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.