Slower, squashed and six months late: Japanese videogames in the UK, 1991-2019

Newman, J (2019) 'Slower, squashed and six months late: Japanese videogames in the UK, 1991-2019.' Replaying Japan, 1. pp. 5-28. ISSN 2433-8060

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There is a growing body of English language materials on game history, whether scholarly overviews and readers (e.g. Lowood and Guins 2016; Wolf 2007); investigations of specific platforms (Arsenault 2017; Ruggill and McAlister 2015), more popular accounts of the industry and market (e.g. DeMaria and Wilson 2012; Forster et al 2005) including particular companies (e.g. Ryan 2012; Sheff 1993) and even the influence of Japanese games outside Japan (Kohler 2016). However, while such a detailed interest in gaming’s past is encouraging given the almost breathless futurism of industry discourse (see Kline et al 2009), there is, as Grabarczyk ( 2018) and Wade and Webber (2016) note, a decidedly US focus to much of this work. This paper seeks to address this issue in two ways. First, it presents a more nuanced account of the availability, role and meaning of Japanese videogames in the UK throughout the 1990s and beyond. To do this, this paper begins by exploring the institutional, infrastructural and technological conditions that gave rise to distinctive market and retail contexts that are unaccounted for in the largely US centric work on game history. The paper considers the impact of the staggered release schedules that saw Japanese games and systems launched months and even years later in the UK. By moving on to examine the practices of ‘grey importing' and the production and advertising of devices intended to modify consoles and circumvent region and copy protection, the paper discusses techniques that allowed the cognoscenti some means of accessing titles prior to their official UK/European releases. By surveying UK print magazines from the 1990s, I hope to offer insight into the repertoire of expert practices undertaken by Japanese videogame fans in the UK and the spaces and contexts that shaped these manifest performances of connoisseurship. What is especially notable about this distinctive UK-Japanese grey import marketplace, however, is that it was all but eradicated in this form in the mid-2000s as platform holders took high profile legal action. Second, the paper moves to exploring the ways in which Japanese games were transformed as they crossed national boundaries and entered UK homes. Here, while recognising the vital importance of such work, I wish to move beyond discussions of linguistic and cultural transformations arising from translation and localisation processes (e.g. O’Hagan and Mangiron 2013) to an analysis of the often profound influence of underlying national broadcast standards on the aesthetics, experience and materiality of videogames. Examining a case study of Sega’s flagship Mega Drive title Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991), the paper explores how differences between Japanese and UK television specifications lead to the distortion of graphics and the deceleration of music and gameplay. Slower, squashed and six months late.

Item Type: Article
Divisions: Bath School of Design
Research Centres and Groups: Centre for Media Research
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Date Deposited: 20 Jun 2019 16:18
Last Modified: 21 Dec 2023 19:16
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