, the programmers of the hardware of the games had to design the characters, backgrounds, and storyboards as well as the game-playing systems. Not more that a decade after this innovation, games became what they are now. In fact, because video games have been a growing industry ever since they were introduced to the world, they have also become a replacement for or a cause of the falling industries like that of movies. (See chart, compiled by Dentsu)

Soon, many aspiring young artists were given chances to make and oversee all the art in these programmable game cartridges. One such man, Shigeru Miyamoto, came to Nintendo (whose Japanese name, nin-ten-dou, translates into English as "the place where luck is left in heaven's hands") as a toy designer (Nintendo was a toy producer and entertainment company at the time). His talents were soon realized for what they were, and his rising positions within the company eventually led him to become a designer for games. His first game Donkey Kong was a smash hit. In modern video games there has been a rising emphasis on music, especially since there was none or very little in the video games of old, because it can alter the reviews of games, leading to success or failure. This weight put on music makes jobs for composers, synthesizers, and music directors, the soundtracks even selling as well as pop music. (Kohler) In fact, these musicians' work is so profitable to the industry (and indeed commonplace) that programmer Fumito Ueda chuckled in response to a question regarding the idea of taking out even the music from his mainly dialogue-less game. He said, "If I took out the music, it would be even harder to bond with Ico [the name of the main character and the game itself], even if the players had maximum sound effects." (Kohler, 253) Video game



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