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How the Japanese gaming industry impacted the world Posted Nov 5, 2020

How the Japanese gaming industry impacted the world

Japan has influenced every facet of the gaming industry, from console hardware and software to games and gaming culture. This country is responsible for the development of many of the biggest brands in gaming technology. The Sega Mega Drive, the Game Boy and the Nintendo Entertainment System, amongst others, all emerged from Japan. Without the influence of Japanese developers, the industry we know today would look entirely different.

Many popular games from the last few decades have origins in Japan. Super Mario Bros, although famous for its Italian characters, was developed into a platform video game by Japanese company Nintendo in the 1980s, after achieving success as an arcade game Mario Bros. in 1983. The Pokémon franchise is another one of the most popular creations to come from the Japanese gaming industry. Pokémon began as a Game boy game in the mid-1990s and after proving to be a success was released outside the country by Nintendo. Pokémon then exploded into a huge franchise with top-selling products in a range of industries, from comic books and trading cards to television shows and live-action movies.

Anime is a huge part of gaming culture in Japan

Most Japanese games played in the western world are anime or manga style. Anime was first developed in Japan and is a huge industry there, bringing in the equivalent of over £24 billion each year. Japanese anime varies quite a lot from animation styles found in other parts of the world. Anime tends to focus less on the movement of characters or objects and more on effects such as special camera angles and zooming. The most notable distinction is probably the features of characters, in Japanese anime the characters often have oversized eyes and unique proportions. Hair is also often colourful and moves in exaggerated movements for added visual effect. Although these features aren’t present in all versions of Japanese anime.

How the Japanese gaming industry impacted the world
Japanese anime characters have distinct features and usually have oversized eyes.

Japanese culture moves West

Over the last couple of decades, it has been achieving significant growth in popularity in other parts of the world, particularly in western countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and the European continent. It features in games played in these countries, in television shows, artwork and a whole host of other industries and products.

Anime has particularly integrated into the gaming world and can now be found in many PC games, arcades, console games and smartphone app games. With many gaming producers and providers creating their games involving Japanese manga and anime. Anime is also popular in the online casino industry with operators hosting a good selection of anime themed slot machines for players that enjoy this visual style. This is particularly popular in the Western world where online casino games are growing at a large rate.

The uniqueness of Japanese anime is perhaps part of its appeal. It differs so much from UK and US animation art, that it is something new and exciting for western players to enjoy. Japanese anime often explores more mature themes in comparison to western cartoon animations, including the purpose of life and death. While we might consider these things to be too serious for western cartoons, which are usually aimed at children, they are completely normal in Asian cultures. This is why some Japanese anime television shows released for western audiences are often edited before distribution. For example, in the US and the UK there is often the requirement that depictions of death, gambling or sexual content is edited out for children's channels.

In Japan, anime storylines cater to a wide audience, from teenagers to mature adults, meaning that it is well suited to action and adventure games.

How the Japanese gaming industry impacted the world
Japanese gaming culture has moved to the Western World with Europe and the USA enjoying anime themed games including Pokémon.

Japanese Games and History

It isn’t just the artwork of Japanese games that players are intrigued by, it is also the insight they provide into Japanese history and culture. There are a huge variety of games that provide such insight, with one such title being Okami (Goddess in Wolf’s Clothing). Okami is based in a historical setting and centres around one of the most well-known Shinto deities, with the main character being a wolf re-incarnation of a sun goddess. First released for the PlayStation 2 and then remastered for the Switch, PS4 and Xbox, this game is a great introduction to some of Japan’s interesting classic mythology.

Other games have more subtle hints of Japanese culture. Much loved Nintendo game Animal Crossing: New Horizons is played by gamers across the world. There are many references to Japan that even the biggest fans of the game may have missed. Firstly, the trading of fruit is influenced by the concept of omiyage, where visitors bring goods from their home region. The character Tucker is modelled after the tasty snack takoyaki and even small objects like the drain covers with ornate artwork feature Japanese symbols and imagery.

The franchise Final Fantasy became widely popular within the Japanese gaming industry before making its way to other parts of the world. Final Fantasy is a series of role playing games created by Hironobu Sakaguchi and have extended into a variety of genres, from massively multiplayer online role playing (MMORP) to fighting and shooter games. In its lifetime, the franchise has amassed revenues of almost $11 billion dollars and is one of the bestselling video game series of all time.

Japanese games development companies have had a very significant impact on the global gaming industry. They continue to be responsible for a large proportion of new gaming technology releases and popular game titles. People in the west continue to be intrigued by the culture and style of Japanese games and anime, and with franchises like Pokémon and Final Fantasy continuing to do well, it seems this will be the case for the foreseeable.

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