Hirokazu Yasuhara has been lucky enough to work in both the Japanese game industry and the Western game industry. In Japan, he was the third member of the first Team Sonic and fleshed out the level design for the early Sonic titles. In the West, he clocked time at Naughty Dog, working on the Jak series. Now, he's currently senior design director at Namco Bandai Games America. In an interview with game site Gamasutra, Yasuhara talks his level design philosophy (fascinating stuff) and offers insights like:
You see some cultural differences come to the surface with this, too. For example, a lot of Japanese people attain a feeling of security via creation, or making themselves look nice, or saving money. Not that Americans or Europeans aren't like that, but Americans may be more likely to take a more "destructive" process toward feeling safe.
I think a lot of that is because the things that you "fear" can be very different between nations — not real, palpable fear, but more the lack of feeling at ease with yourself.
Something you don't like very much; something that stresses you out — another word for "stress", really. And since sources of stress can be different between Americans and Japanese, it follows that the methods both populations take to relax would be different, too.
Obviously we're painting with very broad brush strokes here, but I do believe there is a hint of truth in what he says. (Keyword: "Hint".) Do check out the full interview. It's great.
Game Design Psychology [Gamasutra via Dtoid]