Critique of Games: Akito Inoue
|Square Haven had the opportunity to speak with Akito Inoue, assistant professor at GLOCOM, The Center for Global Communications at the International University of Japan, about his game-related publications in Intelplace. Akito's research sheds light on the history of videogames and anticipates the future of interactive media.|
Akito Inoue at 26 is a videogame researcher for The Center for Global Communications at the International University of Japan. Having served as Chief Network Officer for GLOCOM, publishing articles in Intelplace journal, this month he will become an assistant professor at the university. Square Haven had the opportunity to meet the game researcher in Tokyo and hear his views on the current state of interactive media.
In the most recent issue of Intelplace, Akito conducts an interview with Masanobu Endo, one of the pioneers of arcade game design. In 1983, straight out of college, Endo had joined the videogame company Namco and developed a breakthrough game. "If Space Invaders was the first impact on the videogame industry," Akito told us, "then Endo-san's game Xevious was the second impact." Xevious was a scrolling shooter, unlike Space Invaders, but this was not what made the game stand out. One landmark innovation was the use of varying sprites for a single object to create a basic animation, so that as an enemy ship approached, the object appeared to be spinning. Back in the days when objects on the arcade screen were entirely static, seeing a spinning ship float across the screen was surprising. There were also instances of what is referred to as maboroshi, or "illusions." Enemies and powerups would appear out of nowhere if you shot in the right places, encouraging players to explore every corner of the level design, thereby gaining a mastery on par with the programmers. The beautiful graphics and sophisticated strategy represented a new standard for arcade games.
Speaking with Masanobu Endo in 2007, Akito received the impression that the renowned game designer was dissatisfied with the trends currently dominating the industry, but is hopeful for the future. As Xevious illustrated, the medium evolves with innovation, not sophistication. When console gaming became big business in the '90s, a lot of developers became risk averse, which Endo believes discouraged creativity. Today, the struggle continues between maverick game designers and the reality of the marketplace.
Yasumi Matsuno. "Matsuno-san's dream is to make human behavior simulated in a videogame," he says. "Battle is not the entire world. There are complex politics to consider." For instance, the game director took a risk with Tactics Ogre by requiring the player to make certain choices that drastically affected the outcome of the game. Choosing whether to ally yourself with a band of rebels or put down the insurrection altered the face of the game world and led to branching storylines. The idea was intriguing to hardcore players but turned off the casual gamers, so many of Matsuno's Quest era innovations were sidelined for his first Square title, Final Fantasy Tactics. When Matsuno took new risks with the battle system of Vagrant Story, he was met by tremendous critical praise and lukewarm sales. In Matsuno's career, Akito maintains, that tension between innovation and convention has always been present.
These were some of our impressions following our time spent with Akito Inoue, an innovative thinker on the history of interactive media and its future trajectory. Square Haven will have more views from Akito at his first available opportunity. For those interested in learning more about his research, check out the postscript he provided for this article on his investigation into the nature of videogame culture and the postmodern. He also maintains the Japanese-language website critique of games.
I would like to add to Jeriaska's article by saying a few words about an important person in Japanese videogame research. Among young people in Japan today who are interested in philosophy, Hiroki Azuma is a well-regarded public figure. He was born in 1971, and acquired a doctorate at The University of Tokyo. In 1997, he wrote a book, unique among Japanese philosophy texts, on the French founder of deconstructionism, Jacques Derrida. In 2001, he published The Postmodern Animal, a book that analyzed Japanese Otaku culture from a philosophical perspective, incorporating ideas from the works of Jean Baudrillard, Alexandre Kojeve, and Eiji Otsuka. His conclusion: Japan's Otaku culture is a clear departure from what it was to be a modern. In Otaku we encounter a possible archetype of the postmodern era.
Since 2002, Azuma has been discussing freedom and ethics in the age of information. As Jacques Derrida was the philosopher who delved into "ecriture," Azuma has explored videogames, anime, and the Internet. His driving inquiry revolves around the question, "What is media and what is human?" I met Azuma for the first time in 2005 and became his assistant. He was strongly interested in discussing games, and upon his resignation from GLOCOM in 2006, he published The Appearance of Realism in Games. There he wrote that the rise of the critique of games would be a turning point for the history of criticism. It is my insistence, too.