Gameplay Journal #1 — Technicity(?)

For the first entry in this series of gameplay analysis journals, I’ll be analyzing Yakuza: Like a Dragon in the context of technicity, as described by Dovey and Kennedy in their text, cited below. Like a Dragon, also known as Yakuza 7, like most of the series’ games features modern-day Japanese culture not only as its setting, but also has its game design, story, and artwork all influenced by Japanese cultural sensibilites, in ways that are typical for most of the Yakuza series. Comparing it to previous entries in the series, there are a clear set of recurring themes that seem to try and impress values upon the player, including: the importance of honor, brotherhood, and loyalty; the virtue of striving for self improvement and extreme perserverance in doing so — commonly known as “Yamato-damashii” or “The spirit of Japan” for its ubiquity in Japanese media, and for exemplifying core Japanese values . It also tries to impress less universal values, such as the vilification of extreme ambition; undying loyalty or adherence to structures, even at the cost of the individual’s own well-being; and, while it is thankfully lessened as the series has gone on — dismissive or condescending depictions of women and non-Japanese ethnic groups.

Taking Yakuza 7 on its own, however, sees many of these more controversial values — and the game’s attempt to impress them upon people as universal truths — considerably toned down or presented in a more realistic light. Indeed, I was surprised to see that for, as far as I’m aware, women and non-ethnically Japanese men are not only protagonists, but fully playable characters, and while their differing ethnicity is a large part of their character, they are not stereotypes, are just as skillful and competent as the other characters, and their cultural differences are largely celebrated, or at least not compared unfavorably to those of the Japanese ‘norm’. Whereas in previous games, foreign gangs were presented as overwhelmingly antagonistic forces, they appear both as antagonists and allies in Yakuza 7. Women, as well, are playable fighters (and core party members) for the first time in the game, and are just as strong as their male counterparts, though still no women are fought against, and the female party members have a unique, smaller pool of classes they can train into — including the Idol and Night Queen jobs, which could be seen as reductive or objectifying. While these changes are small, and somewhat incremental, they follow a trend throughout the series that suggests future games in the series will only improve more and more.

So in all, the game melds story and mechanics to impress upon the player — sometimes even being quite straightforward about it, for sake of comedy — the importance of core Japanese values, and demonstrates them through the game — while taking care to have adapted to the times, and losing some of the outdated aspects of its ideology. Most likely, it has changed to respond to western sensibilities, as the series becomes more popular in the west, as a more subtle change than the addition of English voice acting. This shows how even monolithic series bend to public opinion and the potential to gain new audiences. Dovey and Kennedy “argue for a redefinition of the culture of games by drawing attention to the many other forms of subjectivity which its hegemonic forces render invisible.” (65) , and I believe this exemplifies the sort of redefinition that can occur over time. And while Dovey and Kennedy’s argument seems to be for a largely pessimistic inevitable decline of gaming media, I feel changes like those in the Yakuza series point to a more optimistic change in the other direction. In the middle of the Indie renaissance, and with triple A companies being forced to drop their most exploitative practices under threat of legal trouble, their findings seem true, but the future looks brighter than Dovey and Kennedy’s drawn conclusion suggests.

Anyone interested in seeing Yakuza: Like a Dragon for themselves can watch this video by RageSelect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFRon_qnihA

All rights to the video and its content belong to RageSelect, and I am not related to or endorsed by them, nor are they endorsed by me.

Works cited:

“Networks of Technicity.” Game Cultures: Computer Games as New Media, by Jon Dovey and Helen W. Kennedy, Open Univ. Press, 2011.

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