From Media Mix to Pachinko

Table of Contents

Games are the focus of Genron 8. In this discussion, conducted in preparation for the issue, game scholar Akito Inoue and critics Yohei Kurose, Sayawaka, and Hiroki Azuma examine the history of games in Japan between 1991 and 2018 from the standpoint of game consumption. Through the discussion, they also attempt to uncover the conditions that created the environment of game consumption in Japan today.
Sayawaka points out that console games became the core of game culture in Japan during the 1990s, and in that context Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs) emerged as a genre laden with literary elements. The popularity of the genre was supported by the media mix industry, which was anchored by publishing houses. However, the popularity of JRPGs soon declined, as games focusing on characters, rather than literary narratives, became popular.
As the decline in game sales demonstrate, the 2000s were an era of decline for the Japanese game industry. Kurose argues that one of the reasons behind this lies in the dominance of console games, a trend that has continued since the 1990s, considering the exorbitant amounts spent in developing them. The 2000s also witnessed the development of social games that adopted mobile phones as their platform. Nevertheless, social games did not produce a community of users, thus making it difficult to recount the history of gaming.
The 2010s have been characterized by the expansion of social games and the emergence of augmented reality (AR) games. Inoue argues that both were produced by inspirations different to previous games. For example, social games have incorporated a lottery system called “gacha,” which has amplified their pachinko-like gambling characteristics. Meanwhile, AR games, such as Pokémon GO, are structured in a fashion similar to the infrastructure of communication than to the contents of past games.
This discussion highlights the fact that the stagnation of Japanese games is not due to its contents, but due to its focus on characters and infrastructure. The roundtable closes with Azuma’s suggestion that the concept of games itself must be redefined as the contents of games are thought anew.