How popular is PC gaming in Japan


The appreciation for video games in Japan goes way beyond entertainment. You can tell from the fact that many old games are still being sold in Japan. In large tech markets, NES games have their own shelf as well as PS3 games. While retro gaming in America or Europe is primarily an expression of a hip, culturally informed, self-deprecating lifestyle, in Japan it expresses a sincere appreciation for games and their history.

Japan is a special country for video games in two ways. On the one hand, the way the Japanese deal with video games is unique in the world; on the other hand, Japan is also the birthplace of the video game industry.

In the seventies, eighties and nineties, Japan was the most important video game supplier in the world. In 1978 developer Taito caused a worldwide boom in arcades with Space Invaders, in 1985 the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) established home consoles and until 2002 the console market was dominated exclusively by Japanese companies.

Since the console market was westernized by the Xbox, the Japanese have mainly used handhelds. 3DS, PSP and, more recently, PS Vita are very well received, especially by working people who have to bridge long waiting times on public transport every day.

Since so many Japanese have a 3DS, there are, for example, WiFi access especially for the Nintendo network everywhere in Tokyo. Nintendo's hardware and marketing decisions may seem strange to the rest of the world, but these decisions are traditionally made for the Japanese audience. Nintendo started out as a playing card manufacturer in 1880, so it is deeply rooted in Japanese gaming culture. However, it would be difficult for Japanese corporations to get a clear view of global gaming culture if you live in a place where you can eat every evening in a Dragon Quest or Super Mario restaurant.

One of the most important places for video games in Japan is Akihabara in Tokyo, a huge shopping district for tech products, video games, manga, animes and computer accessories. As early as the thirties, good business was made in electrical household items such as refrigerators and televisions around the busy Akihabara train station. After the Second World War, a flourishing black market developed around the station. The weakened Japanese government could not control the growth of the "Electric Town", which gave many private entrepreneurs the chance to start their own businesses.

Today the district is a gamer's paradise. There are multi-storey shopping centers that are only geared towards gaming. All possible games from all possible eras and all possible genres for all possible platforms can be bought here, including the necessary accessories.

The Akihabara district also offers a bunch of amusement arcades, most of which consist of several floors. In this dizzying flood of colored lights, loud noises and overlapping Japanese pop music, every gamer should find a game to their liking - from classic single-player arcades and pinball tables to multiplayer, racing and music games to futuristic-looking slot machines as a visitor you don't know how to operate them at all, or horse racing competitions in which the players bid on virtual horses and watch the races on giant displays, everything is here.

In between you can fortify yourself in a cosplay restaurant, where the waitresses wear housemaid or schoolgirl uniforms or any other uniform - the main thing is uniforms - and, while they take the order, kneel down in front of their guests.

In Japan, games are not only for entertainment, as they are in our country, or are a sport like in South Korea, in Japan they also satisfy emotional needs. Erotic games (eroge) are very popular. It is less the erotic versions of well-known game concepts such as poker, chess or mah-jongg that attract a large audience, but rather sex and dating simulations, Tamagotchi-like electronic girlfriends and melodramatic graphic adventures that tell serious stories with complex character relationships. Most of the time they play in schools, because somehow the Japanese have it with schools, but most eroge do not so much satisfy the sexual needs of their players as the desire for human closeness. For many young and adult men, eroge provides just enough emotional compensation for their loneliness.

Too few people in Japan are interested in long-term relationships because in the highly competitive job market it is too stressful to maintain a relationship and raise children at the same time. For women, children traditionally mean turning away from their careers. In addition to eroge, there are also many non-virtual offers that are used by men and women alike and that have nothing to do with sex. For example, actors can be hired to act as parents or friends of the client for a day.

In Japan, printing begins in pre-school or, better said, before pre-school, which you can only attend after successfully passing an entrance exam. The job market is fiercely competitive and many young people are wondering what sense it makes to exhaust themselves completely in school and at university. Many people isolate themselves at home.

Widespread loneliness is a huge problem in Japan. The capital Tokyo is still extremely densely populated with 40 million inhabitants, so that train drivers have to be squeezed into the trains by professional squashers, one-person apartments are on average 15 square meters and hotels partly consist of sleeping tubes. But in the more rural part of Japan, many small-town hospitals only use their baby stations as junk rooms.

Japanese video games are often too emotional for European gamers. It must be said that strong feelings such as sadness, fear, anger, euphoria or love are suppressed in everyday Japanese life and, if at all, only entrusted to the closest friends and family members. Emotional games like Final Fantasy, Xenogears or Suikoden can be seen as a counterweight.

Social ranks also play a major role in Japanese coexistence. In Japanese grammar there are different forms of politeness, just like there are tenses in German. Every sentence in a conversation always expresses the social rank of the conversation partner. If translators cannot empathize with this Japanese peculiarity, many interpersonal details of the story are lost, which greatly contributes to the disconcerting effect of Japanese video games. But some things are simply not translatable. For example, in Japan, during a conversation, the listener says “yes” (hai) every few seconds to indicate to the speaker that he is listening. Failure to do so is considered an insult.

The equivalent of the nerds in Japan are the otaku. This term is not limited to nerdism in the field of manga, anime and games, but generally describes the big fans of a very specific thing, such as football or music.

In the 1980s otakus were viewed negatively by the general public, as individual interests and lifestyles are generally not welcomed in Japan. At the end of the eighties, the multiple child murderer Tsutomu Miyazaki was attributed to the otaku culture, whereby the broad masses saw this new cultural trend as a threat. In the mid-1990s, word got around that otaku are actually a harmless youth culture.

The acceptance of adult gamers in Japan is worse than in the West, which is mainly due to the 14-hour working days that do not allow much free time. Society expects every Japanese to look for some socially recognized hobby, such as golf, fishing, shopping or gardening. Most companies promote a strong sense of togetherness through joint activities and thus also a strong sense of peer pressure. With a hobby like gaming you make yourself an outsider and that is not desirable, especially in Japan, where many career people feel lonely outside of their work. Adults mainly play on handhelds or smartphones to kill time in the subway.

As a result, the video game market in Japan is primarily fixated on handhelds. Console games are mostly for the hardcore gamers. In addition, the number of Japanese console games has been shrinking since Microsoft released the Xbox in 2002. The Xbox consisted of commercially available PC components, which allowed western PC or Mac developers to switch to the console market on a massive scale. Bungie's Halo, which made the PC-exclusive first person shooter genre popular on the consoles at the time, is representative of the western wind that was now blowing through console land and weakening Japanese dominance. In addition, the Xbox made it very easy to port Gamecube, PS2 and Dreamcast. It was the birth of multiplatform games.

The multi-platform concept was the beginning of a new era in video games. Western games flooded the market with Xbox 360 and PS3. Shooters trimmed for realism, open world games and the pursuit of the "immersive experience" aroused little interest from Japanese gamers, so that the PS3 sold so poorly in its initial phase in Japan that too few Japanese studios played PS3 games for the Japanese Market developed.

Western games are about as popular in Japan as hardcore JRPGs are with us. The current western game conventions, which are mainly characterized by Halo and the GTA games, are in stark contrast to the Japanese, which are mainly characterized by the Monster Hunter games. Players are not interested in Western games, nor are the studios interested in opening up the Western market by imitating Western conventions.

At the moment, production is primarily for handhelds, with most of these games being so specifically aimed at Japanese audiences that they would not be marketable anywhere else. Japan's influence on the game market continues to decline. Japanese gaming culture is not suffering as a result, nor does it mean that the Japanese gaming industry is in any way weak. It is only very centered on Japan, so that, apart from the biggest titles like Dark Souls or Final Fantasy, we unfortunately don't get too much of it anymore.