This week I finally got around to playing some retro Japanese handheld video games. Retro means something from the recent past, and each of the four games I played were from the early 1980s. I managed to find the website ‘Pica Pic’. It has 26 handheld games which can all be played on the site as though you were physically holding them in your hands. Unfortunately it was the closest I could get to any of the games. But to be honest, I think the whole experience was pretty close to the real thing.
After playing each game I asked myself a number of questions framed by autoethnography, and inspired, once again, by Sheridan’s list. They included how I felt, what aspects confused me and why, were there any unexplainable gaps in my knowledge, but also if my reactions were due to a cultural or time difference.
First I played Nintendo’s ‘Donkey Kong’ from the Game & Watch multi screen series. It was released in 1982, and reportedly sold more than 1,000,000 copies worldwide (In the Attic). Then I played Nintendo’s ‘Octopus’, from the Game & Watch wide screen series. It was released in 1981. ‘Donkey Kong’ was pretty cool (especially the casing). You still got to flip the console open, and the buttons actually moved you pressed the corresponding keys. It did take me a few goes to understand what I was supposed to do, and why I kept dying (apparently you can’t jump in certain parts!).
I think I had trouble because I was over thinking everything, as I’m used to modern games which are generally more complicated. In doing so I missed the obvious fact that there was something in my way. This probably has a lot more to do with the time gap than any cultural barrier, as the concept was quite easy to understand (influenced by the popularity of DK nowadays). However, there is one thing that confuses me which might be explained by cultural differences: Why is an enormous ape throwing barrels at Mario???
All of my thoughts on ‘Octopus’ can be summed up thusly: DAMN THAT SLIMY OCTOPUS TO THE FIERY DEPTHS OF HELL!!! (or better yet a fish market) Moving on.
Lastly, I played a Popy Electronics game called ‘Ncha! Bycha’, which is the third game in the Dr. Slump Arale series and was released in 1982. Before I started actually playing I was prepared to be confused and, I suppose, culturally on the outside. This game looked like it was foreign and stereotypically Japanese. The characters on the case are cutesy and it’s all bright colours and weird facial expressions. I wasn’t disappointed (though I was certainly confused). I quickly gathered that the point of the game was to greet the characters when they popped out of their dwellings. This seems fairly straight forward, until I noticed that these characters included an alien, a baby devil and a superhero lying on a skateboard; cue raised eyebrow.
It was certainly a motely crew, and would probably have turned heads (if not raised eyebrows) in Western countries, if not solely for the baby devil. Even these little details bring to my attention the difference not only in the broad sense of culture, but also in values and ideals. I doubt very much that any Western country in the 80s would have had a devil as a character in what is essentially a children’s game.
Getting back to the point of the game, if you missed one of the neighbours, who quickly overwhelmed me by popping out too fast, they promptly punch you in the face. Yep. Right in the noggin. As I’m sure you can guess, I was quite shocked, though humoured, by this occurrence. Whether or not it’s supposed to be funny is once again brought back to cultural differences (I have a feeling it is though).
Sheridan, R , “Autoethnography: Research as Participant”, viewed 24th Sept 2014, found: http://ricksheridan.netmar.com/auto/
“Donkey Kong”, In the Attic, retrieved 24th Sept 2014, found: http://www.intheattic.co.uk/donkey_kong.htm