The semester break is ending and, with it, the winter session of our new game studies class comes to a close. We are very thankful to everyone attending our Japan’s Digital Cultures seminar. Both avid gamers and curious newcomers participated in what was a very stimulating project that will continue in the summer semester starting this April.

But, before we go back to class in a couple of week, with an opening session given by our colleague Yoshida Hiroshi from Kyoto’s Ritsumeikan University, let’s look back at the end of the first part of this seminar. These last few months were leading to the final papers with the notable exception of one day in January when, braving the cold German winter, we moved North to Berlin and sought refuge in the warm offices of the USK and of the Computerspiele Museum.

While the Computer Games Museum’s name is self-explanatory, the USK might be a bit more puzzling acronym. It stands for Unterhaltungssoftware SelbstKontrolle, or Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body, an organization which is responsible for age classification of video- and computer games (digital games in anyway, like app-, browser- and/or mobile games, too). European players might already be familiar with their big diamond shaped logo printed on video game boxes right next to the PEGI’s nearly pan-European age ratings. Germany is indeed very serious about youth protection and applies its own classification onto video games (for more information about the games and youth protection in Germany, we recommend reading this article by Robert Aust, Michael Nitsche and Johannes Pelka).

Here, we discussed with genuine video game enthusiasts that play through upcoming titles, then present them to a panel of experts youth protections that will decide on the game’s age recommendation. Students were very interested by this process and what is valued by that specific classification system, engaging in a very critical exchange about depiction of violence, sexual content and the representation of nazi imagery in interactive media. We also had a very productive discussion about the age rating of controversial games from Japan, which, once again, highlighted the different perceptions and cultural backgrounds of the seminar participants.

Then, we headed to the Video Game Museum and its display of old and weird machines, ranging from early experiments of playful interaction with a computer to current virtual reality technologies, not forgetting curious art games, a couple choose-your-own-adventure books and a variety of other pen and paper playful pastimes. The more daring members of our group tested the infamous PainStation, and some of them came back home with some red marks on their hands.

And now, as we are wrapping up and preparing for the second part of this teaching project, we want to congratulate some of our students for writing and publishing their first academic articles in this seminar! As part of the Working Papers in Game Studies section of our online open journal ReVisions, they are currently fine-tuning their final papers based on feedback from the group and other journal readers. Please check out their papers and feel free to comment! As we hope you will agree, the students have produced very interesting and focused pieces on wildly different aspects of Japanese video game culture.

In Gotta Catch ‘Em All: How Pokémon Go Broke the Barrier for Augmented Reality, Christine Holmes and Katlin Hiller analyze the intensive coverage of the Pokémon Go smartphone game in the New York Times around its initial release. David Neri shares Reflections from the Computer Screen : An Examination of Western Romance/Horror Hybrid Visual Novels commentary on traditional Eastern VN Romance Tropes, tackling the reception and reappropriation of Japanese novel games cliché’s by the American creators of Doki Doki Literature Club and The Way We All Go. Franziska Siewert delves into the Japanese dating simulators aimed at women: in Video Games and Gender: The Depiction of Women in “Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side: 1st love”, she asks about what kind of femininity they both represent and expect from the player.

Through this seminar and the journal’s working papers, our students practically experienced game studies and academic publishing. Whether they chose to pursue a career in research or in another field, we hope that this seminar helped them develop their ideas and give them an outlet to express them. The next semester will also be geared towards that goal, and we will update you about that soon!