Replaying Japan III, 2021
The videogame Persona V (Atlus 2017) presents itself as a critical breakdown of Japanese society, taking on its political, economic and societal systems and examining how contemporary issues pertaining to karoshi (work-related suicide), hikikomori (shut-ins), taibatsu (corporeal punishment), fraud and corruption intersect with-and flow from the presupposed 'Japanese' culture of conformity, tatemae (public façade) and seniority-based hierarchy. Through Hall's (1989) notion of cultural artefacts as mythmaking devices which seek to offer narrative resolution to societal anxieties, this paper explores how Persona V discursively produces its image of Japanese national identity by taking on topics from Japanese public discourse and media frenzies. The paper seeks to interrogate the ideological function at the heart of the game, arguing that as both an artistic expression and a product of a multibillion economic export industry, the game does more than simply offer a societal critique. Rather, read within the context of cool capitalism, nation branding and Cool Japan, its choices for narrative solution become a means through which the boundaries of Self and Other, normativity and national identity are broadcast and consumed by a domestic and international audience of millions, influencing the social imaginary about what 'Japan' and 'Japaneseness' constitutes.
Replaying Japan vol. 2, 2020
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017) was published in the year that would be dubbed the ‘renaissance’ of Japanese videogames by critics and Japanese game designers. Its release followed a period of commercial and creative decline, mimicry of Western conventions and adherence to mukokuseki game design. Concurrently, Iwabuchi (2015, 2019) has signaled out that, in the wake of the ‘Cool Japan’ policies in the 2010s, the Japanese pop culture mediamix has now become a governmental resource for commercialized nation branding. Departing from the nationalistic rhetoric observed in Nintendo’s recent marketing strategy, this paper critically examines the identity politics of Breath of the Wild. On the surface, the game reads as consistent with its convention of offering a normative Occidental power fantasy whose identity hinges upon a binary Oriental Other. However, the introduction of ‘Japanese’ signifying elements complicates the internal power distribution between the Occident, Orient, and the Japanese Self. Understood through Hall’s (1989) notion of representation as cultural dreamwork, the game emerges as a discursive object whose representations negotiate unresolved cultural, social and political frictions in the Japanese social imaginary.