Japan’s Infectious Video Game Love Affair

Mario Bros reign supreme

If you love video games, thank Japan. The Land of the Rising Sun may not have been the birthplace of video gaming, but it has done more for gaming than any other country.

The games produced by Japanese developers in the 80s and 90s, a period known as the Golden Age of Gaming, were the games that got the world playing. The Japanese have embraced gaming unlike any other country.

It is enjoyed by people of all ages, and from all sectors of society. The games they play often draw imagery and other elements from Japanese culture. Not only does this make those games relevant to that audience, it also has helped export the country’s pop culture in powerful ways.

Connections: Pop Culture & Games

Japanese pop art, pop music, fashion and design, contemporary urban subcultures, and classic culture all finds its way into online and other video games produced by the country’s developers.

Game graphics and storylines are often influenced or inspired by comic art known as manga, and a style of animation known as anime. These in turn inspire designers and other creatives, whose work is celebrated in famous districts such as Harajuku.

Japanese Video Game Timeline

The sun rose on Japanese video games in 1978. That was the year in which Taito’s Space Invaders was released; the year that changed everything. The USA got off to a good start, but the industry suffered a crash in 1983, which cleared the stage for Japan’s catapult-like rise.

1980s Video Gaming

The 1980s and 90s were decades in which Japan’s video game culture was at its most influential. It was the era of the video game generation, and it was games such as 1980’s Pac-Man, 1981’s Donkey Kong, 1984’s Tetris, and 1985’s Super Mario Bros. that introduced them to gaming.

The 80s saw the focus placed initially on arcade games. Home consoles were still relatively unheard-of, so if gamers wanted to play anything, it required a trip to the closest arcade. The tide turned when Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment System, which ushered in the age of the console.

Gaming in the 1990s

The early successes enjoyed by video game developers in Japan provided motivation to the young industry, and those efforts soon bore fruit. The 1990s revolutionised gaming.

The number of game genres began to expand, game hardware improved, and handheld gaming became a popular way to play when away from a console and arcade. Graphics transitioned from 2D to 3D, and functionality improved, as did the complexity and narrative elements of video games. It was also a decade in which video game characters came to life on cinema screens. The Mario Brothers, Street Fighter, and Mortal Kombat were just some of the Japanese video games that were turned into Hollywood feature films.

It was the video games of the 80’s and 90’s that inspired the continued development of video slots in the casino industry, and even the online Roulette games we enjoy today draw their roots from video game technology and advancements.

2000s – Ups and Downs

The first half of the first decade of the 2000s saw Japan’s game industry build on its 90s successes with sequels, new consoles, and more. However, whereas western and Japanese video game tastes had overlapped previously, Japan’s local gaming market started coming into its own.

The Super Mario Bros. held a captive audience of gamers drawn from Japan, the US, Europe, and other parts of the world in the 80s and 90s. On the other hand, as video games began to be developed more and more with a specifically Japanese audience in mind, a more limited western audience enjoyed the Japanese video games of the later 2000s.

Sales were affected, and developers soon realised that they would need to tweak their video games to appeal to a somewhat wider western audience, if the industry was to not only survive, but thrive. In 2018, the Japanese gaming industry is worth more than US$10 billion, with more than half of that contributed by mobile gaming.

Important Japanese Video Games

Among the most important video games released by Japan’s video game industry are:

  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Pac-man
  • Space Invaders
  • Pokémon
  • Street Fighter
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Sonic the Hedgehog

These iconic titles have shaped the gaming world, and even years after their release; they are still revered and enjoyed.

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