Video Game Stereotypes: East vs. West

Video Game Stereotypes: East vs. West

Most of us who have an interest in the games industry have taken to casually labeling games and the studios of their birth as “East” or “West.” This system of classification doesn’t just identify what side of the Atlantic the game was developed on, however: We also use it to describe a title’s artwork, gameplay traits, and even its genre. For instance, a “JRPG” doesn’t simply refer to a role-playing game that was put together in Japan. It can also mean the game in question tends towards anime artwork, menu-driven battles, and a fantasy setting. A “Western” RPG, by comparison, is more likely to focus on stat building, and wide dialogue trees.

Problem is, not every RPG developed in Japan adheres to the generalizations that jump to mind when people hear the JRPG acronym. The same is true for any game developed in the East. Are we unconsciously driving a wedge between Eastern and Western developers by making such distinctions? Platinum Games’ producer, Atsushi Inaba, believes that might be the case.

“It’s not like Platinum Games is trying to present a role model to the Japanese gaming industry and my personal opinion is that it’s not very meaningful to segment the industry into Japanese and American,” Inaba said in an interview with Play. “Wherever you go there are two kinds of game developers. One is good developers who have brilliant ideas and passion and the means and the resources to make their ideas into games. The other is bad studios who are not as good at what they do and those studios will be naturally selected to fail.”

To quote Destructoid’s response to Inaba, “Face!” Platinum Games, a Japanese-based independent studio, is a happy example of a Japanese game dev doing all right for itself. Working with Sega, Platinum developed MadWorld, Infinite Space, Bayonetta and Vanquish, which were all well-received by critics. MadWorld didn’t sell particularly well, but its financial failure also opened up serious dialogue about the worrying state of the Wii’s third-party developers.

So Atsushi Inaba is in a good position to talk about the state of Japan’s industry, and his words ring true: A good developer is a good developer, no matter where they’re from. A bad studio, as Inaba insinuates, will smother a developer’s good ideas. But does that mean we should hold off on classifying games based on their country of origin?

Obviously, it’s harmful to generalize about every single title in every game genre. It’s foolish to say, “I hate all first-person shooters,” because a Halo title is very different from BioShock, which is different from Half-Life 2. Similarly, not all Japanese RPGs play the same. That said, there’s no harm in referring to games of Japanese or Western origin as a means of classification. We talk about French movies, Italian movies, and American movies. All three are undeniably different, as they draw from different sources of inspiration. We talk about British music, European music, and, thanks to a certain coup at the Grammys, Canadian music. Every creative work from every country has a distinct personality trait that should be acknowledged. That’s fine. But when we brush off the work of another country with a quick flick of our hand, that’s harmful. That’s what Inaba is trying to warn us away from.

In any case, Inaba does acknowledge that Japan’s games industry is ailing. Though he doesn’t mean for Platinum Games to act as a beacon, the studio’s success does in fact shine through these troubled times for Japanese developers. Let’s hope more hopeful developers are inspired by Inaba to break away and prove that the ability to put together a good game has nothing to the piece of land you’re born on.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

1 Comments

  1. Ok,
    here is my opinion on the whole “east and west” debate.
    Like Inaba said, a good studio is a good studio if it is in Japan or elsewhere. Still there are cultural differences, like in movies or music or comics. These differences are parts of the games that stand out from all the other games. I personally love the games that are made in Japan and hate it to see them getting “westernized”. On the other hand site I can understand them. The eastern style games do not sell that very well in the west and they now try to make money like every industry does. And the west has more money because there are more people living and buying games in the west.
    But I think it’s wrong to make the Asian games more “western games like” I just think the western players need get more in to the Asian games and they will love it. It is the prejudice they have. And this is the part where all game developers have to work on. They have to show the western market the magic of Japanese games, and I think marketing is here the most important part.

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