Monday, November 10, 2008

East vs. West: A neverending battle of recurring themes and developmentally stunted neckbeards

In pretty much every videogame community out there, the East vs. West argument is bound to pop up at some point. 99% of the time, this will turn into an endless bitchfest between two completely insufferable groups of people: the emoticon-spouting, anime-obsessed japanophiles and the overly patriotic Western gamers. Both sides will spend hours on end verbally fellating their favorite developers while claiming that the opposition is the cancer that's killing gaming and/or the reincarnation of Satan, effectively ridding the thread of any sane and semi-sane posters that might have taken part in the argument.

When dealing with such people, you can simply resort to the easiest way out: the old "both sides are wrong in every way, the answer is somewhere in the middle" argument. While this definitely isn't the worst stance, it's also wrong in many ways. It's hard to admit, but even those pathetic rants written by blithering fanboys might have SOME truth to them under all that self-righteous nerd rage. There's one thing you just can't deny: by and large, both types of games contain certain recurring themes and gameplay styles which might be enough to put certain people off. And if you're not a complete douche about it, that's really nothing to be ashamed of: it really depends on what you personally want from gaming.

There has been a distinct difference between Japanese games and their spiritual Western equivalents, especially during the last three console generations. While most Western games attempt to simulate certain real life activities which might seem out of reach for most of the gaming public (from sports to playing a musical instrument), Asian ones tend to throw any attempts at realism out the window in favor of an over the top, often ridiculous and inherently unrealistic experience that simply wouldn't work in real life.

As a way to prove this point, I chose to compare a distinctively Japanese game to its popular Western equivalent. Namely, I'm comparing the Guitar Hero franchise to the semi-obscure rhythm game Gitaroo Man from iNiS. Those of you who have played iNiS' Ouendan/Elite Beat Agents series probably know where I'm going with this right now. Both games are based around the same simple main concept: a guitar-based rhythm game. Guitar Hero just screams modern Western game design philosophy: It tries its best to simulate the experience of playing a real guitar in a believable environment, right down to giving the player a guitar-shaped plastic controller.

Gitaroo Man, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. In the tutorial level, you play as a young boy while your pet dog, the Obligatory Talking Animal Sidekick teaches you how to play the guitar. As soon as the actual game starts, an insanely annoying baby demon inexplicably breaks into your bedroom, warps reality in various insane ways and CHALLENGES YOU TO A ROCK-OFF. Your dog hands you a futuristic guitar which turns you into an all-powerful superhero. The rest of the game is spent battling a wide variety of characters including but not limited to giant robots, racial stereotype bees, mecha sharks and creepy metrosexuals, using THE POWER OF MUSIC. You really can't make this shit up.

This is also blatant in RPGs. Even fantasy-themed Western role-playing games try to make everything as believable and realistic as possible while their Eastern equivalents feature unrealistically powerful children with ridiculously unrealistic hair cuts taking down unrealistic monsters using unrealistically huge swords. Western developers churn out fairly realistic military warfare games based on events that actually took place in real life. Their Japanese equivalents contain many unrealistic things including but not limited to Stalinist colonels with electric super powers, foes that can read your mind AND your PSX memory card, and last but not least, giant enemy crabs. While Western mech games try to simulate what piloting a large mech would REALLY feel like, Japan goes all out in a blaze of over-the-top ridiculouslness. With such polarizing design philosophies, it's no wonder that some people happen to be prejudiced against certain types of games based on their country of origin.

Of course, it goes unsaid that not ALL Western and Eastern games conform to these stereotypes. In the long-gone NES days, virtually all developers shared similar design philosophies. As Zero Punctuation's Yahtzee pointed out, you could make a game about pretty much any ridiculous crap you could think of and people didn't seem to mind it. Though really, past attempts at those sorts of games are now being mocked endlessly. I think gaming went from being too ridiculous to overly generic and serious, but I'll leave that stuff for another entry.

So yes, there are certain tropes and elements that clearly define games based on their cultural origins and there's nothing wrong with preferring a certain type of game. Does that justify your endless Gamefaqs rant explaining why WRPGs are superior to JRPGs and why anyone who disagrees with your views is a faggot? Is it a good idea to never shut up about the superiority of video games from GLORIOUS NIPPON compared to their Western counterparts? Hell no, you worthless sack of flab.

If you're still interested in the whole culture clash seen in modern gaming, I recommend reading Kurt Kalata's Killer7 article over at HG101. It makes a few great points about the whole thing and overall it's a pretty fun read.


At November 10, 2008 at 11:36 AM , Blogger GangstaBoogie said...

I was about to say that mentioning killer7 as an example of eastern VS western design philosophy was an interesting choice considering the game's overall theme...but I see the HG101 article already mentions that, so I won't

At November 10, 2008 at 11:38 AM , Blogger Robin said...

awesome work.

At November 10, 2008 at 6:06 PM , Blogger Salvador said...

Nice one Iguana.
I like the Metal gear ref...XDDDDDDD
Yeah it doesn't matter what type one likes...XDD "GLORIOUS NIPPON" xDDDD
Now I feel like playing DMC...when you describe it like that.


At November 17, 2008 at 1:51 PM , Anonymous Simon said...

So true, this split gets pretty clear in characters speech patterns as well. Sure I secretly wish Japanese conversation always was so hilariously awkward as in anime/manga/video games, but yes, that's probably mostly a product of not even attempting to be realist. The bitchy arrogant >;'3-pwning one liner oriented dialogue in western games is not too far away from how people actually talk, though..


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