The Target Audience

I visit Tokyo about once a year for vacation, and, being the tech nerd I am, make a point of strolling the electronics district of Akihabara. This is Electric Town, where shops are crammed with tech, games, video, even bins of transistors. People hawk SD cards like concert tickets on the streets. It is also a great place to watch the interesting gaming community. In light of my participation with Femme Gamer, I took a few days this week to study the area with an eye to girl and women playing the games.

The first thing I noticed was that there was more open pornography than last year.

The variety of “games” in arcades and such in Japan is pretty broad. Within such places, one can find an entire floor of pink photobooths, claw games with prizes, electronic horse racing, pachinco (a loud game I haven’t worked out that involves pins and a lot of metal balls), and the usual video game types of consoles. Akihabara is several city blocks of multi-floor arcades like this. However, the photo above is a good example of an odd pairing: porn and gaming. Right there, BAM. Even within stores that cater to mecha and game character figures, you’ll find Akira standing next to a collectable set of figurines featuring artistic bondage techniques (called shibari, it’s an art form).

I’m not offended by this, honest, just curious. I approach it with my Western empowered woman mind and it doesn’t click to me much. I am used to great concern being paid to game ratings and what can and can’t be shown in public. Heck, that goes for anything, not just games. A couple of instances of porn plus games, I can chalk up to the “sex sells” mantra. However, when it’s as prolific as vending machines and in full view of the public street, I have to wonder who their target audience is. Is the gaming market and environment in Tokyo so exclusively male that this is just how things work, or do the girl gamers just ignore the whole thing?

I wandered several floors of arcades, looking at the mix of people. Most of the girls were focused on the games that grabbed plush toys out of machines, and those that I saw on the “video game” floors were tagging along with a boyfriend. Most of the big arcades had entire floors of booths for girls taking pictures with each other, and some of these had signs banning boys who were not with a girl. These floors were lacking in porn. It wasn’t until I was browsing an arcade in Shibuya, an area of Tokyo on the other side of the city and one that is popular with the teen crowd, did I see a girl actually playing a strategy game. But Shibuya is much, much less overt than Akihabara about the skin. But yes, there are girl gamers around here, just mostly focused in the pink areas or in low ratio in the “serious” console gaming areas.

The picture above was a mild example, but one that included some of the odd themes with an official gaming product, the Sony PSP. Here, the girl is holding the gaming device. She looks young, and is dressed as a school girl. The wind is artfully flaring the front of her shirt. She has breasts the size of her head. Targeted advertising? If they’re trying to capture the girl gaming crowd, is it the desire to be like a large-chested schoolgirl with a trim tummy that makes a woman want to buy a PSP? Your guess is as good as mine. It does draw the eye, either in lust, wonder or confusion, so I imagine it achieved its purpose.

I really wish I knew Japanese well enough to talk to the girls wandering these places, but unfortunately, I must fail this blog in that respect. If anyone has run into this and knows more about the culture, please share and help educate us gaming culture anthropologists.

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8 responses

  1. I don’t think I really ever realised how exclusively male the gaming market may be in Japan. While a minority, it isn’t impossible to find female gamers.

    I wonder though if maybe the female gamers just don’t go in for the whole arcade thing?

    Like

    April 19, 2010 at 12:01 am

  2. pym93

    Definitely a minority. The gaming culture is vast here, and the arcades, though broken into floors for different types, are mashed together. The cutesy games definitely attract the female set, leaving the darker, louder, smoke-filled console games for the boys.

    I was gratified to see one women, with a big pearly pink purse, playing one of the more complicated games I’m going to talk about in my next entry. She was pretty intense!

    Like

    April 19, 2010 at 1:19 am

  3. Pinkapplejam

    That last pic of the schoolgirl playing the PSP is a “moe” image (a “nothing to do with sex, honest” theme of renditions of young girls otaku latch onto with a “sister-like” affection), not aimed at girls but at guys who this this sorta thing is cool. Presumably to get them to buy a PSP.

    Like

    April 19, 2010 at 8:17 am

  4. I can’t really comment on the way they advertise in Japan, but in the west game advertising usual starts from a default position that women aren’t important. Well, not that they aren’t important, but more that marketing departments don’t even think of them. I don’t think it is willful exclusion but more from the fact that many, many businesses see the male pound as worth more than the female pound. They simply think that men have more disposable income and more interest in games than women do. Now, they may be right about the second point but how are the number of women playing games ever going to increase if they market a product as excluding them? The truth is that advertising and marketing will not address this question because they see the male wallet as having more value. I know, it’s crazy.

    As for “sex sells” – that phrase really bothers me. Mostly, because when people say it they don’t actually mean sex. They mean disconnected parts of a womans naked or nearly naked body. “Sex sells” works from the assumption that women don’t have an erotic gaze of their own and the only people worth selling to are men.

    I would bet there are a lot of female gamers in Japan – it’s just that no-one is interested in selling to them.

    Like

    April 19, 2010 at 11:42 am

  5. IIRC studies show that men are more likely to buy items associated with images of beautiful women… but so are women. Where the man sees a potential sexual partner to impress, women seek a woman to emulate.

    Look at the covers of lads mags and then look at the covers of women’s mags. The same airbrushing, the same pouting lips, very different market demographics.

    If it didn’t work, advertisers wouldn’t do it, sad to say.

    Like

    April 19, 2010 at 11:58 am

  6. pym93

    @Pinkapplejam

    Interesting! So are they appealing to boys for sales in a sort of… kid sister is fun so playing a PSP is fun also sort of thinking? That’s definitely a different take. I admit that my Western mind doesn’t assume that immediately, and it’s often hard to tell an innocent association from a more graphic one.

    Like

    April 19, 2010 at 12:08 pm

  7. pym93

    @Jennifer

    I think your last post rings true. They’re there, but the marketing is not focused on them. Just thinking on the difference in environment in the arcades here, the “girl oriented” game areas are very bright and cheerful with a lot of PINK. The upper stories where the more “serious” games are are much darker, allow smoking, and are in darker colors or metal. This is by no means a strict separation; I’ve seen some near strategy games down in the brighter levels. But it’s much more stark than I’ve seen in the US.

    I wonder if one could make the argument that female gamers aren’t as interested in the combat games as male gamers are, and that’s what drives the marketing? I know plenty of exceptions to that for both sides; women who can lay down some DPS and love it, and guys who like a good RPG story. It may be easier, somehow, to aim for stereotypes in marketing than to risk sales by delving.

    Like

    April 19, 2010 at 12:15 pm

  8. @ pym93

    I don’t think there is stereotyping because it is easier – I think there is stereotyping because a lot of time marketing is lazy. Despite being paid to be creative many in-house and independent creative agencies tend to rely on the same old ideas. This is because businesses are often quite afraid of doing anything radical. When marketing does make the effort to get outside the “stereotype box” it can go one of 2 ways – really badly or really brilliantly. It’s easier to stick to the same formula than it is to try and do something brilliant.

    Personally, I find stereotyping creatively moribund and that it often ends up excluding a massive portion of the audience. Of course, as I said previously, there is a genuine belief that the money that white men spend is worth more than what anyone else spends (seriously, the advertising rates for stuff targets to young, white male audiences is at a way higher premium than any other group – it’s ridiculous because it ain’t 1958 and white men are not the only people with disposable income!). So a lot of the time it isn’t even seen as a *problem* that you can just dismiss a large portion of your audience.

    One of the reasons I went into advertising is because I reckon if you hate the status quo then you should do something to change it!

    Like

    April 19, 2010 at 3:39 pm

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