Japan, Games, and Gender

Mizuko Ito’s article “The Gender Dynamics of the Japanese Media Mix” provided a fascinating study of how Japan gaming culture and media beget gender roles amongst children. The idea of a “media mix” is something also seen in the U.S. but definitely not to the same degree as in Japan. Ito provided Pokemon as an example of the media mix, of how varied Pokemon products in all forms of media (television, playing cards, comic books, toys, etc) allow for constant engagement with the franchise. By creating this media mix, the Japanese market in games engenders a mass cultural narrative around a single franchise.

Ito’s discussion of Pokemon also fascinated me by drawing attention to how characters’ “cute” and relatively “non-violent” natures appealed to both men and women. To me, this signifies the potential of androgynous games. In fact, the use of cute characters that appeal to create “girl-friendly” games has been warmly received by men and women and has sparked ongoing attention to the way that Japanese games defy traditional gender norms and create a novel form of gender politics in games. Ito essentially provides support for the theory that we can create genderless games that have the ability to succeed just as much as, or more than, games targeted towards only boys and only girls.

Nick Yee’s “Maps of Digital Desires: Exploring the Topography of Gender and Play in Online Gaming” showed how MMO games can interest both genders but that the average age group of women playing MMOs was older than that of men due to lack of women’s access points to gaming. I wonder if we had a media mix to the extent that Japan does, where a franchise overtakes every possible market to promote itself, if this would broaden the availability of access points for possible female gamers. Take Pokemon for instance. Although there is a game aspect to Pokemon, characters are sold as toys to both girls and boys. This means that both genders have the opportunity, no matter age, to build a relationship with the franchise. Possibly, this then would already encourage women to play Pokemon video games since they are already familiar with the particular franchise. I’m not sure if this would work with all games, including MMOs, but I think there may be a very real potential for early exposure to open up more pathways for girls in gaming via other product means.

In relation to games like Pokemon, I also wonder about how the globalization of franchises like this one has affected Western/American perception of Asian nations like Japan. I found Mia Consalvo debate on orientalism in “Visiting the Floating World: Tracing a Cultural History of Games Through Japan and America,” to provide some insight into this question. What I particularly found interesting was the discussion of the different reactions American games can have to Japanese software, including interest of its perceived abnormality, rejection to its perceived strangeness, or attraction to its artistic nature or otaku culture. I wonder whether it is possible to construct games in a way that can actually deter cultural biases when playing.

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