Continental Drift: Are American and Japanese Gamers’ Tastes Growing Apart?

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a piece I wrote for one of my classes at graduate school. In the interest of sharing knowledge, I’ve posted it here on the Skyboy Games Dev Blog.

Many years ago while reminiscing with a friend, I happened to mention that, as a child, I had been so struck by the opera scene in Final Fantasy 6 that I kept a save file at that point in the game specifically for the purpose of playing that scene whenever I wanted to. My friend then responded that he had done the same thing. What struck me about this exchange was that my friend had never left Japan and spoke little English. Meanwhile, I had grown-up in North America and had not been to Japan until my early twenties. Despite growing up half-a-world apart, we had managed to share a moment of culture centered around a particular scene from a particular video game from Japan.

Given the market dominance in the 80’s of the Nintendo Entertainment System (Cunningham, 2013), the strength of its successor, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, in the 90’s (Buchanan, 2009), and the success of the Sony Playstation (IGN Staff, 1998) and Playstation2 (Ewalt, 2011) into the mid 00’s, it is easy to imagine the size of the impact that Japanese games have had on the shared history of video game players. Yet, more recent news about the console games industry in Japan has a more pessimistic attitude. Articles state that “Japanese games are now by and large made to appeal almost exclusively to Japanese gamers” (Winterhalter, 2011) and that Japanese gamers typically equate foreign (non-Japanese) games with low quality (Kohler, 2010.) Meanwhile, Japanese games industry veteran Tak Fuji lamented that Western gamers “have no interest in Japanese games” (Yin-Poole, 2011.) Statements like these suggest a growing separation between the tastes of Japanese and American gamers.
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