Isekai Shokudou Is A Perfect(ly Okay) Anime

Isekai Shokudou or Restaurant to Another World is exactly as it sounds and little more. Its title is literal, succinct, and as will be repeated: I think that’s fine. Doubtlessly you don’t need a plot summary as there really isn’t much to delve into. It portrays characters from a fantasy world finding a magical door to a modern Western restaurant, Nekoya, in Japan. There’s a lot of questions that could be raised when watching the show or reflecting on it. Several can be asked about the magical door itself. There’s also brief glimpses at the evolution of technology and agriculture as a result of customers emulating modern food and tech. What about the discrimination towards demons and half-elves? The wage gap? While fantasy currency is useless in the modern world, what about its purity and cost as a metal? I could go on and on, but the fact of the matter is that the show didn’t really explore these topics. 

Audience reception was generally positive, but Isekai Shokudou aired during the Summer 2017 season. For reference, Shokugeki no Souma was airing its third season in Fall 2017. As a result, I think there were some misconceptions about the show. Cooking anime don’t seem to be particularly prolific and so Shokugeki no Souma was the only point of reference for a lot of people. I suspect the anime community expected a bit more focus on action and fantasy in the vein of shounen while the show ended up being the exact opposite. Critique followed the train of thought that the show had no progression, main story, or plot as nothing happened. After reading the previous list of topics they could’ve written about in-depth, you might be inclined to agree that a larger overview of topics related to cooking should’ve been explored. Well, I actually disagree.

My argument here isn’t that Isekai Shokudou is an objectively great anime. I understand why it has a 7.35 on MAL and I think that’s a fair score. In fact, this article is barely an argument. I’m writing this to affirm why I liked the show and to explore the main theme because there was one integrated into every episode. It was never about large complicated ideas. Instead, it was about appreciating the small things. In this case: food and food culture. 

From the beginning of the show, it’s stated that Nekoya is not a traditional Japanese restaurant. While it does have Japanese cuisine to suit the local palate, it’s a so-called Western restaurant. In this case, they define Western not just as food from Europe and the Americas as is often associated. Instead, Western is closer to a term for foreign, defined as food not having originated in Japan. This alone is integral to the entirety of the series. By showing culturally diverse food, it holds up and embraces its interconnected nature. We shouldn’t be stringent in what we accept or negative towards foreign food as so much of what we eat doesn’t originate natively. Sometimes this is the case in recipes, but it’s also true when we look at crops themselves and international trade routes.

When it comes to food, no one is excluded. Elves represent this most overtly with their aversion to eating meat and dishes created with animal products: veganism. Even then, there’s still options available to them and they’re quite good. The perspective is not that veganism is exclusively a restriction either- it’s a push to further explore new tastes. SORTEDfood is a great channel that maintains the comedic nature of a bunch of friends while talking, teaching, and messing about with food. In the past, they’ve brought to attention and raised good points about traceability, food alternatives, and veganism to name a few. You don’t need to be particularly interested in cooking to have a laugh.

In a way, there’s also a subtle allusion to the unification that food can provide. Nekoya is often filled with multiple inhabitants from the other world, all varying species. Despite any barriers that may exist, that all fades away when they enter the restaurant’s door. No one wishes to physically fight in earnest fearing they’ll be kicked out. As such, it’s almost like they’re on sacred ground. The only argument that transpires there is about which dish is supreme. It’s a common occurrence, but it’s always friendly banter with the resolution that everyone has their own preference. Those arguments also serve to broaden the horizons of other customers, urging them to try other dishes.


The very lighting of the restaurant, or at least the warm colors used in its depiction, reinforce the homely nature of the environment. I’m sure everyone is aware of color psychology so we can sail past that. Interestingly though, when I looked to see if there were any articles written about lighting in restaurants specifically, there was one worth mentioning. Its title is Fast Food Restaurant Lighting and Music can Reduce Calorie Intake and Increase Satisfaction (Wansink & van Ittersum, 2012). Before I discuss it, I do feel that the title is irritatingly misleading. To me, it presents itself as some miraculous way to reduce calories while maintaining portion size and food consumption. That’s not the study at all. It merely observed the effect of lighting and music and its relation to how much people ate. Dim lighting and soft music caused people to eat slower and often less than the other extreme of loud music and bright lights which accelerated consumption (p. 231). Very generally, this (dim lighting and soft music) led to greater satisfaction with the food. There is other speculation about their data, but honestly it’s fairly flimsy and so I opt to forgo writing about it.

Usually, I’d apply a study’s conclusion to the anime I’m discussing- that’s the point of bringing it up after all. In this case though, I want to make a few points: 

  • The study was about fast food restaurants. That means it doesn’t directly apply to proper restaurants. It’s difficult and often faulty to generalize results that occur outside of a lab setting due to the amount of factors out of the researchers’ controls.
  • The study’s sample size consisted of 62 people. While that is decent and the results it concluded are backed up by significant enough data (large enough to not be a result of random chance), it remains a singular study. Despite this phrase being frowned upon since it’s self-evident within the science community, I say it anyway: “further research must be done.”
  • To you as a reader, while it may be difficult due to a variety of reasons, try and read a citation’s original text. At the least, skim it. While a writer may propose something, even with citations, don’t treat it as fact. Not all research is done well and you need to learn when to disagree with experts’ methodology or conclusions about their data.

All that aside, there are still other factors beyond the lighting which theoretically increase the homely feeling of the diner. For one, it’s the proximity of the dining room to the kitchen. While you’re seated at your table, you can hear the chef preparing your food. It’s one step away from watching your parents cook as you did as a child. You’re doing nothing physically, but you’re anticipating the meal and thinking about it in your head. You can smell the delicious aroma wafting from the back that causes you to salivate. The placement of the furniture and lack of separators between tables aids this. In an open room, you’re not only smelling what’s being cooked currently- you register all the sensory information from others’ food. You’re able to see their reaction, one of pure bliss, and you too come to expect that. Those other people aren’t just customers either. You’re all regulars at this lovely restaurant, nicknames given to each other based on your favorite dish. It’s truly a familial experience.

While it never explored the purity of coins, it did touch on the craftsmanship and advancements of the modern age. Episode 2 featured a treasure hunter and soldier baffled at the availability of free cold water and the presence of ice respectively. Episode 5 featured a half-elf who emulated a fridge with magic while wondering how the restaurant copied her writing perfectly to produce multiple menus. Episode 9 featured a dwarf who marveled at the craftsmanship of a beer mug. This is all a showcase of the little things we take for granted. Settings like the restaurant shown in the anime are personal favorites of mine. Whether they be cafes, tea shops, or bars, they all represent a peaceful place away from the business or action. It’s as if time stops and life allows you room to breathe. When you’re there, all you need to do is enjoy the atmosphere. Places like that transport you to another world. 


“Isekai Shokudou Is A Perfect(ly Okay) Anime” – There’s nothing exceedingly spectacular about it and that’s fine. Not everything needs to be met with raving reviews, heralded as a masterpiece for all to follow. It’s still filled to the brim with little details to appreciate and makes for both a pleasant and relaxing viewing experience. To like it is to recognize the little things that make it good, a successful passing on of the theme. Watch it on Crunchyroll, Funimation, or Amazon if you haven’t already. There has even been an announcement of a Season 2!

A Starlight Shores Analysis: Time & Ambiguity

Header Image from Starlight Shores.

Note that this analysis of Starlight Shores does contain spoilers for the story. As such, it will sparingly show screenshots from the game; however, they will not portray the integral story beats per se. Instead, I’ll be using them to convey what I believe capture some of the themes of the game. Still, if you only want to hear my thoughts without spoilers, this will summarize it:

Starlight Shores is a hidden gem masquerading as a writer’s first full-release. The dialogue is poignant, and the short-novel style fully utilizes the medium while playing into the theme of time.

No review copy was sent to me, nor was there any other incentive for writing this analysis. Starlight Shores was bought with my own money and my connection with the development team is limited to following them on Twitter and tweeting at them sporadically. 

Starlight Shores is available on both Steam and Itch.io

The development team as documented on the Itch.io page and in the game’s credits:

Sam Kerr- Creative Director and Lead Developer

Nanae Lia- Creative Director, CG & Character Artist

Tanuma San- CG & Background Artist

Alcaknight- Lead Composer

BackgroundTK- Outdoor Background Artist

Re.Alice- Logo Designer

A special thanks to Uncle Mugen, CC backgrounds were from his lemmasoft page!

Click Here for their Discord!


I don’t know what I expected from Starlight Shores (SS). I played the demo of Tidal Blossoms (TB) a while back, also written by Sam Kerr of Delphinium Interactive, and from what I can recall it was quite decent. I wouldn’t single it out as anything too spectacular, but I think it’s still important to bring up. The fact that they’re both in the same universe and SS is a sort of prequel to TB aside- from a writing perspective, it’s very interesting because the tones are perceivably different, or at least that’s my feeling.

Tone is something I’ve commented on before and even then I noted that I’m hesitant to do so because it’s such an ephemeral and subjective concept. It’s very easy for tone to control an author’s writing rather than it purvey throughout. As such, intended tones often come off heavy-handed and almost amateur in their application. Its role in Starlight Shores though is dare I say excellent. But before that, what is Starlight Shores? 

To quote the the short blurb on the game’s page:

“Starlight Shores is an island-themed romance game where you’ll visit the town of Seaside with your friends. Party under the stars, play games together, and remember that your choices matter!”

It’s very straight-forward about being a romance game which is quite ironic in retrospect when we view the dynamic of Theo, Lena, and Will who is our main character. To start, while Will is the MC, he is by no means a blank slate to be puppeteered around completely by the player. His history is extremely relevant to the story as Theo was his close friend and their parting left a sense of longing and regret which aided in dividing the two. Being able to reunite after so long, it’s both a blessing and a curse. People change over time and without significant introspection, it’s difficult to consciously notice that change within one’s self, regardless if it was for better or for worse. After so long, will the memories they made remain consistent with who shows up at Seaside? 

That’s a good hook in its own right, but the personality and views of a person aren’t the only things that change with time. Our lives are never static. Conversely, they’re always in development and that brings new stories and new characters, even if we’re sometimes stuck in the past. That’s where Lena comes in, the new best friend of Theo. She’s affectionately referred to as Theo’s replacement best friend, a stand-in for Will, and that has very relevant implications. Top among them is the formation of a perceived romance barrier. Yes, Lena is not just a love interest for the protagonist. She too carries feelings for Theo and draws very significant parallels to Will as is mentioned time and time again. 

The dynamic of the previous two paragraphs is the crux of the story in a nutshell and your choices dictate your answer. All that was only to explain the premise but henceforth I’ll be talking about its themes. The themes which stood out the most to me were these:

Time & Ambiguity

I’ve already discussed time’s role in the synopsis, but I talked about it in a way which denoted inevitable change. I don’t mean to contradict that, you can’t stop time, but critical is what we decided to do within that context. We are not helpless bystanders that watch the world go by. Though our lives are fleeting, all the more reason to seize what we want while we still can. Carpe diem. But what does that really mean? Does that involve reconnecting with and romancing Theo? Does it mean to date Lena? Does it mean to reconcile that your feelings were not romantic but platonic?

If you date Theo, then you’re affirming that while both you and her have made mistakes in the past, you still love each other and vow to be there for one another in the future. That goodbye kiss, whether purposefully memorable or done spuriously, bound you two together in a relationship not to be confined by distance. Lena though? She’ll never end up with Theo who she loves dearly. She missed her chance by waiting too long. Maybe she can accept that, but can you? 

A similar conundrum persists if you date Lena. Perhaps you do contend that you love Theo in a platonic way and so you choose Lena. Well, she still loves Theo. Your choice is then to hook up with Lena for the night or abstain, in the case of the latter not knowing what will come from that choice. You can spur her on, but at this point all you can do is hope the future will prove fruitful for the two. Do you opt for sex for the sake of it, again hoping that a proper relationship will further blossom from that? Only time will tell.

And of course, when you maneuver a path to bring Theo and Lena together, for the most part, you step out of the picture. You’ll be there to support the two, but are you alright leaving Starlight Shores like that? You’re playing a romance game, so the game’s objective in theory is most likely to end up in a relationship. It’s your choice to walk away knowing that your preconceived goal wasn’t met, but perhaps this was the supposed correct choice. Or was an ending without a relationship between the player and someone else a waste of time?

I don’t have an answer, but I do know that there’s no correct choice. I’d posit that the author didn’t have a canonical choice in mind either. You find this string of text at various different endings: “This wasn’t the night that I expected, but I’m glad that I’m here.” Your choices are something you have to live with. You don’t always need to justify your actions and you won’t always know where you’ll end up. There’s nothing wrong with that though. It’s through the passing of time that we ourselves bring meaning to our choices and our lives in full. 

Throughout all of this analysis, there’s been a level of ambiguity present reflective of the VN. Sometimes ambiguity is frowned upon, but usually that critique is levied at a lack of information which prevents readers from formulating any cohesive meaning from a work. That isn’t the case in Starlight Shores. There’s undoubtedly ambiguity, but it’s tactful in its use as the meaning needs to be both ascertained by the player and the characters themselves. Take this for instance:

Besides the fact that it’s a beautiful line, the context of the scene is discussing the past of Theo and Will’s and if they were ever truly in love. The ambiguity here is not just well placed, but it’s accurate. Relationships and emotions in general are ever so complicated and sometimes our minds get a bit boggled trying to make sense of the events around us. It’s easy to second guess and doubt ourselves, especially when we’re in stressful situations and I think it’s fair to say that the isolation that came from moving away from a potential partner and the rigors of college life are significantly stressful. Moreover, the quote plays into the idea of personas and romanticization. We wear a mask to appease different social groups. Individual masks subtly alter our mindset and behaviour, though not too far from the cumulative average. These masks though are not only relevant when outward facing. When we view them all, our emotions must be consistent with them otherwise one of them must change. This conflict of memory and emotion, not knowing which is correct, leads to a downward spiral as one’s self is lost. 

I’d like to bring in an academic article titled My Time, Your Time, or Our Time? Time Perception and its Associations With Interpersonal Goals and Life Outcomes by Yu Niiya (2019). Niiya talks about the concepts of zero-sum and nonzero-sum time. The former is when time is viewed as a limited commodity or resource, usually taken up, taken away, or spent on another in an interpersonal relationship (p. 1440). A nonzero-sum on the other hand is when time is not perceived as property, neither given or taken away. Rather, it’s unowned and exists for everyone’s benefit. It’s argued that people most likely perceive time as zero-sum or nonzero-sum in different situations. The conclusion to take away from that article are the primary results about time perception, interpersonal goals, and life outcomes: In layman’s terms, people who wish to help others are more likely to have a nonzero-sum perception of time since they view the processing of helping to aid in self-growth resulting in no perceivable loss. Overall, there was a correlation between nonzero-sum perception and happiness (pp. 1451-1452).

These conclusions are considerable when we think about the dialogue contained within Starlight Shores. By not looking at time as a commodity, we stand to be happier for it. Thoughts about wasting each other’s time should cease, though that’s definitely easier said than done. However, this does happen at certain points in the game, principally select endings. It fits thematically as that’s the culmination of their life experience and conversations that transpire- learning to live in the moment, uncaring of judgement by others, wholly trusting, and only wishing to be happy with one another.

Parallel Timelines

Before I close out, it wouldn’t do to avoid talking about the “short story” romance style of the game. On a meta level, the player experiences the story through parallel timelines via their different choices. It’s through these different stories that we learn about different facets of individual characters’ lives. The background information is both relevant to understanding them and substantial when accumulated over multiple playthroughs. It’s even on a meta level that we once again return to the core themes of time and ambiguity. We can see that on certain routes, say when Will romances Theo, Lena is willing to grant them reprieve and essentially gives up on her chance with Theo by returning to the house. With this knowledge of character’s actions and mindsets, we can make a more informed decision about what we really want to do.

I think this is of the utmost importance to other developers who also develop their games in the “short story” romance style: consistency, and Starlight Shores does it well. There must be consistency in actions and if not, there must be a very good reason. Undoubtedly characters are dynamic and their words and actions should suit the situation, but they need to remain true to their personality. Otherwise, you run the risk of ruining players’ expectations of how a character will act, negating any sense of knowing that character on a deeper level. Breaking those expectations is no doubt useful, but that’s a tool to be used sparingly.

With that, we’ve reached the end of this analysis. Starlight Shores is a wonderful game that has somehow managed to claw its way into my list of favorite VNs. Admittedly, I didn’t expect that, but credit where credit’s due. The writing was superb, the artwork was beautiful, and the music a joy to listen to. Thank you for reading and I implore you to buy Starlight Shores if you haven’t done so already.

Critique

As I don’t review games as I’ve done in the past, I’ve opted to bundle my critique of the game here. Firstly: the amount of choices. It’s an odd critique to be sure, but I do believe it’s justified. At junctions, I sometimes felt unsure as to which choices were relevant. Couple this with the amount of choices, and there are quite a number of permutations to go through. I don’t feel as if it detracted from the experience, and as has been stated, there is importance even in the finer details of small junctions, but something to note nonetheless. 

I believe this problem of “getting lost” when searching for a new end doesn’t need to be solved by lessening those choices, though practical and aesthetically pleasing ways of doing so are difficult to think of. The most efficient and fitting way I can come up with at the time of writing is implementing coding which denotes that a choice has been picked before. Other mechanics to consider are a hint system or a flow chart that effectively serves as a chapter select after a certain amount of progression has been achieved. These two systems don’t seem very pleasing though and I’d opt for the initial recommendation. For all that, this is the critique and recommendation of one person. Other methods are available if the critique is to be agreed with in the first place. 

Two other minor critiques are the speed at which text fades in and the settings (preferences) screen. I think the fade-in is a tad too slow and could use a slight bump. Maybe allow that speed to be configurable in the settings. The settings screen itself is, and this really is the most minor of critiques, a bit plain. There’s nothing wrong with something default, but in the future and with a bigger budget, it’s a little detail that would be appreciated. 

Despite these critiques, I still vehemently believe that the quality of Starlight Shores is worth your time and money. 


The game’s credits and potential conflict of interests are listed again for redundancy:

No review copy was sent to me, nor was there any other incentive for writing this analysis. Starlight Shores was bought with my own money and my connection with the development team is limited to following them on Twitter and tweeting at them sporadically. 

Starlight Shores is available on both Steam and Itch.io

The development team as documented on the Itch.io page and in the game’s credits:

Sam Kerr- Creative Director and Lead Developer

Nanae Lia- Creative Director, CG & Character Artist

Tanuma San- CG & Background Artist

Alcaknight- Lead Composer

BackgroundTK- Outdoor Background Artist

Re.Alice- Logo Designer

A special thanks to Uncle Mugen, CC backgrounds were from his lemmasoft page!

Click Here for their Discord!

Video Games in Education – A Rudimentary Exploration ft. Visual Novels

Header Image from Hello, Goodbye.

Edit: Later on in this article Manga Classics is mentioned. Unfortunately, it seems their main website continues to be down. Last night, I was hoping it was a result of maintenance during low-traffic hours, but it seems that wasn’t the case. If you are interested in buying their products, manga adaptations of literature, here is another official link. At the least, I encourage you to check out the titles available as they’re unexpectedly less known, or so I’ve come to find out. They’re also available on Amazon. The dead links will persist unless the site remains down for another day.

I’ve never been too fond of most educational video games. There’s nothing wrong with video games that seek to teach. In fact, I think that’s a brilliant idea. Technology has become increasingly integrated into the world and to be proficient, despite dissenting opinions, is a near necessity. This notion has become obvious during the pandemic we find ourselves in with most work being done online. Thus, it’s good to introduce tech to children at a young age and get them experienced with handling interfaces. Additionally, most children are exposed to video games quite often and would therefore be more inclined to learn a topic if presented in a similar format (Parent Zone, 2019; NPD, 2019).

My problem with educational games lies in the execution.

Games, by their definition, must be fun. And if we’re looking at video games specifically, I opt to use Ahoy’s criteria in his documentary film “The First Video Game”.

A Video Game Must:

  • Exist in a practical implementation
  • Generate some kind of video signal
  • Have interaction that alters this signal
  • Be principally intended for entertainment
  • Be playable solely through the video display(s)

Educational video games forget, or perhaps forego, designing their gameplay elements to be entertaining. I understand that some people may find that self-evident. An educational game’s purpose is not to entertain but solely teach; however, therein lies the problem. If we design games with that philosophy, we are not creating software that can be called a video game. What we create is an online textbook with monotonous steps that doesn’t incentivize the student to continue playing or learning. 

Current educational games

Many educational video games that have been released revolve around teaching typing and there is a logic to it (BBC, n.d.). One of the first hurdles to using a computer is the keyboard. The QWERTY layout of the keys isn’t exactly intuitive relative to how we teach kids the alphabet, that is in A-Z format. Even though digital keyboards kids use on their phones or tablets also conform to the QWERTY layout, there is still a valid reason, I think, to teach kids typing. Simply, it’s so that they don’t need to look at the keyboard to type.

I’m sure many people who are reading this find that a bit funny- having to look at the keyboard to type, but that is a problem many older people face. Moreover, depending on the typing method taught, this could lead to a higher WPM. There are no doubt diminishing returns after a point- WPM isn’t something people are hired for and high levels can be achieved by self-practice (Barbash, 2016), but the fundamentals should be in the curriculum somewhere. That isn’t to say typing should be taught throughout all of, say, elementary school. In fact, since keyboards, either physical or digital,  are so ubiquitous in daily life, it could be argued that teaching typing has become less important over time since the practice has become something natural to learn. Research should then seek to find the efficacy of typing classes over time.

Two other common topics often expressed through games are the broad science and mathematics fields. Science is quite a good topic given that it’s quite creative. By that, I mean there’s room for errors and its essence lies in experimentation. Thus, the interactivity games provide are perfectly suited to it. Even at the university level, students learning through virtual labs aren’t particularly uncommon. It’s also worth noting that virtual experiments remove the financial burden of lab equipment and experiment materials. Though I wouldn’t classify these virtual labs as video games, as an example, a game that could be integrated is Spore and its reflection of evolution and natural selection.

SPORE (Maxis, 2008)

Math on the other hand is interesting. I’m not going to say it’s not creative or there’s no experimentation with it. It’s not always exact with a well-defined answer. I point you to two talks on the Royal Institution’s channel by Matt Parker. But- we’re talking about educational games here, “the fundamentals.” You don’t really delve into abstract math until university and so everything’s rather straightforward. However, that’s also a great reason to make it into a game. If, at first glance, a topic seems uninteresting, then present it in an interesting way. In writing, it’s like a hook. It grabs people so that they’ll be interested enough to read more. If only games could be like Abstracts in academic papers- Though more advanced and not applicable below the high school level, Kerbal Space Program is a great video game with a complicated physics system that I could see used as pseudo-simulation. Perhaps Garry’s Mod and its physics engine is robust and general enough for wider use.

Kerbal Space Program (Squad, 2015)

Anyway, I can’t talk about educational games without mentioning the ever famous: The Oregon Trail. It’s not about science or math really and certainly not a typing game, but instead it’s a history game. We’ve talked vaguely about gameplay until now which is why it took so long to bring up. There’s no clear proposition of what a history game’s gameplay would entail; however, it’s undeniably a great fit. There’s a large disconnect between a student and what they read because all they see are proper nouns. It’s very difficult to imagine a world you have little reference of. How are you supposed to become immersed in semi-objective explanations and the occasional illustration as your anchor points? Instead of being confined to a textual explanation, a game allows you to visualize past civilizations and architecture in vivid detail. There’s the potential to portray both the pivotal events in history as well as the equally important daily lives of people. A wide berth of potential gameplay options stems from this. Andrew Webster wrote a brilliant article on The Verge with an interactable image detailing Assassin’s Creed Unity’s portrayal of Notre Dame.

Assassin’s Creed Unity Modelling (Webster, 2019)

The sentiment is somewhat shared for literature as well. Now, I won’t dismiss an author’s ability to conjure up an in-depth world in a reader’s mind through the use of words alone. I love contemporary novels and by visualizing the narrative you do lose something important, if intangible. Despite all the work an author does to describe the setting, the onus falls on the reader to interpret and then imagine that setting. The personal background and even mood of each individual reader causes their interpretation to differ, however slight. By playing a game, you lose that personalization and may not agree with a developer’s interpretation. Because of all this, I believe if games do want to adapt a novel’s story, it’s best to relegate games to a similar state to movie adaptations. Thus, comparisons between different formats would make a decent exercise. 

With literature, the problem of gameplay is also exacerbated. Not every story includes physical conflict- there won’t always be such a spectacle as Odysseus blinding the cyclops. There’s not always room for player agency either which may signal a bad fit with video games. In large part, I do agree; however, there’ s still room for exploration. Video game adaptations of novels do exist, but admittedly there’s little if any overlap with novels in school curriculums and I don’t think that will change. I don’t expect Metro or The Witcher being mandatory to read. So, why don’t we meet each other in the middle here?

VN adaptations for novels

For those who don’t know, there are things called visual novels. I use the terribly general and widely panned term “things” because there’s some debate around their classification. They’re either regarded as a genre of games or a medium in of themselves. The reason for the latter is because of how unique they really are. If forced to compare, they’re usually closer to a play’s script than novels; with an abundance of dialogue between characters and internal monologue. Yet, there’s still narration and description of events and surroundings. Speech is typically presented in what’s known as ADV mode with extensive text being presented in NVL mode.

They’re quite different from other games also in how little gameplay and animation there often is. Gameplay in VNs is typically restricted to making choices at certain branches in the narrative. Think of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Animation is also restrained- limited to changes in sprite poses, screen transitions, and visual effects. You may have some rigorously animated cinematics at the beginning or end of the VN, sometimes between chapters, but those are implemented by those with a significant budget. 

Perhaps surprisingly, there is precedent of a story being adapted into a visual novel: The Dandelion Girl. Originally written by Robert F. Young, a group called Outis Media took it upon themselves to adapt it and it’s available for free on Steam. There are no choices, but it’s still accompanied by artwork and music. 

In truth, I don’t view what I’ve said as an argument to include VNs in the curriculum as I’ve done with games for other subjects so far. I do believe that VN adaptations should be experimented with to see if modern students will be more likely to read or retain the material. Argument should ensue only on the bedrock of that data. At the moment, I’d much rather see VN stories looked at standalone from an analytical lens. Further considerations are publishing rights and development costs of such adaptations. Even outside of an educational setting, perhaps there is an untapped market for VN adaptations similar to Manga Classics and its adaptations of classic stories into manga format.

Research About Vns

Interestingly, research about VNs has and possibly is going on right now. It doesn’t explore the potential for adaptations, but rather its potential as a vehicle for teaching history, values, or even language. A brief glance reveals that a large portion of the research has come out of Indonesian journals, but this may be due to my institution’s database. Among all articles found relevant to VNs and education, here are a few:

Amalo et al. in 2017 published Developing Visual Novel Game With Speech-Recognition Interactivity to Enhance Students’ Mastery on English Expressions. As you may be able to tell, it implemented speech-recognition which functions as the trigger for events rather than clicking on a choice. The results indicated 

“The Visual Novel Game with speech recognition interactivity significantly donated constructive outcomes toward students’ achievement in mastering English expressions” (p. 135). 

Pratama et al. in 2018 published The Visual Elements Strength in Visual Novel Game Development as the Main Appeal. I didn’t find this paper to reveal anything too novel, but in its Conclusion, it reads:

“It is hoped that local visual novel developers will also prioritize the creation of visual character and visual styles that prioritize the characteristics of Indonesian society, as well as lift the narrative of Indonesian history, such as the characters of the Majapahit kingdom figures, so that novel visual games can be utilized into educational media that attract teenagers” (p. 332).

Andrew et al. in 2019 published Analyzing the Factors that Influence Learning Experience through Game Based Learning using Visual Novel Game for Learning Pancasila. To my knowledge, Pancasila is a philosophy whose values are deeply ingrained in Indonesian society. It found:

“Based on the survey results the respondents showed that the friendship game prototype has an interesting game play and easy to understand story so that it attracts users to learn the precepts in the Pancasila through Visual Novel games. Based on regression analysis, the motivation to apply Pancasila values in everyday life can be influenced by understanding and recommendation of the game” (p. 358).

Finally we have Manuel B. Garcia’s paper: Kinder Learns: An Educational Visual Novel Game as Knowledge Enhancement Tool for Early Childhood Education. Contrary to the other three, this is a paper from the Philippines. and-

“Based on the rating obtained through game testing and evaluation, the result of the evaluations from 272 respondents therefore supports the acceptance of Kinder Learns as an educational tool for knowledge enhancement in preschool”

Equally important as those results is a part of the author’s closing thoughts:

“Albeit the result of the study is not generalizable, the use of video games in early childhood education, and the use of visual novel as a genre of an educational game are both worth exploring”.

concluding statements

While the studies discussed seem to show educational visual novels as having a positive effect, I want to make it clear that their appearance here is not a stamp of approval or an indication of their applicability. First and foremost, their purpose is to represent the fact that visual novels are, and should be, of interest in the academic world. As an aside, a notable contradiction in this observation is the lack of articles which explore the content of visual novels compared to those which seek to use its format. I implore those capable to remedy this absence, especially relevant now given the increasing popularity overseas of Japanese culture via the medium of Japanese animation as well as the trend of virtual avatars and the exploration of parasocial relationships that stem from it.

In closing, there is room for video games ranging from preschool to university. While most are developed and aimed at the youngest age bracket, the potential exists to create sophisticated virtual environments to emulate what otherwise appears as dry passages in a textbook. Games should not replace these materials but serve to accompany them. If we don’t implement more new and interesting vehicles to educate, we stand the risk of stagnation and alienation of students who are uninterested in contemporary formats. Visual novels appear to represent one potential path forwards among many. With this knowledge, future work should address questions of accessibility and determine if any games in general which are currently released are accurate enough to be implemented.


References

Ahoy. (2019) The First Video Game [Video]. Youtube.

Amalo, E., Agusalim, I., & Murdaningtyas, C. (2017). DEVELOPING VISUAL NOVEL GAME WITH SPEECH-RECOGNITION INTERACTIVITY TO ENHANCE STUDENTS’ MASTERY ON ENGLISH EXPRESSIONS. Jurnal Sosial Humaniora, 10(2), 129–136.

https://doi.org/10.12962/j24433527.v10i2.2865

Andrew, J., Henry, S., Yudhisthira, A., Arifin, Y., & Permai, S. (2019). Analyzing the Factors that Influence Learning Experience through Game Based Learning using Visual Novel Game for Learning Pancasila. Procedia Computer Science, 157, 353–359.

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.procs.2019.08.177

Barbash, F. (2016) The Washington Post. Is Touch Typing Overrated?. The Washington Post.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/02/12/scientific-proof-that-nobody-really-needs-to-learn-touch-typing/

BBC. (n.d.). Dance Mat Typing.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/topics/zf2f9j6/articles/z3c6tfr

Facepunch Studios. (2006). Garry’s Mod. [Video Game]. Valve.

https://store.steampowered.com/app/4000/Garrys_Mod/

Garcia, M. (2020). Kinder Learns: An Educational Visual Novel Game as Knowledge Enhancement Tool for Early Childhood Education. The International Journal of Technologies in Learning, 27(1), 13–34.

https://doi.org/10.18848/2327-0144/CGP/v27i01/13-34

Lump of Sugar. (2019). Hello, Goodbye. [Video Game]. NekoNyan Ltd.

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1009460/Hello_Goodbye/

Maxis. (2008). SPORE. [Video Game]. Electronic Arts.

https://store.steampowered.com/app/17390/SPORE/

NPD. (2019). Notable Increases in Both Engagement and Spending Coming from Kids.

https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases/2019/according-to-the-npd-group–73-percent-of-u-s–consumers-play-video-games/

Outis Media. (2016). The Dandelion Girl. [Video Game].

https://store.steampowered.com/app/990090/The_Dandelion_Girl_Dont_You_Remember_Me/

Parent Zone. (2019). The Rip-Off Games: How the New Business Model of Online Gaming Exploits Children. 

https://parentzone.org.uk/the-rip-off-games

Pratama, D., Wardani, W., & Akbar, T. (2018). The Visual Elements Strength in Visual Novel Game Development as the Main Appeal. Mudra : Jurnal Seni Budaya, 33(3), 326–333.

https://doi.org/10.31091/mudra.v33i3.455

Ren’Py. (n.d.). NVL-Mode Tutorial. 

https://www.renpy.org/doc/html/nvl_mode.html#nvl-mode

Squad. (2015). Kerbal Space Program. [Video Game]. Private Division.

https://store.steampowered.com/app/220200/Kerbal_Space_Program/

Webster, A. (2019). Building a Better Paris in Assassin’s Creed Unity. The Verge.

https://www.theverge.com/2014/10/31/7132587/assassins-creed-unity-paris

The Unique & Sad Dynamic Between VTubers & Translators

Header Image from Flowers -Le volume sur printemps-

VTubers are fascinating. I don’t mean their personality, I’ve already written an article about some of my favorites a while ago, but from a translation standpoint they seem incredibly unique. Specifically, I refer to monolingual Japanese VTubers. There are a variety of them, much more than I can document, and that poses some interesting problems.


There was a VTuber boom during 2020, around the time the Hololive English branch made their debut. People from all over the world started to invest in virtual avatars and rigging. Some conventional YouTubers and livestreamers simply substituted themselves with the avatar while some took it a step further. Instead of a change going forward, they opted to close their channel, erase their virtual footprint, and rebrand as a VTuber. That seems quite risky and it really is, but it’s not as if they were starting from square one. Besides the experience under their belt, some joined pre-existing agencies that had existed before the boom which represented a stable income and guaranteed exposure. Even if others didn’t, taking into consideration the size of their fanbase prior to becoming a VTuber, it was impossible that their old fans wouldn’t eventually find themselves watching their favorite creator again. We can thank the algorithm for that.

Although, for all the VTubers out there, there’s only so much audience to attract. Inevitably, some would get left behind in subscriber count. This problem is exacerbated when you consider the language barriers. English is pretty much a universal language (despite the inconsistencies which make it difficult to learn) and so those who speak it have an advantage over those who don’t. Well, it’s perspective whether you see one side as advantaged or the other as disadvantaged or both, but that’s besides the point. The takeaway is that certain VTubers, such as monolingual Japanese VTubers, couldn’t attract a dedicated audience and couldn’t maintain growth. 

There’s a translator named Yoyuu who I respect a lot for their neutral stance and articulation about the state of VTubers and the community that surrounds them. In an article about the state of Hololive post-EN, they expound on why Hololive originally became popular in the first place. It wasn’t an intentional action taken by the company to cater to the English-speaking audience. Rather, it was due to fan-translators choosing to upload subtitled videos of their talents. This has had a ripple effect on VTubers who want to emulate the success of Hololive. Namely, they believe that by streaming in the same way that Hololive talents do they’ll be able to reach some semblance of success if their personality and quality of stream permits it. Of course, this isn’t the case as the catalyst of fan-translators aren’t there for those upstart VTubers. 

Obligatory music to break up the text.

This is the unique problem I referred to at the start of the article. VTubers are, in my opinion, time-sensitive. If they don’t get exposure within about a year, morale really begins to plummet. That continual loss of motivation to stream is bound to be reflected in the livestreams themselves. Additionally, if met with no reception, one would expect that those VTubers would need to turn to part-time jobs at the least to pay the bills. This lessens their stream schedule and total uptime with the possibility that they’re relegated to work hours which prevent streaming during golden hours. How is this different from the typical streamer? Besides the model and rigging, a significant budget still needs to be allocated to the hardware, software, and fast internet. In one word: translators.

VTubers are massively different from novels or visual novels. A novel or VN can be completely forgotten about by the author but popularity can still arise at any time. Translations can expose an audience previously unable to access the material and generate revenue for the author by buying the product. VTubers aren’t like that. A stream needs to be active, or at least scheduled, to send a donation. Thus, if a VTuber temporarily retires and a clip of them gets massively popular and drives traffic, unless they capitalize on that and come back quickly, it’s all for naught. The sad part is that even if they do come back quick enough, can they retain an audience they don’t speak the language of?

All this is why I think being a VTuber translator is such a rough ride. I won’t touch on the topic of translators monetizing clips, Yoyuu has already done so competently here, but there is such a swath of VTubers to translate you really don’t know where to start. At the same time, there is a perceived pressure to translate everything in a vain attempt to help draw awareness to independent creators. Then, one day, a VTuber you’ve wanted to translate clips of for the longest time retires. While it wasn’t your fault, you can’t help the small voice in the back of your head. That is a translator’s regret.


I wouldn’t say I’m a VTuber translator. I can and have translated some videos in the past as well as translated Sister Claire’s daily series for a bit more than a month, but really I just translate whatever and whenever I want. Those translations never caused a big splash either so I doubt my contributions to a small VTuber would’ve done much, but I still think about it. I wonder if bigger VTuber translators think about it as well? 

I say all this in the wake of Nijisanji IN’s suspension and the graduation of their three livers: Noor, Aadya, and Vihaan. I was particularly quite excited to watch Noor after skimming through a few VODs and listening to her KING cover, but that’s not possible anymore.

My favorite cover of hers.

More pertinently, I say this in the wake of Futamochi Yamai’s retirement. I translated her announcement myself and published it on Twitter, YouTube, and in an article here. The remaining covers on her channel dwindle by the day.

In response to both, I can only say one thing: Good luck. I wish them all the best and hope the future brings them good tidings. Therefore, what other image to pick than cherry blossoms…

VN Barriers: A Comparison of Taylor’s Article+ [P1]

Header Image from Riddle Joker.

In this two-part post, I will be comparing the purported barriers I proposed in an old article of mine with the cultural barrier Emily Taylor proposes in her academic peer-reviewed article Dating-simulation games: leisure and gaming of Japanese youth culture (2007). Before I compare them in part two, let me first explain Emily Taylor’s article. I know a lot of people don’t have access to it via their institution so I’ll do my best to summarize her article. Note that her focus was specifically on Japanese dating-sims (of the bishoujo variety), not VNs as a whole.


Past the abstract, Taylor first includes a section which justifies her study of dating sims. She asks the main question of why dating-sims aren’t popular abroad and brings up the lack of spotlight dating sims have in academic literature. This is despite the frequency of articles seeking to study otaku and hikikomori. She emphasizes the point further by pointing out that dating sims encompass three important categories of study: “(1) Japanese dating and personal relationships, (2) Japanese gaming and leisure, and (3) obscenity and pornography in Japan” (p. 193). Thus, the overlap which dating sims represent should call for further research.

The next section will not be summarized as its purpose is to define dating sims. I expect, and I don’t believe that this is unreasonable, that those who are reading this already know what they are. Once again though, I will reiterate two facts she puts forth. The first being that the focus of Taylor’s article is on bishoujo dating sims. The second that dating sims represent a significant proportion of the Japanese gaming market’s sales as opposed to overseas in America and Europe.

The subsequent section lists the four dating sims which “reveal the complexities and possibilities of the genre…” with summaries of them (p. 195). I opt to directly quote Taylor here as I find the phrasing interesting. The following then serve as the bedrock of the article:

  • [Touching Fan Favorite] Kana Imouto(加奈~いもうと)
  • [Eroge] Sensei 2(せ・ん・せ・い2)

[Author’s Note] There are some discrepancies between the English titles and the redirects to JAST USA, specifically with Kana Imouto and Tottemo! Pheromone. Kana Okaeri is a revamped version of the original Kana Imouto. Target Pheromone on the other is a discrepancy I cannot explain.


Taylor then classifies dating sims- what she terms an “ambiguous genre” (p. 197) and makes the important connection between dating sims, video games, anime and manga, and Japanese pornography. She begins by calling dating-sims overall a type of video game given their availability on consoles as well as computers. The extended length of time between choices within dating-sims evokes an atmosphere similar to anime- Besides a similar structure, e.g., anime and dating sims both containing an animated opening and transitions using still frames there are also shared story elements between dating sims, anime, and manga. For the comparison to poronography, she similarly lists shared tropes. 

An example of transitions.

“I propose, therefore, that dating-sims games be considered interactive anime/manga with erotic content, a classification recognizing that dating-sim games combine both the voyerusitic aspect of (pornographic) anime or manga with the participatory aspect of video games” (p. 198).

Next, a very important part of the article, explains the common appearance and nature of male characters in dating-sims. Usually they’re young enough to be in school, high school or college, and heterosexual with a realistic daily routine. Their physical features are generally Japanese (“usually dark hair and light-colored skin” p. 198) with the caveat that their facial features are rarely shown. This is exemplified by hair covering the eyes. On the basis of personality, they’re rather plain and serve as a self-insert. While not many dating-sims allow for players to change the name of the main character, the name itself is quite generic. 

Source

Interestingly, male characters are characterized by Taylor as “the opposite of shōjo” [少女 shoujo or young girl] (p. 199). 

“[D]ating-sim games protect otaku from the risk of being labeled as shōjo, a pejorative appellation that is a result of being feminized through watching romance-comedy anime and from being sexually inexperienced, unmarried consumers” (p. 203).”


[Author’s Note] Contemporarily, in the western anime scene, shoujo is recognized only by its literal definition. Usually it’s referred to in conjunction with other mediums: shoujo manga or anime, denoting the audience they’re aimed at.  


Shoujo in this context alludes to a lack of sexual experience and, to an extent, femininity or rather a lack of traditional masculinity. Therefore, male characters are actually portrayed as quite sexually experienced compared to the females. This holds true even if the female character is older and has had sexual experience before. Additionally, male characters rarely show outbursts of emotion.

More on female characters, Taylor concludes that they’re quite contrary to male characters. Even in physical appearance, they’re quite exaggerated and rooted in the realm of fantasy with colorful hair and eyes. Moreover, they’re typically written to be weak characters: submissive and subordinate. Therefore, all female characters can be described as shoujo, even if they’re quite mature, due to their portrayal as sexually inexperienced and emotional.

“Thus, in dating-sims, women are presented as either being defenseless playthings for the male character or are reduced to such by the end of the game, essentially reverting to a childlike, shōjo state” (p. 202).

To summarize and finally conclude:

“Additionally, as the otaku figure is becoming increasingly feminized, dating-sim games, through their control and exploitation of weak, shōjo characters, allow (or even encourage) the player to affirm his identity as a non-shōjo, or masculine, thus empowering and reassuring him” (p. 205).

“With these deep connections to Japanese society and culture, therefore, we should not be particularly surprised that such games have not yet been well received abroad. Perhaps gradually increasing levels of popular awareness of Japanese culture in the West will enlarge the market for Japanese-style dating-sims among certain populations abroad; or perhaps producers of dating-sims will modify their approach- the very premise upon which dating-sim games are built, and the very premise that makes games so quintessentially “Japanese” – for foreign markets” (p. 206).


I realize that some people may find speaking about femininity/masculinity in relation to otakus weird. Due to that, let me touch very briefly on a paper that you can find online quite easily: Acquisition of Cultural Competence through Visual Media: Perceptions of Masculinities in Japanese Society by Kaori Yoshida. It looked at three films:

Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai, 1954)

Jingi nakai tatakai (Battles Without Honor and Humanity, 1973)

Densha otoko (Train Man, 2005)

  • Historically, Seven Samurai was released post-defeat in World War II.
  • Battles Without Honor and Humanity was released during the rapid economic growth that occurred in Japan between the 1960s and the early 1970s. 
  • Densha Otoko was released after the rapid economic growth which subsequently caused female employees to be sought out due to growth in the service industry.
From Densha otoko TV series (2005).

To summarize the article succinctly:

The first film portrayed Japan as a nation that had been feminized, forced to submit, by the US and a collapse of patriarchal authority. The ending however displayed the resilience of Japan and the survival of traditional masculinity, also associated with physical strength,  persisting even its defeat.

The second film portrayed the yakuza and internal betrayal which was analogous to the sentiment of salarymen in Japan. While salarymen worked hard for their company, other individuals sought to pave their own path and abandoned the group in favor of profit. Loyalty and chivalry, also an aspect of traditional masculinity, have been abandoned as well.

The third film portrayed a story of an otaku’s romance, based on a supposedly real story which originally circulated online on Japanese forums. It shows the changing perception of gender norms and the move away from traditional masculinity. 

Finally, since otaku’s are the main focus here, I’d like to supplement both Yoshida and Taylor’s article with some points from Susan Napier’s Where Have All the Salarymen Gone? Masculinity Masochism, and the Technomobility in Densha Otoko (2011). Napier talks about how traditional masculinity which values physicality has instead been replaced by technical skills; otakus represent high-level knowledge of cutting-edge technology. Moreover, despite not being muscular, standing up for others is still valued by otaku. Therefore, as more traditional masculinity, represented by the salaryman ideal, is slowly being phased out in Japanese society, new forms of masculinity as represented by otaku, among others like “bishōnen (beautiful boys), aggressive young entrepreneurs… or the creative ‘cooking man’…” (p. 133), are replacing it. 


I hope you enjoyed this look at three academic sources! It was a joy to write and a bit of a delve into science communication and practice in academic summaries. I’m sure all of you can draw a lot of ideas from these and of course feel free to do so. References to said sources in APA format below. Part 2 to follow.

REFERENCES

Napier, S. (2011). Where Have All the Salarymen Gone?: Masculinity, Masochism, and Technomobility in Densha Otoko. In Recreating Japanese Men (1st ed., p. 154–). University of California Press

Taylor, E. (2007). Dating-simulation games: leisure and gaming of Japanese youth culture. Southeast Review of Asian Studies, 29, 192–208.


Yoshida, K. (2012) “Acquisition of Cultural Competence through Visual Media: Perceptions of Masculinities in Japanese Society,” Journal CAJLE, Vol. 13, 135–152.

Re:Zero – A Detailed Look At Its Portrayal of PTSD

This was written before Season 2 was animated and doesn’t contain all examples of traumatic events nor all events that meet criteria requirements for PTSD. Also, there’s literally only 1 video below, so I’ll give you music at the offset to listen to since it’s a long read!

In 2016, an anime was released named Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World-. It featured the main character Natsuki Subaru, a 17-18 year old boy who lived in modern Japan. One day, he’s suddenly whisked away to another world filled with magic, fantasy creatures, and danger aplenty. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t develop the ability to use magic nor does he become physically stronger [Well, not powerful magic]. He’s simply a regular boy in a supernatural world. This, combined with his tendency to help those in need, is evidently a recipe for disaster. Within two episodes of his transportation, he ends up dying. Normally, the story would end there; however, instead of dying, he is returned to the past with full knowledge of what transpired and the emotions that he went through. Due to this power, throughout the entire show, Subaru suffers from PTSD.

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, was originally added to the DSM-III in 1980 in the wake of the Vietnam War. Previous editions of the DSM have attempted to address what we view now as PTSD, but ultimately failed. It can be caused by direct experience or witnessing of a traumatic event, the knowledge that family or friends have been harmed, or “[if a person] experiences first-hand repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event” (APA, 2013). A patient must have gone through one of the aforementioned before a PTSD diagnosis can be made.

Commonly expressed through media are some symptoms of PTSD such as when a patient relives the traumatic event or overreacts to stimulus. Reliving the event is commonly done through nightmares and flashbacks. The other two symptoms less commonly, or less visibly apparent, are “negative changes in beliefs and feelings,” and active avoidance of situations that may remind the patient of the event. For someone to have PTSD though, they must experience all the symptoms mentioned for a one month minimum and it must significantly affect their lives in a negative way. This is because people who are exposed to a traumatic event generally also exhibit symptoms of PTSD; whereas PTSD lasts for decades and, in some cases, a lifetime. For diagnosis, the DSM-5 specifically lists eight criteria necessary labeled from A to H which will be listed later (APA, 2017). 

War has always been a breeding ground for soldiers and civilians alike to develop PTSD given its very nature. Research done about US soldiers in the Vietnam War showed 2% to 17% of them suffered from PTSD. Meanwhile, research on US soldiers in the Iraq War showed a higher average percentage of 4% to 17% (Richardson, 2010). That said, war is not the only avenue through which people develop PTSD. Occupations such as EMTs and ambulance personnel are also likely. An average of 11% of the workers have been estimated to suffer from it (Petrie, 2018). 

A plethora of theories about PTSD exist, with the most well-supported being those which incorporate both psychological and neurological theories (Green, 2017). Additionally, there are two subtypes of PTSD: Dissociative and Preschool. The former is characterized by standard PTSD symptoms while also suffering from depersonalization or derealization. The latter applies to children under seven years of age and they generally don’t need to exhibit the same number of symptoms as an adult would (ADAA, n.d.).

PTSD is usually treated through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). With guidance from a therapist, patients think about the trauma and learn to remove illogical associations caused by overgeneralization and negative thinking. Another method within CBT is repeated exposure to trauma over short periods of time. This allows the patient to readjust to the traumatic event, eventually no longer having to avoid event-related thoughts or locations. Group therapy and medication is also used. Moreover, through CBT, patients restore purpose to their lives (Flannery, 2015).


As mentioned before, there are eight criteria necessary to be diagnosed with PTSD. Criteria A requires one of the following: 

  • Direct exposure
  • Witnessing the trauma
  • Learning that a relative or close friend was exposed to a trauma
  • Indirect exposure to aversive details of the trauma, usually in the course of professional duties (e.g., first responders, medics)

Criteria B requires one of the following:

  • Unwanted upsetting memories
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Emotional distress after exposure to traumatic reminders
  • Physical reactivity after exposure to traumatic reminders

Criteria C also requires one of the following: 

  • [Avoidance of] trauma-related thoughts or feelings
  • [Avoidance of] trauma-related reminders

Criteria D requires two of the following:

  • Inability to recall key features of the trauma
  • Overly negative thoughts and assumptions about oneself or the world
  • Exaggerated blame of self or others for causing the trauma
  • Negative affect
  • Decreased interest in activities
  • Feeling isolated
  • Difficulty experiencing positive affect

Criteria E also requires two of the following:

  • Irritability or aggression
  • Risky or destructive behavior
  • Hypervigilance
  • Heightened startle reaction
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping

Criteria F requires that “symptoms last for more than 1 month.” Criteria G requires that “symptoms create distress or functional impairment,” and Criteria H requires that “symptoms are not due to medication, substance abuse, or other illness.” 


Subaru handily meets criteria A. He has directly experienced his own death on multiple occasions through explosions, stabbings, being literally frozen to death, and more. He has also witnessed the torture and death of loved ones. Criteria B is also met. While he does purposefully draw on his memories so that he won’t die in the current timeline, even afterwards his mind is filled with invasive recollection through flashbacks and nightmares where he sees others’ death unfold again. 

Honestly, this video alone is evidence of all Criteria…

Criteria C is met when Subaru meets his assailant from a previous life. He visibly recoils and on one occasion he even hides under his bed sheets out of fear. Criteria D is fulfilled by an opinion he forms about himself. He believes that he is weak, not able to protect those he cares about. Conversely, he drags those around him down and suspects his idiocy plays a role in their death. Gradually, he also shuts away from the world and those around him. Subaru also feels mentally isolated because he is physically unable to tell people about his past lives due to a curse.

Criteria E is met when Subaru urges Emilia, another main character and love interest, to stay in the lord’s house. He shouts at her, worried that she’ll die once again if she leaves. Subaru is also met by sleepless nights where he stares at the ceiling for hours, reacting to every noise he hears. Criteria F is met since this continues throughout the series which takes place over the minimum span of a year. Criteria G is met, evidenced by the fact that he is frequently distressed and is unable to even move or think logically at times, frozen and shaking. Criteria H is met given that he doesn’t take any medicine, drugs, nor does he claim to have suffered from any previous mental illness. 

The portrayal of PTSD in Re:Zero is surprisingly realistic. For what it is, an anime targeted towards young adolescent Japanese males, nothing was particularly egregious. Attempts to run away from problems and to shut yourself off from the world are perfectly reasonable. In real life, near-death experiences are reason enough for PTSD. To experience death and suffering repeatedly is no doubt cause for it as well. In fact, it could be argued that the portrayal of symptoms should be more exaggerated given that what Subaru suffered wasn’t realistic in and of itself. Rather, it was much worse than what any person would and could ever go through. After all, Subaru can feasibly experience the traumatic event again unlike in real life.

Note that Subaru does come to use this power of returning to the past purposefully. At times, when faced with a problem that can’t be overcome, he willingly dies so that he can stop it from occurring. This marks it as different from a phobia since he isn’t scared of death per se. He’s scared of repeating the suffering he has witnessed and suffered through already. 

Despite this praise of the portrayal of symptoms, there’s a glaring lack of treatment. This isn’t a critique of the material in the truest sense because treatment in a fantasy world where murder is a daily occurrence is unreasonable. There are no therapists for him to go through and, due to the aforementioned curse, the efficacy of treatment would be dubious at best. He never does recover from his PTSD, the fact perhaps adding to the realism. 

PTSD is a commonly seen disorder in all types of media. While the US in particular did have a surge of it in its media due to news coverage of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars (Armstrong, 2009), writers around the world have used it as a way to add depth to their stories. Even if the setting is that of a fantasy world, such as in Re:Zero, the portrayal of PTSD establishes the tone as a grounded plot. While the world may be different, the emotional hardship is the same, allowing viewers to empathize with Subaru; PTSD serving as the bridge between reality and fiction. In a way, it also subverts viewer expectations, using a cartoon as a vehicle for a dark narrative. 

References

ADAA. (n.d.) PTSD Symptoms in Children Age Six and Younger. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/children/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/symptoms

APA. (n.d.). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: How CBT Can Help with PTSD. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/cognitive-behavioral-therapy

APA (2017). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Retrieved from

Armstrong, T., & Olatunji, B. (2009). PTSD in the media: A critical analysis of the portrayal of controversial issues. The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice: Objective Investigations of Controversial and Unorthodox Claims in Clinical Psychology, Psychiatry, and Social Work, 7(1), 55–60. http://search.ebscohost.com.ez.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2010-06600-005&site=ehost-live.

Flannery, R. B., Jr. (2015). Treating psychological trauma in first responders: A multi-modal paradigm. Psychiatric Quarterly, 86(2), 261–267. https://doi-org.ez.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/10.1007/s11126-014-9329-z

Green, J. D., Black, S. K., Marx, B. P., & Keane, T. M. (2017). Behavioral, cognitive, biological, and neurocognitive conceptualizations of posttraumatic stress disorder. In S. N. Gold (Ed.), APA handbook of trauma psychology: Foundations in knowledge., Vol. 1. (pp. 407–428). American Psychological Association. https://doi-org.ez.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/10.1037/0000019-021

Petrie, K., Milligan-Saville, J., Gayed, A., Deady, M., Phelps, A., Dell, L., Forbes, D., Bryant, R. A., Calvo, R. A., Glozier, N., & Harvey, S. B. (2018). Prevalence of PTSD and common mental disorders amongst ambulance personnel: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology: The International Journal for Research in Social and Genetic Epidemiology and Mental Health Services, 53(9), 897–909. https://doi-org.ez.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/10.1007/s00127-018-1539-5

Psychiatry (n.d.). What Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd

Richardson, L., Frueh, B., & Acierno, R. (2010). Prevalence Estimates of Combat-Related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Critical Review. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 44(1), 4-19.

Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). History of PTSD in Veterans: Civil War to DSM-5. Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/what/history_ptsd.asp

Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). PTSD and DSM-5: DSM-5 Criteria for PTSD. Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/essentials/dsm5_ptsd.asp

Hololive English And A Potential Culture Clash

Header Image drawn by the very Ninomae Ina’nis herself!

Fairly recently, a new branch of Hololive, a Vtuber agency, has debuted. Its name is Hololive English (commonly shortened to Hololive EN). The branch consists of 5 members who, as you might expect, are all able to speak English fluently. Some even have an additional language under their sleeve with German and Korean. Although, that isn’t to discount those who speak Shark, Bird, or other such, shall we say, unorthodox languages. 

They themselves aren’t the subject of this article though. Instead, I want to focus more on the community around them and how they could affect the rest of Hololive as a whole. Think of this as a sequel to The Soul of An Online Community. The relevant portion you need to know is where I talked about the transition from past to modern (online) idol culture. Today, I’ll be talking more about culture and in particular culture clash. In this case though, it isn’t what you might expect. 

When you read “culture clash,” you might have made a reasonable assumption that this was about Japanese vs western culture. I thought about that for a while but concluded that wasn’t the case. Instead, the clash I refer to is: 

Contemporary Streaming Culture (CSS) vs Virtual Idol Streaming Culture (VICS)

Before we continue, let me clarify these terms. The former refers to the contemporary Twitch or YouTube livestreams. You can see how this isn’t region specific as there are a number of streamers from a variety of countries. Universally, the attitude of Chat as a collective entity of viewers is, more or less, uniform. That attitude being: casual and “memey.” There will be several off-topic comments, intentionally provocative messages, and repeated jokes amidst the neverending flow of chat. That’s just how it is, especially since CSS is so huge. You’re bound to have a few bad apples. 

VICS is very similar. *The chat has a casual atmosphere too, but I’d posit there are a handful more rules than CSS. The following is taken from Watson Amellia’s description:

To help everyone enjoy the stream more, please follow these rules:

  1. Be nice to other viewers. Don’t spam or troll 
  2. If you see spam or trolling, don’t respond. Just block, report, and ignore those  comments.
  3. Talk about the stream, but please don’t bring up unrelated topics or have personal conversations.
  4. Don’t bring up other streamers or streams unless I mention them.
  5. Similarly, don’t talk about me or my stream in other streamers’ chat.
  6. Please refrain from chatting before the stream starts to prevent any issues

As long as you follow the rules above, you can chat in any language

4-6 in particular are what I find the most unique to VICS. 3 might be considered unique in the fact that it’s explicitly stated, but I find that it’s an unwritten rule in CSS. Although, under that umbrella does fall personal conversation, including replies to other users. 4 would logically seem to be an unwritten rule as well, but I don’t find that to be evident. The mention of other streamers in CSS isn’t usually reprimanded at the very least. 5 is a continuation of 4 and so we can move on to 6: a rule that is undoubtedly unique to VICS. Many people who watch and are a part of VICS don’t even know the rule and that it’s applicable to many Virtual Idol Streams, even outside of Hololive. 

*Different people will have different rules and the extent to which they enforce them is a personal choice. Expect variance.

**Please note that VICS refers only to Virtual Idols in particular, not the umbrella term of Vtubers.

These are all written rules though. Culture clash doesn’t just entail that people don’t read rules: it’s a matter of differential values. This is why I don’t refer to Mori Calliope’s recent Superchat debacle as an example of the possible oncoming culture clash. To summarize what happened with her, individuals who donated had their names read aloud at the end of the livestream. Trouble came in the form of purposefully sensitive names. Now, an intermission between the end of the stream and the reading of superchats occurs to screen what’s read. 

Surprisingly, as unfortunate as that is, I’m not that concerned. Fellow Hololive member, Subaru, has a very funny clip from an older stream where her chat did similar things but with in-game names. Granted, the names in Cali’s cases may have been more off-limits, but unless the wider media preys on those moments, I believe she’ll be safe even if she accidentally does say something bad. Similar to a “Gotcha!” moment more than anything.

No, a closer example to what I think of when I say culture clash is what happened with Amelia’s stream. In CSS, a channel who is currently live can officially raid another livestream. This entails the sending of viewers from one channel to another. It’s not bad in and of itself and there does exist precedent in the recent VICS past. The bad part is the loss in ability to manage your chat once that raid happens. If you’re the raider, you can only communicate through chat which is being flooded. If you’re the raided, there’s a strong chance these new viewers aren’t aware of your rules and customs and from there chaos ensues for a short while. 

Don’t interpret this as a slight towards Amelia. In fact, how she gently reprimanded her chat afterwards was perfect. It wasn’t a scolding, it was a reminder, and that’s exactly what should be done. So long as they can talk with their chat and correct them, the risk of culture clash is greatly minimized. 


I noted CSS before to be “memey.” In Hololive EN, this is okay since it’s expected to a certain extent as well. Furthermore, it can be mitigated quickly and fairly easily, but ONLY within Hololive EN. Once EN’s chat begins to drip into Japanese, Indonesia, or Chinese, streams, it’s very difficult to calm down because of the language barrier. Some will get by with their English and assuage an excess of meme comments while others will have to wait for a fan-translator to convey their feelings. Or, in the worst case, their thoughts will never rise to light if they’re not popular and don’t have viewers who are able to translate. 

The worst case is only a hypothetical and a very exaggerated one at that. Memes create popularity and will drive translations so it’s far-fetched and I acknowledge that. Still, it’s not impossible, especially given the fact that memes don’t need to be streamer specific. Recall Ars Almal, the first Virtual Idol I ever watched. A meme took root in which viewers called her Big Face in reference to her model. From then on, the meme of Big Face can be applied to any other Virtual Idol model that has a Big Face. 

Let’s carry on with that example to see how a language barrier can be so damning. Even if they’re able to assuage it in one instance, that doesn’t stop the meme from spreading. More and more viewers will come and send memes and the Idol would have to address it ad infinitum. This is expounded by how viewers who can’t comment in Japanese [or whichever language the stream is in] will fall back on well-known memes in order to be part of the community or just plain get attention. The Idol, if they don’t have a strong understanding of English, will only be able to read English comments like Big Face which will become extremely old and annoying fast. 


Another obvious difference is in the divulgence of a Virtual Idol’s identity. I’m not talking about doxxing personal information, but revealing past occupations. I’ve noticed some people think it’s not a big deal when information is circulated. Even information that’s more- recent… I won’t say much more on the matter than that, when looking at the past, it’s best if secrets are kept that way, even if they’re public secrets. Unless a person divulges that information themselves and explicitly gives the okay, it’s best to keep quiet. Otherwise, I feel uncomfortable even writing about it. No examples here.

It’s a safe video. Don’t worry.

There’s something to be said about Hololive EN’s portrayal as idols. I’m not entirely sure what they are yet if I’m being honest. Are they idols or are they Vtubers without the idol connotation? It’s best to put that question on the backburner and let them decide. Perhaps the old concept of idols has been left behind and a new one has been embraced in full. Should that be the case, the gap between CSS and VICS will be smaller. We shall see. 


My last reservation shouldn’t be taken as seriously as the rest. Or, perhaps that isn’t the correct wording… Let me say it as simply as possible then. Best not to overcomplicate it:

I’m afraid of VICS branching out too far; of becoming too popular.

I’m afraid of VICS reaching people who don’t like anime.

These, more than anything I’ve said, are opinions. My opinions. I think that VICS is an easy target for people who don’t like anime to prey on and I’m afraid that getting too popular will lead to a toxic environment. At the same time, it’s a selfish fear because I don’t want chat to be overly crowded. I love that viewer interaction and with current viewership, it’s already hard to maintain. I need to get over that though and trust the Virtual Idols I love can maintain a community despite everything. 


Should anything else interesting arise, I’ll be sure to write about it. It’s not everyday you witness an apparently global phenomenon arise and be able to write about culture clash and shock. Otherwise, I’ll keep uploading translations of Sister’s Claire’s videos for the foreseeable future. That’s all from me!


Last edit before releasing. Please Read: There is a lot of drama right now in the Hololive Community. I refer you to Hololive’s official statement about Akai Haato and Kiryu Coco. I will also point out they released an additional statement exclusive to their CN audience whose bullet points can be found here: Reddit. I have nothing to add to this. I can only express how unfortunate it feels, and how my despair is negligible compared to the individuals who are receiving such an excess of hatred and malice. Even more drama comes in the forms of more copyright issues, of which no one in Hololive will likely escape. Please, as I have said many times before, keep supporting who you watch. Be there when they come back.

:^( from Hololive

What Even Is まいにち動画+?

I started releasing daily articles that consisted of a Japanese transcript and an  English translation of [まいにち動画+], read as [Mainichi Douga+], and translated to [Daily Video+], but what even is it in the first place? I only discovered it on the 9th or 10th of this month and I’m here to try and explain it to you. Is that a good idea? Probably not, but the idea is simple enough that I’ll give it a try. Maybe in the process, it’ll even persuade you to watch them. 

As you can tell, Daily Video+ is a daily series by someone named Sister Claire. She is a Vtuber in Nijisanji, an agency with a damn lot of Vtubers. The goal of Daily Video+ is to start your day on the right foot and serve as encouragement throughout it. The videos premiere at 7 AM in Japan to cement that fact. In addition to encouragement, Claire also teaches Japanese Sign Language (JSL), covering different topics each week. 

The latter part, her teaching JSL, is probably why I started wanting to translate it in the first place. As you may or may not know, sign language isn’t universal. Actually, it’s region specific.  It doesn’t matter if regions speak the same language either. Sign language is a completely separate language in and of itself. In the United States, there’s American Sign Language (ASL), but in Britain there’s British Sign Language (BSL). It seems like such an obvious thing to know, but I went such a long time without even thinking about it. That’s why her showing even a small amount of awareness of those who are hearing impaired or completely deaf is so endearing to me.

Whether you’re a fan of Vtubers or not, I recommend tuning in to her streams or watching her archives on occasion. The atmosphere is usually very calming and can be used to fall asleep to. For example, a recent collaboration she did was with another Vtuber named Eli Conifer. Before the stream, they gave each other tea recommendations with the intent to try it live. Claire also tweets pictures of cute pastries and other sweets which is great to look at. I also adore her singing, especially her original song Dogma and cover of Tracing Pulse. Videos embedded below.

The Soul of An Online Community ft. Vtubers

Header image by Nishilim!

In Sword Art Online, there was an arc called Mother’s Rosario. It told the story of a girl named Yuuki. Her life was a struggle from beginning to end, filled with sickness and bullying. Eventually, even her presence in the physical world began to flicker out. The only thing that kept her anchored was an experimental Medicuboid: a device created to treat terminally ill patients as well as provide them with virtual reality technology, a doorway to a world of games where they could frolick to their heart’s content.

When the time came for her to pass on, her death could only be described as beautiful. Through Alfheim Online (ALO), the final game she played, she made a permanent mark in two ways: (1) in the literal sense by defeating a Floor Boss and having her name engraved into the Monument of Swordsmen and (2) by inspiring the ALO community with her strength. In her last moments, all the players gathered around Yuuki and knelt down in admiration and prayer. This scene alone evokes such a potent image, but the reason it has stuck with me is because of how surprisingly grounded it is.

The unification of players under the pretense of send-offs and respectful mourning sounds magnificent, but you can’t help but think this is something that only happens in fiction. I’m happy to say it’s not. The first time I learned of a large-scale event was in late 2014 where the Final Fantasy XIV community gathered together to host a vigil for the late player Codex Vahlda. For the full story, please read Mike Fahey’s write-up on Kotaku. It’s a great read and a testament to how strong human empathy can be, linked loosely only by a mutual game.

I doubt this was the first player-held event in memory of someone, but I know for sure it wasn’t the last. In early April of this year, in the same game as before: Final Fantasy XIV, a funeral was held for the late player Ferne Le’roy. She had passed away due to COVID-19. Friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers came together to grieve and support one another online. I’ll leave two videos here and I encourage you to look at the comments on both. Some are from players who had interacted with her previously, giving their account of how kind she was. This Inverse article, written by Danny Paez, contains the full story of how players coordinated the funeral and I push you to go there as this small blurb hardly portrays it properly. 

I bring these examples up because it shows how tight knit a community can be. Even in the face of tragedy, or perhaps due to tragedy, people band together. Before I move on to my next point though, I need to make sure you’re aware of something. In all three examples, SAO and both FFXIV stories, what transpired to cause the death of the individuals was, in some part, unavoidable. It was a matter of sickness for two, and a medical improbability for another. In the subsequent topic I’ll bring up, what brings despair isn’t inevitable. 

I’ll praise what I believe deserves to be praised. At the same time, I’ll critique what I believe deserves to be critiqued. 

Let’s continue with the good and save the bad for a bit later in the article. On August 31, a Vtuber by the name of Mano Aloe graduated. In the context of idols, graduation is synonymous with retirement and is usually by choice as the person behind the avatar then goes on to work elsewhere. [For example, a common occupation taken up is voice acting.] 

A lot of fans showed their respect through an outpour of artwork and kind messages. However, after a graduation, all control of social accounts return to the Vtuber’s company (if applicable). Therefore, sent artwork may not get to her if only, say, tweeted at her. That’s why the community went a step forward. Kind souls over at https://manotomo.tk/ and https://manoaloe.jetri.co/#/ compiled all work in commemoration of her. Additionally, they collected any messages fans had and displayed that as well. They’re fantastic sites which encourage her return, even if not using the same avatar.

Now, you might have connected the dots already. Mano Aloe’s retirement was not by choice. She was pushed to the edge and made to jump. Through a series of rumors and a simple mistake, those who wished ill against her got their wish. Aloe debuted on August 15 of this year. A short 2 days later, on August 17, she received a two week suspension by her company for forgetting to privatize or delete a 2D model test stream. That made the day she was scheduled to come back August 31- the day she retired. 

There’s an argument to be had whether this was a matter of community. I think it was, at least in part. A crucial detail is her early suspension. This suspension doesn’t only entail a no-streaming policy, but a ban on viewing one’s social platforms. Usually, I would say it’s healthier for a person to be away from social media, especially when facing harassment as she was, but it might have had the opposite effect here. Given a brief 2-day window for interaction, her image of the Vtuber community wasn’t a pleasant one. Coupled with the fact that she was doxxed and actively getting phone calls, the two week suspension’s effect was essentially cutting off any positivity that was sent her way. The following video was her apology for leaving the test stream up, uploaded the day before her suspension.

Many people blamed COVER Corporation for their lack of response to this. It’s not the first time they’ve received flack either. Another Vtuber under them, Yozora Mel, was faced with a stalker and COVER’s actions in response were slow to say the least. See Hero Hei’s videos here for that story: 

I do believe this critique of COVER is justified. That’s why I’m very happy to see that they’ve released a way for the community to help them combat these harassers. Key to this though is indeed community. I discussed this previously in my first article about Vtubers, but old idol culture was incredibly toxic and not lenient. It would be unfair to call the current harassers vestiges of that age. Instead, I believe they use the guise of undertaking this old mindset to further undermine the image of the modern community. 

They were able to do this because of the heavy association the modern community still has with idol culture. It isn’t my place to say they should move away from the association. In fact, many of the Vtubers do see themselves as idols. Some were even people who applied for such positions in the past but were rejected. Therefore, it would be wrong to retroactively change them. What I believe should happen is a distinguishment of new idol/Vtuber fans from the old to cement the fact that holding idols to perfection is passe. 

The soul of the Vtuber community is so incredibly bright. That’s why contrast is so visible to me. Please, treat Vtubers as people. Whatever you say, good or bad, will affect them. Thank you for reading. Never forget Mano Aloe. 

Let’s Solve Loot Boxes

Let’s not beat around the bush. Loot boxes can be fun to open, but there’s no question about their harm. Join me today in my discussion about loot boxes, gacha games, and the dangers of such predatory monetization schemes becoming a normalcy in gaming culture.

What are loot boxes and gachas?

A loot box is a digital item within a game that functions similarly to a lottery. Loot boxes themselves are free to obtain; however, a key must be bought to play the lottery. The result is usually a cosmetic item or effect of varying rarity. Once a loot box is used, another one must be obtained to play the lottery again. 

A gacha system is quite similar but circumvents having to obtain loot boxes. Players instead pay real money to play the lottery through what’s called a banner. Banners are time-limited lotteries that can be spun infinitely until the end date. Once again, the results are of varying rarity. 

Describing them using the word lottery may already tip you off as to the underlying problem, but before we discuss that, let me quickly cover an alternate result of loot boxes and gacha systems: gameplay benefits. 

This doesn’t require much discussion and the gaming community has coined the term pay-to-win (P2W) to describe games with such systems. These games are collectively looked down upon since players who don’t spend money are clearly at a disadvantage. Why play if the deciding factor between a win and a loss is the amount of money spent and not raw skill? We need only look at EA’s recent Star Wars Battlefront II for an example of community outrage. To talk more about them is to beat a dead horse and the least of the worries when it comes to loot boxes. As it turns out, there’s something far more dangerous than gameplay benefits that we haven’t caught on to yet. We’ve all seen it. We all know what it is, but whether we want to admit it or not is a different story. What else would it be but loot boxes themselves, whose fundamental design is dangerous. 

Given that loot boxes and gacha games are based entirely on chance, the possibility of developing a gambling addiction has been posed since their implementation in games. For a long time though, there was no support for that argument. All evidence was strictly anecdotal and the gaming community wasn’t going to accept what they viewed as unfounded criticism. Keep in mind that loot boxes were made popular in western regions around 2010 with Team Fortress 2’s loot crates and FIFA’s card packs. By this time, video games in general had already come under fire from people who believed it promoted violent behavior, a claim which, at the time, was unfounded. Nevertheless, those claims still affected the video game industry in a substantial way. While not mandated by the U.S. government, games like Manhunt (2003) and Grand Theft Auto IV (2008) were forced to censor themselves at the behest of the media. It’s because of this unsubstantiated call for censorship that the gaming community has an increased resistance to any outsiders that seek to tamper with the status quo. That said, loot boxes are different. A decade has passed and research has been done. It’s time to face reality. 

Is there a correlation between loot boxes and gambling? Yes, based on a number of surveys, there very well does seem to be and it shouldn’t be taken lightly (Zendle, 2019; Brooks 2019). Zendle and Cairns find that the correlation is stronger than the correlation between gambling and depression. Moreover, they state it’s comparable to the relationship between alcohol dependence and gambling (2019). This isn’t just the case of a nonzero number being presented as a correlation, it’s significant. To be fair, Zendle and Cairns do admit that it’s still unknown whether loot boxes cause problem gambling or those that are problem gamblers use loot boxes as an outlet for their disease. Yet, in the case of either answer, the data found is exceedingly relevant when we come to the big question being posed: Are loot boxes a form of gambling? 

In 2012, Japan, where the gacha term originates from, banned particular types of gachas. 

In 2016, China mandated the probability of item acquisition from loot boxes and gacha to be public. They even went so far as to demand increased rates of winning and limited the amount of loot boxes a player could buy within a day. 

In 2019, Belgium opted to have loot boxes removed from video games entirely. 

All three countries found that these monetizations schemes in games were nearly equivalent to gambling if not considering them gambling outright. While currently they’re in the minority, many other countries have expressed concerns about loot boxes. A lynchpin in the argument is that rewards from loot boxes don’t represent anything of monetary value and thus aren’t legally a form of gambling. That line of thinking in itself is problematic since research has found, even in the absence of a reward entirely, the brain still emits a reward response. What matters is the perception of winning. This indicates that there doesn’t have to be a reward, let alone one that has monetary value, for gambling to have its addictive effect (Fielding, 2017). 

Although, even if you do ignore that, there is a legally grey area: the Steam Marketplace. It’s a digital store where items from loot boxes can be traded and sold. The caveat is that the money gained from selling items can only be used in the Steam Store and shouldn’t be able to be extracted. Is this small detail all that prevents loot boxes from being constituted as gambling? More importantly, does it matter?

If we’re able to legally identify loot boxes as a form of gambling, we’re able to regulate them. That’s the logic most people are using. Unfortunately, as explained previously, the monetary value of loot box results is ambiguous. Therefore, why not tackle this solution from a different path: Self-regulation. This isn’t a stretch by any means. The video game industry is already self-regulated by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) so what could prevent this path from being viable?

Firstly, this shortcut to solve a problem is only possible if the community agrees on the need to regulate. Secondly, the body designated to regulate must be recognized as an appropriate authority with the necessary power to enforce their regulations. The ESA is already in place to regulate video games which clears the second objective. All that remains is the first. Does the community agree on the need to regulate? No. 

“Loot boxes don’t hurt me. I don’t have a gambling disorder. I don’t even think gambling should be regulated, so why should loot boxes be? Besides, if the government thinks it’s so dangerous, let them regulate it.” 

That’s a valid argument. If it doesn’t affect you, why should you care? Why shouldn’t we let the government regulate it? My response: it does affect you, a lot more than you know. If we let the government regulate it, even more so.

I said before that loot boxes became popular in western regions around 2010. In the short timespan since then, they’ve affected game development drastically. Most AAA publishers have embraced the loot box system because they generate an exorbitant amount of money. This has had the side effect of reducing the production of AAA single-player games overall. From a publisher’s perspective, there’s little reason to make a single-player game (Nelva, 2017). They believe it’s a financial misstep and there’s truth to that. 

A single-player game is bought once and that’s the end of the story. There’s no online component and the game’s effective lifespan is however long players take to complete it. A multiplayer game is much different. You pay for the game, the online pass if you’re on consoles, and the keys to open loot boxes. The longevity is also increased since there’s literally no end to the game. You simply play matches over and over because of the reward response of winning. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. There should be multiplayer titles, they’re obviously enjoyed. In fact, they’ve been an integral part of games since Quake (1996), whose online component is said to have sparked the first esports event. The problem lies in design goals and monetization transparency when it comes to loot boxes. 

Iterations of Quake are still being played.

Loot boxes represent a continuous stream of money that will continue to flow as long as a game maintains its player base. This intention to create a long lasting game has shifted the design goals of multiplayer games. Rather than create a product that encourages drop-in and drop-out multiplayer, studios instead focus on how to keep players playing. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem; however, Epic Games and EA revealed in a hearing with U.K. Parliament that they don’t hire psychologists to assess whether their game design will cause harmful levels of engagement. This includes loot boxes and matchmaking.

Do some companies hire psychologists to assess this? Yes. Valve, creators of the aforementioned Team Fortress 2 and Counter Strike: Global Offensive, do hire psychologists (Valve, n.d.). That should be the industry standard, but it isn’t. In fact, there’s no industry standard, despite what people might think. The rates of getting a high rarity item in a loot box vary from game to game. Moreover, the only reason players are able to know those rates is predominantly because of the Chinese government mandating it be public in their country. If China didn’t mandate that, players would be gambling blindly. There would be no transparency between the player and the creators. 

Of course, loot boxes are a valid form of monetization. I don’t deny that. What I do disagree with is developer David Jaffe’s argument that the items within loot boxes are art and therefore the regulation of loot boxes is censorship of art. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The items within loot boxes can be defined as art, but the regulation of loot boxes isn’t the censorship of that. His argument is based on the assumption that if loot boxes are banned, the items won’t be seen. This is incorrect as can be evidenced by how the industry provided cosmetics prior to the popularity of loot boxes: microtransactions. The player would pay a fee, usually no more than $0.99, and their account would own that cosmetic. When microtransactions became popular, there was massive backlash for hiding content behind a paywall. Loot boxes are more of the same and even worse. There’s no guarantee to get the item you want, no guarantee to get your favorite piece of art. 

This argument also highlights the lack of transparency from studios that defend loot boxes as more than a monetization scheme. We need to recognize that loot boxes are a way for companies to make money. It’s not an implementation made to increase the quality of life. I can’t put it in better words than what a member of the U.K. Parliament said in 2019,

“There’s nothing wrong with being a commercial entity, but let’s not beat around the bush… You can challenge that if you like, but that’s the reality of the situation.” 

This is a great watch. Parliament is actually really competent and there are some great questions they ask.

Despite all that, I do agree with Jaffe that regulation could lead to censorship of art. That is, I believe government regulation could lead to the censorship of video games, which are an artform. 

I mentioned the ESA before and how they regulate the video game industry. The reason they were founded was to avoid government regulation in the first place. It ties back to the claim that video games cause violent behavior in children. Back in 1992, the original Mortal Kombat (MK) game was released. It featured a special mechanic called ‘fatalities.’ These were a special kind of finishing move which caused an excessive amount of gore. They also caused worries about the portrayal of violence in games. This led to Midway Games, developer and publisher of MK, having to defend their product in court against censorship and government regulation. They successfully defended themselves, but the industry knew that unless more was done, attempts to censor future games would continue. Soon after, the ESRB and ESA were created in response. 

Do you see it now? If we don’t self-regulate, soon enough, we’ll be regulated by the government, whether we like it or not. They’ve taken interest in the industry before and it’s only a matter of time before loot boxes are considered gambling. Most gamers already consider them as such (Brooks, 2019). Therefore, whether you think gambling itself should be regulated or not doesn’t matter. When, not if, the government catches on, it’ll be out of our hands. 

If you want to protect video games, either from loot boxes, other predatory monetizations schemes, or the government, keep reading. Here on AniCourses, we always strive to solve the problem. 

Advice and Solutions

To recap, we determined that the ESA exists and would be able to regulate loot boxes. The problem is that the community isn’t in agreement or, if they are, remains silent and doesn’t actively advocate for change. Murmurs on forums and discussion boards have led the ESRB to change their rating system to include random items through in-game purchases as recently as April 13, 2020, but that’s all. That change doesn’t actually affect game development. What should you, as a player, do to help? 

1) Don’t buy loot boxes. The late John Bain, an influential figure in the gaming sphere, put it best when he talked about day one purchases and preorders, “The answer to the adoption of these policies is to keep your wallet firmly shut…” If loot boxes don’t fulfill their purpose of generating money, they’ll be removed.

2) Spark discussion on forums. Start a hashtag on Twitter. Bring to light games that have loot boxes in them and discuss if they benefit players or only the game studio. Make sure to give feedback and critique that is well-mannered. 

I can hear you asking, “Will the developer or publisher actually see this? Do they pay attention to that stuff?” Yes, they do pay attention to their forums and community feedback. They have PR and community managers dedicated to listening, even if they’re silent at times. Individual developers on the development team do so as well. Therefore, if enough people discuss, we necessitate an official response. If they don’t respond? That silence means they aren’t interested in what players think. They don’t care about you and you shouldn’t support them financially. 

Still doubtful? Once again, look at EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II. Complaints made about its loot boxes and an update was released that removed loot boxes entirely (Gilbert, 2018). In that same vein-

3) Praise single-player games that come out. Even EA, who openly expressed their intentions to focus on multiplayer-only titles, were forced to go back on that after the success of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, a single-player title (Grubb, 2019; Grubb 2020). 

Are you a developer or someone who will assist with loot box regulation? Here are some ideas to work off of.

1) The safety of the players is important. As such, if a predatory monetization scheme is used, there must be safeguards in place. There must be a limit on how many loot boxes can be bought and opened within a certain timespan. 

2) Psychologists should assess whether a game will cause harmful levels of engagement, especially if predatory monetizations schemes are used.

3) If a player contacts customer support, we must learn to be lenient. Children will steal their parent’s credit card and use it to buy loot boxes. Can their parents always prove that beyond a reasonable doubt? No.

4) ESRB ratings should reflect the presence of predatory monetization schemes in a greater way. The ESRB does state that parents don’t know what loot boxes actually are and that’s their reason for not mentioning loot boxes by name, but that doesn’t solve the issue. Random items through purchases are still vague. Call it what it is: gambling.

5) The chance of getting an item within a rarity bracket should be disclosed to the ESRB and the public. This assures the rate of winning is reasonable. As for what’s classified as reasonable, I’ll leave the ESRB to determine that. 

Are you a psychologist who wants to do research on video games and how players are affected? 

1) Surveys distributed online through forums such as Reddit or other online avenues are less than ideal. If this is the route you choose, note that your results will be skewed. Surveys on the internet are mostly answered by players who game predominantly on PC and may not accurately represent console players. 

**A note to all players: please take these surveys seriously. Real research is being done using your answers. Your joke responses will have repercussions and could affect how mechanics such as loot boxes are viewed legally. 

2) Reach out to game studios for data. While not all studios hire psychologists, nearly every studio will collect data on players. This isn’t just in the case of multiplayer games. Even studios which produce single-player games do as well (Steam, 2006). 

3) An ideal way to reach console gamers specifically is by reaching out to Sony and Microsoft. The dashboard on consoles, as long as it’s connected to the internet, is capable of displaying surveys. While still too clunky for short responses or essays, multiple choice questions and questions with scaling agreement would work nicely. 

**Game developers may also host your survey on the title page of their game. The efficacy of that is questionable though and will have to be tested. 

4) In many studies, players who are under the legal age limit of gambling are not counted. This is a fatal misstep as many players are under that limit. Moreover, predatory monetizations schemes specifically target that demographic since they’re vulnerable. We must find a way to include these players.  

We’ve reached the end for today, but I encourage you to stay involved in the community. If you see dangerous practices going on, alert others. The gaming industry has expanded several times over in recent decades, but at our core, we’re still family. We look out for each other. 

If you’re still interested in the portrayal of violence in video games over time, I recommend Ahoy’s YouTube video: A Brief History of Gore. Or maybe you’re interested in game design? Check out the video How to Keep Players Engaged by Game Maker’s Toolkit (GMTK). Are you still thinking about community feedback? GMTK also made a video titled: Should Games Designers Listen to Negative Feedback

This concludes our lesson. Thank you for reading on AniCourses. 

References

Ahoy. [Ahoy]. (2014, February 2). A Brief History of Gore [Video]. YouTube.

Bain, John. [@totalbiscuit]. (2016, October 25) The answer to the adoption of these policies is to keep your wallet firmly shut when it comes to preorders and day 1 purchases. [Tweet] Twitter

Brooks, G. A., & Clark, L. (2019). Associations between loot box use, problematic gaming and gambling, and gambling-related cognitions. Addictive Behaviors, 96, 26–34. https://doi-org.ez.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/10.1016/j.addbeh.2019.04.009

Brown, Mark. [Game Maker’s Toolkit]. (2018, April 6). How to Keep Players Engaged (Without Being Evil) | Game Maker’s Toolkit [Video]. Youtube. 

Brown, Mark. [Game Maker’s Toolkit]. (2020, May 7). Should Game Designers Listen to Negative Feedback? [Video]. Youtube. 

ESRB, Introducing a New Interactive Element: In-Game Purchases (Includes Random Items). (2020, April 20). Retrieved from https://www.esrb.org/blog/in-game-purchases-includes-random-items/

Fielding, A., Fu, Y., & Franz, E. A. (2018). The Brain’s Reward Response Occurs Even Without Actual Reward! Journal of Gambling Studies, 34(2), 449–463. https://doi-org.ez.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/10.1007/s10899-017-9721-3

Frank, A. (2017, September 07). Counter-Strike gambling scandal comes to an end with FTC settlement. Retrieved from https://www.polygon.com/2017/9/7/16271520/csgo-lotto-scandal-counter-strike-betting-ftc-endorsement-guidelines

Gilbert, B. (2018, April 17). ‘We got it wrong’: EA exec apologizes for ‘Star Wars’ loot box fiasco, promises to ‘be better’. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/star-wars-battlefront-2-ea-apologizes-for-loot-box-fiasco-2018-4

Grubb, J. (2019, November 2). Electronic Arts: ‘We are doubling-down on live services’. Retrieved from https://venturebeat.com/2019/10/29/electronic-arts-we-are-doubling-down-on-live-services/

Grubb, J. (2020, February 1). Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order made EA realize it can do more than shooters. Retrieved from https://venturebeat.com/2020/01/30/star-wars-jedi-fallen-order-10-million/

Jaffe Scott, David. [@davidscottjaffe]. (2018, November 29) The products that the loot boxes are part of are the art, genius. Not the loot boxes themselves, although I can… [Tweet] Twitter

Nelva, G. (2017, November 28). EA: Closing Visceral Games an “Economic Decision” as Players Don’t Like Linear Games As Much Today. Retrieved from https://www.dualshockers.com/visceral-games-closed-linear-games/

Steam. (2006, July 7). Half-Life 2: Episode One Update Released. Retrieved from http://web.archive.org/web/20080306061112/http://steampowered.com/v/index.php?area=news&id=681

U.K. Parliament. (2019, June 19). Immersive and Addictive Technologies. Retrieved from https://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/0bf5f000-036e-4cee-be8e-c43c4a0879d4

Valve. (n.d.). Psychologist, Research/Experimental. Retrieved from

https://www.valvesoftware.com/en/jobs?job_id=11

Zendle, D., & Cairns, P. (2019). Loot boxes are again linked to problem gambling: Results of a replication study. PLoS ONE, 14(3), 1–13. https://doi-org.ez.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/10.1371/journal.pone.0214167