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.