From the 2005 Digra conference, a paper that I wish that I’d heared on a topic I wish I could have researched: Kenji Ito writes about amateur-designed RPGs in Japan. (Both the abstract and the paper are available online.) Some of the amateur-designed games sound very compelling: stories about divorce, abuse, suicide and sexism created by amateurs using a commercially available game-design toolkit to describe their experiences.
These tools need to be use more – engines for narrative systems, embedding the economies of secrecy and revelation, of alliance and betrayal, of irrevocability and consequence, into narratives in a way that only a game system really can. (A game system contains the possible worlds of narrative – while it smuggles its own fictions in, it allows one to step back from novelistic fatalism and see a network of contingencies instead. “If this, then that – it need not have been this way, it could have been that way.”) This is the Boalian possibility of games that Gonzalo Frasca talks about.
This is only possible, however, among a community of amateur player-artists who are already literate with the techniques, methods and conventions of the computer RPG. The genre is already advanced and well-established in Japan (it could almost be called a national genre) – a developed syntax exists. It is from these fan-based practices, outside of the industry but derived from it, that many real aesthetic advances will come.
I met Professor Ito in Vancouver, and he told me that there was too little reading of the game-as-text or artifact in Japan; most analyses were either sociological or industry-focused. The games described in his paper are, apparently, available online.
Yes, it’s time to study some more kanji.