Video games are a great means of immersing yourself in another culture. For years now, Western gamers have been enjoying titles like Yu Suzuki’s sadly unfinished Shenmue series and Atlus’ Persona titles not only for their enjoyable gameplay and overarching storylines, but for their ability to make you feel like you’re “living the Japanese life”.
There’s a huge amount of scope for interactive entertainment in general to promote and foster understanding between different cultures, whether you use the word “culture” to refer to national identity, socioeconomic groups, minorities of various descriptions or simply groups of people who have chosen to gather together under a particular banner for whatever reason. And it’s something of an underused aspect of interactive entertainment, too, though with the growing diversity of the games industry — particularly thanks to the indie scene and how easily we can access content from all over the world via the Internet these days — it’s something that more and more developers are starting to explore.
Nitroplus and 5pb.’s visual novel Steins;Gate is an interesting example of this practice in action, and it’s arguably only now that it’s been localised into English that it can be truly effective at one of the things it’s doing.
Continue reading Guidebook to Another Culture
Every time I settle down to play — or even to write about — a visual novel, I’m reminded of how much I love the medium.
I use the word “medium” when referring to visual novels rather than “genre” because in many cases, it’s not entirely accurate to call them “games”, despite the fact that they tend to be festooned in the trappings of video games. Most tend to include some sort of metagame element, be it a simple checklist of endings, a CG gallery with a completion percentage or, in the case of more complex games like the recently localised Steins;Gate, even achievements. Most of them are presented in a distinctly game-like fashion, with console-style main menus that make pleasing noises when you click on them, colourful but clear text boxes with a little spinny thing in the corner that tells you when you’ve reached the end of the current paragraph, and all manner of other things.
And yet they’re not games. Not really. They’re interactive stories — some having no more than one or two meaningful choices over the course of the entire narrative, and some even eschewing the element of choice whatsoever — that make use of multimedia presentation to distinguish themselves from, you know, reading a book. The combination of static background images, static or lightly animated characters, music, voice acting, sound effects and text all combine to create a very distinctive effect — and one that can be a powerful poke to the imagination.
Continue reading Visual Novels and Games: The Same, But Different