It is possible to argue that the popularity of certain video game genres is affected by the prevalent cultural and historical ideals of a given area. Gaming today has become a multi-national past time, a far cry from being the domain of Caucasian male university students, especially now that consoles and computers are more compact. A player of games will tend to have a preference as to their favorite genre, and will buy games included in or related to that genre, but does the culture that surrounds these players affect their taste in genre? This essay will address the cultural and historical effects on genre popularity in the United States, Japan and Europe.
The US and Australia tend to have similar taste in games largely due to the cross-pollination of popular culture in predominantly white, English speaking countries. The 2015 ESA report suggests that the most popular genre in the US at the moment is Action, closely followed by Shooters (First and Third person included), most often these two genres are combined. Examples of what qualifies as an Action Shooter are Call of Duty, Halo or Uncharted.
Similarly when looking at the Australian top 10 grossing games according to the IGEA, the top 4 are Action games, 3 of which are Shooters. American culture and history has a lot to do with the popularity of Action Shooters, during the colonial era the invention of the gun meant the average person was able to do what previously only military personnel could, in addition this led to settlers being required to join the state militia as there was no standing army. Later the ownership of guns led to a high emphasis on individual power by using tools to overcome difficulty, as Fineman(2015) notes “From the first fur trappers and pioneers, to today’s ranchers and big-city grifters, the tradition of having a gun to protect yourself in the wild or in wild society runs deep.”. This concept of guns as a means of survival and protection permeates US society not just in games but also in movies and literature born of the US.
A major portion of the games industry is monopolised by Japan, there exists a large number of games that are developed specifically for the Japanese audience, in fact there is an entire genre that until recently was exclusively produced in and for Japan; the JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game), examples of JRPs include Final Fantasy, the Persona series and Yo-Kai Watch. According to VGChartz(2015), of the top 10 grossing games of 2015 for Japan, 8 were RPGs.
When looking at the most sales of any game in Japan Pokemon Red and Blue versions are at the top, no less than half of the top 10 grossing of all time are Pokemon games, Pokemon being one of the most RPG franchises across the world. There are plenty of arguments for why JRPGs are popular in Japan, the JRPG tends to follow the story of an established cast of characters as opposed to that of a single character, and the structure of these stories is also very clean and staged. These aspects of JRPGs appeal to the cultural emphasis on the concept of ‘Wa’ or group harmony (cited in Whiting 1990), meaning in layman’s terms that the needs of the many are prioritised over the needs of the few; this comes from Japan’s largely agricultural past where a harmoniously working community was important for survival. Japan’s long history of heavily structured theatrical entertainment such as Noh and Kabuki theater also plays into this. These cultural norms do not account for the popularity of more modern RPGs where the games feature a main character that is customisable for the player, who is concerned with personal achievements over group achievements, such as Pokemon or Monster Hunter.
Genre popularity in Europe is vastly different from the US and Japan, partly due to including such a large physical area and broad group of ideals despite this some trends do emerge. Of the top 10 grossing games in Europe (VGChartz 2015) only one is considered a Shooter (Grand Theft Auto V), the rest is populated with Sport or Simulation games, there is a noticeable lack of violence present in the European market.
This does seem to change in more recent history as during at the past year the top grossing game was Fifa 16 followed by Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3. It is nearly impossible to talk about the European games market without addressing the popularity of the FIFA games, currently FIFA 16 occupies 3 of the top 10 grossing games in Europe, this is due to the massive popularity of Football (Soccer) in European countries, and it can be argued that Football is integral to European culture (Rushing 2014). It is worth noting that there is a tendency for Europeans to purchase older consoles over newer ones, this affects the pool of games that are more readily available, and in addition to this there is a definite emphasis on less violent game genres. Irwin (2008) suggests that this is due to the tendency of Europeans to “appreciate everyday life”, gaming is not so commonly a lifestyle, it is something to do on the train on the way to work, or socially with friends.
Based on the evidence collected it can be stated that the popularity of genre is heavily influenced by the prevalent culture in a given country, examples such as the popularity of Action and Shooting games in the US and Sports games in Europe are evidence of this. There are however instances where a genre may become popular for other reasons such as the popularity of JRPGs and later Western RPGs in Japan, which has shown a move away from older cultural and historical influences as they are being replaced by more modern sensibilities, or the popularity of the Black Ops 3 in Europe despite the tendency to stay away from violent games. There are many factors that affect the popularity of games and genres, but culture and history will likely always have a major influence.
ESA 2015, ‘Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry’, Entertainment Software Association, < http://www.theesa.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/ESA-Essential-Facts-2015.pdf >.
Brand, J. E. and Todhunter, S 2015, ‘Digital Australia Report 2016’, Interactive Game & Entertainment Association, < http://www.igea.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Digital-Australia-2016-DA16-Final.pdf >.
Interactive Game & Entertainment Association 2015, Interactive Game & Entertainment Association, < http://www.igea.net/ >.
Fineman, H 2015, ‘Why America Won’t Quit Guns’, The Huffington Post, < http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/america-gun-culture_56141b53e4b0368a1a615a4d?section=australia>.
VGChartz Ltd 2015, VGChartz, <http://www.vgchartz.com/>.
Whiting, R 1990, You Gotta Have Wa, Vintage, < http://www.pbs.org/pov/kokoyakyu/the-concept-of-war/>.
Rushing, J 2014, ‘Why is soccer in Europe so important? And why not in the USA?’, Quora, <https://www.quora.com/Why-is-soccer-in-Europe-so-important-And-why-not-in-the-USA>.