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Let’s shred this piece of … or how ethnocentrism hasn’t penetrated the world of games apparently

Frank,

So I though (yes I was very naive) that one had read some levistrauss, some Durkeim, some Becker. I thought, to be honest, that we wouldn’t see self-mythologization, stereotypes; Oh I was so wrong.

Let’s take this unique (class) occasion to deconstruct one of the most ignorant, superficial, and ultimately worst article I’ve ever seen in my life.

[I am talking about kurt Kalata's article: clash of cultures]

7 Comments

  1. Kunal wrote:

    I agree , except that I crumpled it up and threw it away in the middle in some sort of uncontrollable disappointment

    Monday, February 5, 2007 at 11:07 pm | Permalink
  2. frank wrote:

    Here is the article in question, btw.

    QUOTE: “I agree , except that I crumpled it up and threw it away in the middle in some sort of uncontrollable disappointment.”

    Kunal, this is not a good response to a problematic text. You need to be able to read critically. When you read something you aren’t just putting ideas into your head, you’re observing them, considering them, analyzing them, putting them into context. Reading something dosn’t imply approval or acceptance.

    QUOTE: “Let’s take this unique (class) occasion to deconstruct one of the most ignorant, superficial, and ultimately worst article I’ve ever seen in my life.”

    Thomas, I wish I’d read this prior to class so I could have understood how strongly you felt about this article.

    I have to admit, this article didn’t really strike me as being horrendously culturally insensitive or crudely ethnocentric. I think parts of it are somewhat naive, but I’m not quite sure why you (and Kunal) find it so offensive. Are you reading this article as having some kind of creepy pro-american/anti-japanese message?

    I suspect that most of your repulsion hinges on the “Americans are very big on personal freedom.” paragraph, which, I admit, is super unsophisticated and could appear to be jingoistic. But, is it really so outrageous to describe the US, as he does at the end of that paragraph, as “a nation famous for its frontier mentality”? That doesn’t seem to be such a loaded premise.

    Yeah, any savvy social theorist could point out the complex ironies and internal contradictions about the American mythology of freedom. But it’s not necessarily self-mythologizing to assume that the concept of personal freedoms and the expression of individuality is a big part of the way many Americans have typically framed themselves to themselves and others.

    More importantly, look at the overall article. What the guy does is put this “love of freedom” into context as an aesthetic style. And in fact, it’s not too difficult to see that the author himself prefers the less “free” approach of Japanese games in many cases.

    It would be really bad if his thesis were: Americans love freedom and this is expressed in their games. Japanses games have less freedom, and as a result are inferior.

    But he clearly isn’t saying this at all!

    His thesis is more like this: Americans are obsessed with the idea of freedom and this obsession is reflected in their games. Japanese games are less obsessed with freedom and, also, totally awesome.

    Is that really ethnocentrism?

    Like, is it just inherently racist and offensive to refer to any kind of national identity without having lots of caveats and inverted quotes? If so, there’s nothing offensive about Kalata’s article that a good editor couldn’t have fixed.

    Meanwhile, Geertz gets a free pass? Really? Geertz goes to an “alien” culture, and then presumes to explain to us the deep meaning of their cultural practices, based on participating once or twice as an observer.

    Kalata, meanwhile, is a full-fledged member of the culture he is trying to explain. He is trying to understand the meaning of his own cultural practices within a larger context of national identity.

    In fact, if I may deconstruct the deconstruction (as our friends on the 1UP Yours podcast might say), the real subtext of Kalata’s article is not about his identity as an American, it’s about how his identity as a gamer has superceded national boundaries and is a hybrid that can no longer be thought of as typically American, Japanese, or otherwise.

    And if Kalata doesn’t have the gifted, poetic, and literary finesse of Geertz, we shouldn’t hold that against him. Yes, Geertz’ article is beautiful, deep, and filled with insight, and Kalata’s is the somewhat crude first steps of a hardcore, videogame-loving, pop-culture journalist trying his hand at more serious writing.

    But let’s cut the guy some slack, and look at what he’s trying to do.
    He’s trying to figure out how camera set-ups and savegame methods and genre conventions are more than just features on an appliance, how they have larger meanings and are related to bigger ideas in interesting ways. And this is a useful, and praiseworthy, thing for game journalists to do.

    PS: It might be interesting to read this thread on Kalata’s site, where he talks about the controversy his article created because of its obvious bias towards Japanese culture. >_<

    Friday, February 9, 2007 at 11:47 pm | Permalink
  3. Kunal wrote:

    “Culturally speaking, Japanese culture is firmly rooted in wet-rice agriculture and its status as an island nation,” says Inafune. “Japanese want to be able to plan, they want to have guidance, they want to have focus. ”

    Did you read that? Is there something missing between these sentences? Or is every statement made in that article just pile after pile of unintelligent crap?

    Yes, I reacted a bit personally. I’m not a journalist, so I may be unfairly holding journalists accountable to some level of responsibility. In fact, I am definitely doing that.

    The personal situation, for some background, is simply that I had heard a lot of stuff about Japan is this, Japan is that, before I went and lived in Japan, and hardly anything anyone had so knowledgeably blurted out was evident in the country itself. I had a girlfriend that hated, very intensely, Japan, because it represented this and that and that that she found terrible. So I took her there, and she was kinda taken by surprise the same way, and the experience destroyed all of the myths collected into her head.

    So this might be about the responsibility of a position of authority. It’s very clearly related for me to the radio station water drinking Wii incident. Perhaps it was ok to tell people in general conversation that when you drink too much water for your body to handle, you’ll throw up , as much as it might be ok to tell people that japanese girls are easy lays or white people are self-centered or any other statement with huge consequences.

    However, my stance on the Wii incident is that when there are people that are led to trust your position of authority for whatever reason, as hosts of an event, you are violating that trust when you claim your personal conjectures as truth.

    And the difference between conjecture and truth is simply a spectrum of level of research, perhaps. The trust I might have in an article about the differences between Japan and America in gaming (forget the “West”) is that the author did any research at all on the topic before writing 8 pages on the subject . Clearly a lot of people in this class could see through that breach of trust, but we’re reading these articles academically, with more critical attention than the consumer of the same article.

    Meanwhile, whether or not the Balinese article was on point, the man is did the research to justify the journalism, so I can accurately trust that whatever it is not just a pile of crap.

    Let me say now that I totally disagree with my pressure on journalists. I believe its unfair. I don’t want people to be stuck in responsibilities they didn’t ask for.
    Or do I? This wasn’t published as a conversational blog post, this was claiming to be an article!

    So my personal anger plays into my decision on this point. Why do people say what they say about “the middle east”, Japan, India, or anywhere exotic? What’s the source of the myths. Blog posts like Clash of the Cultures claiming to hold the authority of articles? What if the NYT front page printed that? Would everyone decide that America as we know it is NOT a primarily visual culture, because our script (maybe) did not evolve from pictographs?

    Am I just reacting to the poor quality of the article as trash, and nothing more fundamental? Maybe. Some things are just offensively bad.

    Monday, February 12, 2007 at 8:29 pm | Permalink
  4. frank wrote:

    “Culturally speaking, Japanese culture is firmly rooted in wet-rice agriculture and its status as an island nation,” says Inafune. “Japanese want to be able to plan, they want to have guidance, they want to have focus. ”

    Kunal, that quote is from Keiji Inafune, a Japanese game developer. While I agree that there are some missing steps in this idea (how exactly do we get from wet-rice agriculture to planning/guidance/focus?), I wouldn’t call it unintelligent crap. The notion that cultural preferences can have roots in the material circumstances of a geographical area is not to be dismissed out of hand, cf. Jared Diamond.

    “…that the author did any research at all on the topic before writing 8 pages…”

    The majority of the article is built around extensive quotes of Japanese and American game developers. Just because the article doesn’t quote Durkheim and Becker, and isn’t based on an sophisticated critical/theoretical understanding of cultural context, doesn’t make it poorly researched.

    I still maintain that criticisms of this article on grounds of cultural insensitivity and/or ethnocentricity are unfounded, or, at best, hugely exagerrated.

    Monday, February 12, 2007 at 8:53 pm | Permalink
  5. Charles wrote:

    I remember when we first discussed this in class and I stated that the one thing that I held against this article was that the author seemed to have a thesis that he was not sufficiently supporting. Upon further thought I have mellowed some. In truth, if you go to the source of this article, 1up.com, you will see that it was presented as an editorial. An editorial is, by its very nature, an expression of a single writer’s opinion. While I’m sure that Karlata would enjoy being considered an expert on this subject, there is nothing in its presentation that indicates we should hold to the standard that its being held to in this discussion. If the resulting furor over this text is indicative of anything, it is that it was not appropriate for a serious, academic setting.

    Monday, February 12, 2007 at 9:13 pm | Permalink
  6. frank wrote:

    “If the resulting furor over this text is indicative of anything, it is that it was not appropriate for a serious, academic setting.”

    Exactly wrong.

    Monday, February 12, 2007 at 9:47 pm | Permalink
  7. Oren wrote:

    I am going to stand up for this piece. all it does is present some of the major differences in japanese and american game development, and tries to tie it to cultural differences. he has game developers from both sides talk about the cultural influences in their development, and then ties it to other games that do well in one area and poorly in another. while their are some crass statements, he does try and ground them in some research, either from historical references (the uniforms of soilders are very different, and you do see it in game design) to quotes from the developers. I think as academics we must look at it, and find both the good and bad. I agree there are some things that we should take with a grain of salt (do the japanese really love being told what to do?) and some we should think for a second and agree with (americans do hold the idea of freedom above almost everything else, almost in a blind sickly way). maybe we need to find some more articles that either rebuke the idea, or present it more elegantly. anyone have an article to recommend?

    Monday, February 12, 2007 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

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