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Subject: Rogers on Japan
Tim Rogers, a gaijin who was employed at a few game companies in Japan, wrote up a long and rambling post on Kotaku about his experience in the country and his observations on absurdity in everyday life there. Not having had direct experience with Japanese culture, I'm not in a position to comment on anything but his lack of linear narrative storytelling ability. But I thought I'd share the content and see if our cosmopolitan readership here has anything to say:

http://kotaku.com/5484581/japan-its-not-funny-anymore
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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Yeah, I'm halfway through it.

Tim Rogers is a verbose but not exactly compelling reader.  I enjoy his work, but you're dead on the money when you say it's non-linear, wow.

Most of the things he says are true.   It was funny to read this part though:

Quote by Tim Rogers:
When you buy Super Famicom games in used game shops, the gray plastic is very often stained deep, ugly yellow from existing in houses packed to bursting with cigarette smoke. Sometimes, the consoles themselves are so yellow.
That ain't right at all.  They turn yellow ANYWAY.

The rest of it...  Well, yeah.  That's Japan.  They do an awful lot of shit because that's what they do.  One way I summarized the Japanese as a whole was that they were incapable of change, they could only adopt new things.  They couldn't fix a single thing of their own, no one would ever change, but they'd take all manner of new technologies and customs and add them to their lives. 

That's why they look so dynamic: they'll get into toys, minidiscs, cellphones and all sorts of stuff quicker than anyone else, but there's no way in the world they'll ever take a holiday outside of Golden Week, or adjust the office hours to minimize time spent in traffic, or fix their banking system, or reform politics.
BLEARGH
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I've read it twice now, and I think one of the things that Tim is unable to articulate is the Japanese inability to assert individual freedom. There's sort of a cargo cult mentality going on, where the Japanese salaryman (or his younger ronin counterpart) looks to tradition and/or media to shape his behavior, and strives for originality when all he's really doing is combining familiar things. That's not to say we're not guilty of it in the west (as any man who has dressed up as Magenta for a showing of Rocky Horror can observe) but we're more comfortable being offensively independent in our thoughts and actions. But Tim's reaction seems to be "Why can't they break out of this rut?" when the real question to ask is "Why are they so afraid?"

Based on the information Tim has collected all in one place, I see great fear in Japan. Boldness and valor exist only in fiction, which culturally speaking is the equivalent of peeking around the corner. Americans and Europeans boldly stride around the bend with bells on their toes and holding a banner aloft to flap in the wind. Sometimes, that first guy around the corner gets shot, but it's not long before a million more Yankees or Foreign Legionnaires or rampaging Vikings come thundering past the one fallen sacrifice. The Japanese, by contrast, see the one guy who got shot and immediately think "Shit, I don't want to be like him" and then just sit behind the wall, sneaking a glance every now and then and imitating whatever invention or fashion they happen to catch sight of.

I'm not sure if the otaku phenomenon outside of Japan has any influence on this insulated nature of the culture. You have these obsessed city-dwelling Americans who claim to love all things Japanese without any substantive understanding of the culture, and like a novice surgeon they reach in from outside to feel around and see if they can figure out what's making it tick. Are the Japanese able to grow and overcome their fear with all these hands figuratively reaching into their colon?
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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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That's the greatest metaphor I've ever heard.

I don't really know that I'd call the Japanese reluctance fear as such.  It seems more to me that, instead, they are actively uninterested in boat-rocking.  They don't avoid confrontation because they are afraid of the fallout, instead they are totally incapable of making that move, of even visualizing it.  I reckon it's more like a language that has no past-tense: it's incredibly difficult to articulate something that has happened before when you have no words to express it, no examples to follow, no gut-level understanding of what can really be done.

None of the Japanese people I've talked to or read about or seen on TV can do more than express sadness and occasionally resignation and frustration about the inability to change.  I liken it to our general acceptance that the government will screw us.  Very few of us are actually driven to change the situation, but we all wish it would change.

In that light, really, are we so different?  Perhaps it's only the ratio of the accepters vs changers that differs between us.  And, I guess, the depth of that acceptance: the Japanese will move mountains when they're fired up, but they'll tolerate a shitload more before crossing their collective line.

UPDATE:  This is so, so true.

Japan is land of the abundant "Famous For Being Famous" class of entertainers. If Paris Hilton were Japanese, they'd literally have her anchoring the fucking national news.

People famous for being famous are, really, the entirety of Japanese celebrity culture.  The odd case of someone actually having talent is, really, very unusual. They have a word for these people:  talent.  They're the talent, like other people are actors or singers.  They sit on cooking shows and news shows and shows about shit more vapid than that.  It's just incredible, how insipid it is.

In fact, this whole paragraph sums up Japanese TV succinctly, wow:

It's not just comedy. Japan is land of the abundant "Famous For Being Famous" class of entertainers. If Paris Hilton were Japanese, they'd literally have her anchoring the fucking national news. The most common TV show is a genreless, formless, gelatinous entertainment blog in which the Famous For Being Famous sit around a table and view video clips. The video clips expand to fill our entire TV screens; a picture-in-picture shows the faces of these Famous For Being Famous people as they react. They say things like "SUGOOOOI" when something impressive happens. They say "OMOSHIROOOOOI" when something is interesting. They say "OISHISOU!" when something looks delicious. Men say "UMAI!" immediately after taking a minuscule bite of food, sometimes before they even swallow, in this nasal voice, in a tone like they just ran up a flight of stairs.

THAT'S ALL SO TRUE!!

I was pining for Japan, you know?  I was considering going back.

Now, not so much.
BLEARGH
This post was edited on 2010-03-04, 16:19 by NFG.
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I think we are different, in that we have a tradition of insane protest. It's painful to categorize them all together, but consider the socialist labor movement of the late 1800s, the protesters of the Indochinese wars, and the current American "Tea Party" neo-conservatives. All these groups have in common the sense that there's something horribly wrong in the world, and have taken it upon themselves to to make a lot of noise about it. Each group was also horribly misinformed about how to go about solving the problem they were perceiving, and in fact have had questions raised against their motivations and sincerity. But there they are anyway, gathering in public and communicating in the mass media of the time and being a giant inconvenience to the world.

Is there any such analog in Japan? Aum Shinrikyo doesn't count. I'm this close to being thankful that batshit crazy protesters exist in the west, if only because they make actual risky social change plausible and credible by comparison.
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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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There is an equivalent, in the extreme right-wing emperor-loving skinhead analogues that drive around blasting their nationalist message through van-mounted megaphones.  They're at least as misinformed about their tactical success probabilities I'd have to say.
BLEARGH
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I've lived in Japan for a long time. When I first came here, I liked living here. Now, I don't. I haven't changed. Japan hasn't really changed, either. Something else, however, has.
Actually, I think he needs time to realise it, but I think our little androgynous friend has changed. He's simply outgrown these J-Things which initially seemed kooky and cute and now just irritate the shit out of him and provide artificial barriers to meaningful progress for anyone. I recognise it because I'm the same. I've changed and it took a while to admit it.
How does this relate to games? I recently had Spirit Tracks (or, as I call it, Zelda De Go) stolen from me. I didn't care. I wouldn't say I wasn't enjoying it, although I was hardly rushing to stick it in my DS as soon as I could, it was just something to do to pass the time. Besides, it started slowly but had to get better, coz it's a Nintendo game. Right? Wrong. In fact, it relates to my general feeling about Nintendo and a lot of other companies and genres I used to enjoy. Nintendo has changed the way games are played on their systems, but haven't really changed the games. It's still all the same old shit. Zelda is getting Final Fantasyitis, where the underlying format is the same, just with slight improvements or changes to the graphics and interface. In fact, Nintendo seems to be injecting more "stuff to do for the sake of it" into their games, which to me just feels like work, especially when it's not optional. Is this a symptom of Rogers' endemic Japanese "same but one more" attitude? Perhaps Nintendo has no idea what to do when competitors are offering more, and are mimicing this more=better attitude and losing sight of what made Nintendo games special; compact purity of gameplay where not a hair is out of place and nothing unnecessary was present, with the odd few OPTIONAL rewards for the more curious among us. So, Nintendo actually has changed, but in an opposite way to how I have. I want to be entertained when I play games, not made to work. Challenge does not equal work, by the way. I don't care if something is hard, as long as its rules are consistent. Hard may be something that requires puzzle solving or good timing, but certainly isn't something like an RPG where the only barrier to you beating a boss monster is hours of wandering about pressing A on popcorn enemies. Traditional J-style RPGs only become difficult (artificially) when the player's patience reaches a limit and they say "Fuck this, I want to see what's next", and so go off to fight the boss. That's why I no longer play this kind of RPG. It's not that I don't have the spare time or necessarily less patience, it's that these days I'd rather play 4 15-hour games and be able to forgive a couple if they're duff, than put 60 hours into some epic that's largely the same process from start to finish, only to reach the last boss and have it essentially say to me "Hohoho, you should level up for 10 more hours to win" coz that's just fucking bullshit.
I want to be entertained, not made to work. I didn't used to, but I get more thrill these days from a quick blast on an arcade game I've played hundreds of times before than completing an epic quest against some uber-bastard.  
Perhaps Tim feels the same. Perhaps he wonders why people are such a pain in arse for no good reason and wants the arcade experience of life, rather than jumping through the needless levelling and mandatory boss/work hoop jumping that Japanese life provides.
Long and rambling, just like Tim, because I'm fucking bored at work.
"...either stop and think or fuck right off" (TheOutrider)
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Also related is his other post Stop telling me what to do.
Most game companies lately seem to take particular pride in crediting the player with no intelligence whatsoever.
My Nintendo-related gripe in this regard, again with Zelda, is the constant nagging when given a sub-quest. "We need to see a wise man to perform numerous hoop-jumping tasks to prove ourselves even though when we arrive the wise man acknowledges our identity and predicted we'd come and confirms we are the hero of time/light/other positive metaphor, in order to get a key to open the ice castle!" "OK, I'll do that in a minute but I've just seen a shiny item over here that I want to investigate." "Not that way! We have to see the wise man to get the key!"
JUST LET ME FUCKING DO MY OWN THING! If it's so fucking urgent, put a non-artificial game-relevant 'timer' on the task, such as the moon from Majora's Mask, or an incoming horde of Moblins that will reach and kill the wise man in 5 minutes.
If I choose to go elsewhere and explore and it results in the end of the world and game over, so be it, but at least let me take that risk, fail and learn from it, instead of nagging me down a very thin linear corridor towards the goal. Otherwise Zelda and other supposedly open world games may as well take place in one long corridor with bosses at various points.

On another Nintendo-related note, they really need to learn what quick save is, especially on DS.
"...either stop and think or fuck right off" (TheOutrider)
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In reply to post #6
Quote by NFG on 2010-03-04, 21:05:
There is an equivalent, in the extreme right-wing emperor-loving skinhead analogues that drive around blasting their nationalist message through van-mounted megaphones.  They're at least as misinformed about their tactical success probabilities I'd have to say.

After a day for reflection (and a research break) I must respectfully disagree. These proponents of the imperial Japanese court amount to little more than fanboys, with no more influence than the Evangelion doujinshi club. They're not out there pushing a petition to abolish the diet, or introducing legislation to cut ties with the west, or winning people to their cause with rallies and clever catchphrases. Even American hippies eventually cut their hair and became part of the system in order to effect influence on it, but these Bushido boobs have no real ability to persuade.
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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Quote by Kendrick:
I must respectfully disagree.

You're probably right, it was the only thing that came to mind.

Perhaps the only force for change in Japan is the massive pool of housewives.  Traditionally they control the family money, and they're not distracted by day-jobs to the same extend they are in Western countries.  If there's social change to be found, they're the ones leading it.
BLEARGH
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