Worlds And Video Games: The Case of Japan

Author(s): 
Stenson, Edmund

Martin Picard’s talk was, in many respects, influenced by the work of Henry Jenkins. Picard was interested in the particularities of world building from the perspective of fans, those delinquent textual poachers that reshape and reform official narratives.

Picard's focus was on Japan. He began by defining the term Mediamix, a marketing strategy adopted by certain Japanese corporations in the latter half of the twentieth century (Concordia’s Marc Steinberg, of course, has written a book on anime and the media mix) in order to generate profit from a variety of media forms: from an original concept comes different – and often simultaneous - textual manifestations in manga, anime, video games, and merchandise. Next, follows unofficial fan fiction, or Doujinshi, which are sold and distributed to fans (and non-fans, too, no doubt).

Doujinshi – or fan fiction – Picard argued, invoking Jenkins, represents a form of participatory culture, in which the line between production and consumption is becomes increasingly blurred. But does the term participatory culture simply mask a form of affective labour, in which fans work for nothing? Or does it represent a particular form of political intervention? At this point, Picard suggested, the latter was only a dreamed-of possibility, a strained call to the Hardt-Negri inspired multitude that cannot be realized until fan fiction actively politicizes itself. The question I raise here is: how might we see the apolitical nature of fan fiction as perhaps the most political gesture of all? In refusing the terms of the argument, might fans be providing works of greater political use?

Picard also spoke of boundaries, from the layout of the Comiket convention - a space in which both corporations and fans sell goods related to an original story concept, though crucially in separate areas - to the transgression of fictional boundaries in the sexualization of “family”-oriented characters like Princess Peach from the Super Mario Brothers series. Most Daijinshi, Picard suggested, are “heretical”: they exist as separate stories within the same world. I would like to counter this assertion. How can we argue that two texts exist in the same story world? Surely, logical consistency in representation is a key factor here, and seems particularly relevant when discussing the sexualization of characters previously represented as, or at least argued to be, asexual. If characters exhibit traits that seem, from a rational perspective, to be logically inconsistent with their official representation, how can we argue that they inhabit the same world? Does one world not suggest a fixed representation of character? Or, in subscribing to this line of thought, does my argument run the risk of refusing both the unconscious - individual and collective - our fundamentally inconsistent nature, and the ultimately fictional nature of character? In the case of Princess Peach: the character forms a crucial part of a heteronormative narrative in which two men rescue a woman from the clutches of a monster. Is her sexualization simply an extension of the more polite video-game series, or does it represent a radical break? (I guess we'd have to know how she was sexualized to know the answer to that)

It's here that we begin to come up against the "limits" of representation: how much can we rationally discern about an individual and the world they inhabit from the fragments we are provided with? Do we first need to dismantle the apparatus that valorizes, before else, the official text? Is this necessary at all?

Lastly, Picard emphasised how fraught the relationship between corporations and Doujinsha had become in Japan: there have been numerous lawsuits, and in one case, a Doujinsha was placed in jail over breach of copyright. One lawyer, Picard remarked, explained that perhaps the only reason there were not more cases like this was because of the sheer number of fans producing unofficial fiction. With such a proliferation of stories - and perhaps even worlds – are we seeing the emergence of a Japanese multitude?

Comments

Great post here Ed. I particularly like the two series of questions you ask:
1) HOW MIGHT WE SEE THE APOLITICAL NATURE OF FAN FICTION AS PERHAPS THE MOST POLITICAL GESTURE OF ALL? IN REFUSING THE TERMS OF THE ARGUMENT, MIGHT FANS BE PROVIDING WORKS OF GREATER POLITICAL USE?
This refusal of the terms of politics can indeed be seen as a politics in itself. And it's also a politics of world expansion as you point out in your other line of questioning:
2) HOW CAN WE ARGUE THAT TWO TEXTS EXIST IN THE SAME STORY WORLD?
Or put differently: at what point are we no longer in the same "world" - especially if the fundamental parameters of the world have been profoundly altered. Dojinshi works pose the question of worlds, their transgression and their transformation in fascinating ways.

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