When we regard our means of entertainment in a very general sense, we find a few types that exist cross-culturally to a universal extent. Examples of these types of entertainment are music, story-telling, and games. In some instances, the act of simply playing a game may be considered more childlike in one culture more so than in another, but regardless seems to be pretty much part of a universal human experience.
Through examination of the distinctive qualities of each culture, we find variations in the types of music that have been invented over the years, specific stories that have been told, and games that have been played. Due to recent advancement in human-created technology, these types of entertainment now have the possibility of being digitized so that we are able to experience a story through the mediums of film, and even video games, as well as listen to our music and play our games on a computer or hand held device.
It may seem like an oxymoron, but within our universality we also find differentiations between even the most similar people groups on this planet. Among all the cultures of the world, there are formidably salient distinctions to be considered between the East and the West. In this same conceptual vein, Japan and the United States are polar opposites despite their placement on an equal level in many ways. Both countries are what many would refer to as “first world nations”, and possess technology roughly to the same extent as one another (Wikipedia: Developed Country). Accordingly, Japan and the United States are apparently the world’s leading producers and consumers of video games; however, upon closer inspection we are able to see clearly the Japanese or American cultural context from which the creators of Japanese and American games have come (Winterhalter).
In the gaming world, we can find distinctly American and Japanese aspects in terms of what type of “platform (computer, cell phone, console, et cetera)” the game has been created for, the game play itself, and of course the plot and story presented (Wikipedia: Video Game). Japanese ideas of the adult world versus the world of children play a major role in the platform preference of many Japanese gamers. According to Winterhalter, “admitting to playing games as an adult still carries a strong social stigma in Japan more so than in Europe or North America”. As a result of this stigma, adults tend to stay away from games, which bring the Japanese gaming age down to a younger level. However, those who do play games as adults tend to do so more covertly – “as a way to kill time on a commute”, which results in the handheld (cell phones, the PSP, and the Nintendo DS), as a widely preferred Japanese platform (Winterhalter). On the contrary, it is not as much of a stigma for Western adults to be gamers, resulting in “the console market [being] dominated by the West” (Winterhalter).
Perhaps the most notable of differences between Japanese and American-made video games can be found in the actual game play of each. American culture is socially individualistic, which can be made fairly clear through the eyes of a quintessentially Western FPS (First Person Shooter) game. An FPS creates an experience where the gamer is “living individualistically and vicariously through a character whose actions [one] controls in real time” (Metagross).In the West, one is more likely to find the main video game character to be strong as an individual. On the other hand, in Japanese games, especially MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games), “you are weaker when you are alone”, and teamwork is encouraged (Metagross). Likewise, most fighting games are martial arts based, conveying an obviously Eastern quality.
The plot and story-telling aspects of a video game can be one of the most important and salient features to bring a game into its true greatness. We can see that JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games) are “rooted in the story-telling tradition of Japan”, which include a rich mythological background steeped in a Shinto consciousness of spirits residing in the embodiments of nature (Metagross). Conversely, European folklore is evident in WPRGs (Western Role Playing Games), where we see elves, dwarves, and other Western notions of fantastical non-human beings exhibited.
Historically speaking, another aspect of Japanese and American culture that seems to have influenced the types of video games produced has to do with the way stories are told in both countries. In Japan, there is more of an established tradition of telling stories visually, especially through artwork. Accordingly, Japan has also been marketing visual novels, which seem to be popular only within Japan since in the United States, “the written word [has] already been established as the ultimate story-telling authority based on…European roots” (Metagross).
It is only inevitable that two different cultures will produce two different kinds of games with respect to certain aspects, such as the story, game play, and platform preference regarding the Japanese and American situation. However, with an increased rate of globalization, and the meeting and coming together of two different facets of consciousness and ways of life, it is also inevitable that there could exist the potential for video games of the future to possess such a mix of American and Japanese aspects that they would appear ambiguous – not quite Eastern, not quite Western. Regardless, we can see culturally universal types of entertainment coming together within one digital version – the video game. Consequently, cultural differences are exhibited in the variety of video games produced by the United States and Japan, which in turn affect one’s gaming experience.