Fukushima Game Jam

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So I only found out about the Fukushima Game Jam this morning after following a tag from one of the people I met at the Hackathon. The tweet mentioned that she was at a game jam, and that’s how I came to know about FGJ.

It’s the 5th year that IGDA Japan has put this event on, following 3/11 as a way to support and bring attention to Tohoku. The game jam is held all over Japan, as well as Taiwan, Switzerland, and Boston this year. The main event is in Koriyama in Fukushima, so a bunch of developers from big companies came to help the students build their games and connect with other game students. Yay, empowerment!

This year’s theme was “Soaring”, so there were a lot of flying games. The ones that stood out to me were Fukushima Crossing Ultra Fight (福島横断ウルトラファイト) and SoaRING. The former is a tapping game for kids to push against a stampeded of Akabeko, a symbol, and awesome mascot character, for Fukushima. The latter is a regenerating donut that you fly through the air, and shoot bits of “yourself” (which takes away your “self”, or your life) at UFOs that carry characters which I think you feed/collect for points.

These are my picks because I think the world would love to get to know akabeko, and a flying donut with de/regenerating health states is kind of hilarious.

Fukushima Game Jam also Skyped with other schools around the country in Aomori, Sendai, Okinawa, Okayama, and of course Tokyo (they had a failed call in Nagoya). The most polished looking games seem to have come from Tokyo, but my favorite from the other schools would have to be flying a cloud of tanpopo (dandelions) as far as you can, and the ending depends on where you land. As the dandelion cloud, you have to avoid birds, spider webs, and even human hands reaching out to get you (hah!).

My favorite Skype session was with Shohoku Junior College (湘北短期大学). The organizer was a Takagi-sensei, who really entertained everyone with her incessant time-keeping to fill in the empty spaces. I think I saw the most girls present at this school, and I thought it must be so nice to have a female mentor in game development as a woman. It definitely left an impact on me.

A few points of critique:

  • Game design is basically a toybox of game mechanics, and Japanese game design is no different. Since the Japanese market clusters around mobile smartphones and tablets, game design was central to those devices. I saw a lot of the same game mechanics, just a bit dressed up to fit the theme. As far as input goes, I didn’t see anything innovative, except for pairing a Nexus tablet with a Mac to control a paper airplane.
  • Games in the West have pushed into reality, while games in Japan are still in the imaginary. This is perfectly fine, but in one conversation I had, “serious games” was a repeated comment. I’m not sure if it was serious or not, but it felt as if “serious” games were not very popular. “Immersive” games are what I think is more appropriate, and was the buzzword 5 years ago. Western games do well beyond the niche gaming community because they give the player a sense of limitless possibility in the real world (whether that’s good or bad is another conversation),  or at least a new, but realistic, experience to learn. Japanese, or even Asian games, is just grind and grind and grind, giving a false sense of productivity.

If Japan wants to succeed, the young people need to go abroad and learn new things rather than learning from what’s already available. There is a foundation to be learned from the past generation, but that foundation needs to also nurture young minds to enjoy learning and creating on their own. This is how the West has moved forward in games. It has the power to educate, and if knowledge is power, then learning something after finishing a game is its own reward.

Kyuudo review

I’ve got a kyuudo test coming up in October, so I spent tonight’s session going through the moves again. Things to notice this time:

  1. Take one big step with your left foot, and 2 normal steps forward to the shooting line. There should be enough room for your knees to touch the shooting line.
  2. Eyes don’t go onto the target until your bow goes up. Eyes are at 4 meters in front of you, then at 2 meters when you kneel before the shooting line.
  3. Raise the left knee immediately after setting the bow on its bottom for the first arrow. Raise the left knee immediately before mochikaeri, returning the bow to its normal position in your hand. Lower the left knee before standing back up.
  4. At doozukuri, breathe 3 times before continuing.
  5. Inhale as your eyes follow the arrow to the target. Exhale at the target, and inhale as your eyes follow the arrow back to your bow.
  6. At daisan, position your bow only as far as where your elbow starts to hide the target from view.
  7. When leaving the shooting position, exit with your right foot. Turn with your right foot first.

Knowledge is power… or a burden

At school, there is a select few students who speak English well who take the opportunity to practice their conversation skills with the ALT. I quickly found out I could only go as far as superficial topics with them because they never really thought about the deeper stuff. I decided to bring up social issues to bring in international and universal topics into the classroom, but scoped down the thinking questions to matter within their reality. For many, it was the first time for them to think about such things, and while the teachers I work with are awesome about letting me talk about these things, they also are wary about how much the students can understand.

There is a sense of coddling, to prepare them for what they’re about to learn. So I might teach a reading lesson using an article from the Japan Times Student Edition, such as the half-black Miss Universe Japan winner, but I won’t go much deeper.

Sometimes I see the students struggle with the answers and I realize that I just opened up a totally new concept that they just haven’t had a chance to experience yet. And then I thought to myself that by helping them access the world with English, I also fretted about a world of struggle that they have been able to avoid in their first-world first-class citizen childhoods. These bright kids are going to be crushed by all the realities and flow of information from the English-speaking world.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. So as I scour for things to talk about, I constantly have to remind myself to look for international topics that are fun, and not always serious.

Of course, this also works both ways. As I’m learning and reading more Japanese, especially from the feminists on my social media feeds, I see similar issues as the US, but with different obstacles, which requires different ways of approach. Gender ambiguity, for one, might seem normal with all the androgyny you see in kabuki, Takarazuka, or Visual-K bands. But that’s all fantasy. People are still expected to stay within their gender roles once outside of the fantasy realm in order to serve the country as their civic duty.

And that’s what gets me. In the West, the idea that Japan is a gender ambiguous utopia, taken from manga and other forms of escape for the citizens of this country, can be misleading. Japan, in order to stay relevant, tries to live up to this view, and so it’s hard to tell when things are exploited for money.

There’s something about Kansai…

When I make my rounds at school, I usually ask the 1st years what club they’re in, the 2nd years what they’re studying, and the 3rd years where they want to go or what they want to do after graduating high school.

Once I asked a 3rd year why she didn’t pick any schools in Kansai. She said she was afraid she’d turn into a gyaru.

“But aren’t there gyaru in Kanto?”

“Yeah, but the gyaru in Kansai are pretty rough and scary. “

“I see…”

Trouble-shooting the GoPro

I got a brand new GoPro that broke after about a month of using it. Luckily it was still under guarantee, so I sent it in to get a replacement.

The replacement didn’t come without its own problems, but at least there’s a way to work-around it.

Not sure what causes this problem, but when I turn on the camera, the screen is black with no camera output, with all the UI elements intact. Usually after several seconds of being on, the screen doesn’t respond to touch, and the only thing I can do is do a soft power off by holding down the power button, or do a hard power off by removing the battery.

Apparently, what brings the camera image back on the screen is to connect the camera to a computer so that it registers that data from the camera can be accessed via USB. Once that notification is rendered, I turn off the camera, disconnect the cable, and the screen gets back to normal.

On the Boston MFA Kimono quagmire

Wow. This kimono thing is really getting people riled up because I’m still seeing discussions about it. Here are my two cents on it.

As an Asian-American, I’m with the protesters. I agree whole-heartedly that Orientalism/Japonism doesn’t need to make a come-back. And the way that event was messaged was in the spirit of that sort of objectivity that carries a subtle power dynamic that doesn’t promote cultural exchange, but rather cultural appropriation. Japonism was a meeting of East and West, and the West was simply dabbling in a new trend. And then it was over.

I would not want the Vietnamese ao dai to simply be a trend, enjoyed by non-Vietnamese for their 5 seconds of fame because, “Look! So-and-so is wearing an ao dai! How cute!” and then forgotten as if it were just a Halloween costume.

But that’s exactly what Orientalism/Japonism was and is. You wear certain clothes in a country because it’s socially acceptable. The kimono industry wants to promote its existence by having it be socially acceptable. This can be difficult in country outside of Japan, considering how it’s a cultural artifact. I don’t know how Japan wants to promote kimonos, but going at it without multicultural understanding is going to give you nothing but headaches.

I, and I’m sure the protesters as well, am in no way against the MFA showcasing the kimono and letting people experience wearing an uchikake, a kimono, a yukata, whatever Japanese garment appropriate to the situation. Everyone should have a chance to try things on should they want to.