A few months ago, Chris Plante had a thought provoking suggestion for the gaming industry: what we need is more global games. I thought it was an interesting position, and one that I more or less agree with — but the problem isn't simply lack of 'global' games. On the whole, mainstream gaming press is seriously cut off from anything outside the typical mainstream purview. It would probably do all of us some good if we started looking seriously at game development and industry news coming from elsewhere.
As a person in an East Asian centered field, I'm constantly baffled by the deafening silence from most of the Western gaming press when it comes to East Asia (or Asia in general) outside of Japan - and we can just forget other, younger markets. Don't get me wrong, I realise most of my colleagues don't spend their lives neck deep in, well, non-Japanese Asiatic goodness (thank god for that), and we tend to target our news at what the readership is looking for (which is frequently 'news that effects you!', whatever that happens to be). Still, with all our high-minded talk of 'improving gaming journalism,' shouldn't one of the key points of that be looking outside our comfort zone and outside 'mainstream' topics? And I don't just mean brief looks that poke fun at weirder aspects of foreign gaming culture. Yes, the 'Vii' is pretty funny - but there's more to China than cheap knockoffs, I promise.
While the response to many China or Korea-related articles here is a shrill chorus about crappy games, intellectual property rights, and/or evil nasty gold farmers, it's shortsighted to dismiss many of the industry-related developments abroad. You may not care now — and many people may not ever care — but it doesn't take a genius to see that the East Asian market is of increasing importance, and East Asian companies are increasingly moving into Western markets. You may not be playing whatever latest free to play import has hit the American market, but plenty of people are — and that fact does matter to the Western market. There are more and more discussions surrounding virtual worlds, at least in part spurred by the gradually growing market share of Asian imports that are proving themselves to be viable parts of the market without gigantic advertising blitzes and TV spots.
We all have issues we like to soapbox about; in my academic life, I cheerfully foam at the mouth regarding the unfortunately blinkered, China-centric viewpoint that has a long legacy in my field. I find the opposite to be true in my gaming life — I've had a great many conversations with various people in the industry who ask, 'Where's the news from China? From Korea? Why don't they get more attention?'. It's not an invalid question. I think most of us who wonder why there isn't broader coverage of slightly more out of the way areas have somewhat selfish reasons for wanting to see more thoughtful discussion. I have personal and academic interests in what's shaking in East Asia; on the other hand, I look at the masses of information that's virtually ignored by most mainstream press and wonder how we manage to just bypass great swaths of the world.
There is an increasingly transnational character to gaming — outside the regular 'hotspots' — with more and more back and forth going on between markets. Who knows what the landscape is going to look like in 10 years? It's no longer simply a matter of Blizzard setting up shop in China and enthralling chain-smoking internet café denizens with nothing (except perhaps some outsourced production) going back the other way. Companies like Beijing Perfect World continue to eye the American market, and it's impossible to read most round-up type articles on 'virtual worlds' without running across Nexon, NCSoft, and other South Korean companies. With increasingly robust domestic markets, and more companies eyeing a lucrative Western market, the chances that these corners of the industry aren't going to have some impact on "our" markets is incredibly shortsighted.
Coming from what is essentially a connoisseur's position, it's not hard to see why the bulk of the audience finds games like MapleStory 'silly' or downright stupid. It is, in many senses, a completely different take on the MMO concept, and one spawned from a foreign market no less. True as all that may be, it doesn't deserve the condescension and scorn it seems to receive from players and much of the gaming press, there's clearly a reason it boasts the number of subscribers that it does. It's not hard to see why MMO players who cut their teeth on subscription-based models look askance at the free to play model. It's foreign, it's different, it seems unfair when one is coming from a more egalitarian "everyone pays the same money" system. What I don't understand is the unwillingness to even look at the issues in a serious, thoughtful way. There are some absolutely tremendous, less-frequented sites that do put a heavy emphasis on what's going on elsewhere - usually the type that has no choice but to look outside the bounds of the Western 'mainstream' due to thematic issues. Why should they be relegated to the outskirts?
Whether we like it or not, the landscape of gaming is rapidly changing. As much as the devoted "hardcore" may want to cling desperately to the notion that "all the rest" doesn't matter, it does. The way we interact with games, who games and why, and how developers think about producing games is a moving target. To do nothing more than point fingers and laugh is nothing more than burying our heads in the sand and pretend that the gaming industry that the hardcore knows and loves is immune to change. It's not. Keeping a watchful, thoughtful eye on the edges also includes a good bit of looking inwards.
I realise that talking about gaming culture and games that may be foreign falls way, way short in the popularity race when put up against tits and sensation. Still, there's room for everything, isn't there? Why aren't we talking about some of these issues more? Can't we put aside our condescension for a bit and think about our little slice of the gaming industry and culture in context? It surely couldn't hurt, and a more transnational approach to the way we think and write about gaming will probably be a tremendous help.