UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Beyond 8-bit : trauma and social relevance in Japanese video games Whaley, Benjamin Evan


This dissertation examines three Japanese video games, each of which critically engages with a different social issue or national trauma important to Japan. I argue that video games are important not only as cultural phenomena, but because, as media, they can and do bring about profound positive emotional and behavioral changes in our lives. This project builds on current research in Japanese studies and game studies by elucidating how narrative and gameplay mechanics communicate practical knowledge to potential victims, and how playing a game might instill both an understanding of one’s own life and empathy for the lives of others. Each chapter contains an analysis of a socially relevant video game and a corresponding discussion of the specific hallmarks of Japanese game design that promote players’ empathetic engagement. Chapter one analyzes natural disaster trauma in the PlayStation survival game Disaster Report (Irem, 2002, 2003 North America). I discuss how the game teaches real-world survival skills to players, and how it uses “limited engagement,” or a form of enforced vulnerability, to simulate what it would be like to survive an earthquake. Chapter two examines anxiety over Japan’s declining birthrate and aging population as represented in the puzzle game Catherine (Atlus, 2011). I introduce the concept of self-reflexivity or “distanced engagement” to contend that players critically reflect on their own lives through the act of answering in-game opinion polls about marriage and childbirth. Finally, chapter three investigates the working through of post-traumatic stress and wartime atrocities in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (Kojima Productions, 2015). I illustrate how the game deploys ludic strategies of “external engagement” to encourage a merging of the player’s lived experience with the actions of the in-game protagonist. The result is that players feel more direct involvement in the game content. In sum, these affective tools simulate and allow players to “experience” different social situations to which they are unaccustomed, prompt them to critically reflect on their lives and values along the way, and, just maybe, help them transport what they have learned outside the confines of the game in order to enrich their everyday lives.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International