Insomnia | Commentary

Non-games are for Non-gamers

By Alex Kierkegaard / April 25, 2008

Seems self-evident, doesn't it? And yet good luck trying to find a single gaming outlet that gets it. From online (and offline) behemoths such as Fanitsu and LameSpot, to all the professional blogs out there -- regardless of size -- I've yet to find a single one that treats non-games the way they should be treated -- i.e. not at all. But why should anyone care if a little extra effort is expended to cover them? Let me explain why.

First off, in order to more easily discern why this is indeed an important issue, it will be helpful if we consider it where it is most acute -- in Japan, the land of the rising videogame. Ever since the non-game craze started about three years ago (jeez, has it really been that long?), with those rubbish Nintendo pet simulators and simplistic IQ test apps on the DS, Fanitsu's weekly sales charts have been regularly flooded with a bunch of worthless software applications: from restaurant, wine, and fashion guides, to dictionaries and all sorts of language training programs. And I ask: Does no one else realize that all this rubbish is pushing out of the charts legitimate games, which could use the extra exposure? And if we allow dictionaries and restaurant guides on our game charts, why not allow other generic software applications? MS Office, for example. Or Photoshop or Oracle or even Windows Vista. I mean if we open the floodgates there won't be any space left on our charts for anything other than a Final Fantasy or a Grand Theft Auto -- and at the end of the day Windows Vista is far more of a game (with its included Minesweeper, FreeCell and Solitaire), it's far more fun to fuck around with, than any shitty Japanese "fashion guides" or "language learning" apps. So let's just park Vista at the top of our charts then for the next five or so years and call it a fucking day.

It boggles the mind how Fanitsu's readers have accepted this travesty for so long. Because you have to understand here that, regardless of whatever abuse I hurl at the magazine and its editors from time to time, at the end of the day it has always been nothing less than the Bible of console gaming. The fact that its reviews are pathetic and that it's devoid of actual criticism may be regrettable on the one hand, but it's irrelevant on the other; what's relevant is that every single week it has the most exclusives, and whoever wants to know what's up in the world of console gaming has no other choice than to keep an eye on it. It is therefore, and has always been, the magazine of the hardcore. The kind of people, in other words, who wouldn't give two shits about Nintedo's Wii Fit (No. 4 in the charts last week) or Square Enix's Dedicated Learning: Passing level 3 LEC exams - DS Bookkeeping in a Japanese company (No. 19).

Someone will doubtless pop up now and ask "If the magazine's readers do not care about those software apps, who is buying them and driving them up the charts?" Fuck knows, dude. Fathers and mothers, businessmen and professionals, I guess. The same people who are buying Photoshop or Windows Vista -- the kind of people who wouldn't be caught dead with a copy of Fanitsu. Just because a piece of software sells doesn't mean we should stick it up in our game charts for christsake. If a supercar magazine decided to start running sales charts every week, they wouldn't include Fiats and Fords and Citro├źns just because they sell more than Ferraris, Porsches or Bugattis. I mean it's called a "supercar magazine" for a reason for fuck's sake -- how much more stupid can you get?

Apparently, not much. The issue here is indeed one of stupidity. You see it's not that these so-called "non-games" suddenly appeared three years ago -- generic software apps have existed since the dawn of the digital era, yet why did they become a problem only recently? Because it was only with the introduction of the DS and the Wii, two of the worst-designed pieces of gaming hardware ever, that people started using their consoles to do things other than play games. I mean we had the occasional Mario Paint-type thing before, but no one notices or cares much when there's only one or two such apps on the charts once a decade. Now that our charts are full of this crap every week, it's another story. And the Fanitsu editors keep on covering them out of sheer stupidity. They've always covered EVERYTHING that's being released on every console, you see, and they always will. They are incapable of comprehending that sometimes THINGS CHANGE, and when they do you have to use your brain for a few seconds to adjust to the new circumstances.

I mean it's not even a matter of payola. Fanitsu has nothing to gain by covering and sticking up on its weekly charts Squeenix's Dedicated Learning: Passing level 3 LEC exams - DS Bookkeeping in a Japanese company. Fanitsu's readers do not care about it (no one would cancel his subscription, in other words, if the magazine stopped covering bookkeeping apps), and Squeenix could hardly protest if the magazine simply stopped covering this kind of rubbish. In fact, the people who should be protesting are those that run the OTHER companies, which make REAL games, and whose games are kept off the charts by stupid stuff like Dedicated Learning: Passing level 3 LEC exams - DS Bookkeeping in a Japanese company.

Sheer stupidity, sheer incompetence, sheer force of habit, and lack of a coherent mission statement or any kind of serious thought process behind the design and direction of the magazine are the culprits here. But what kind of "serious thought process" would be required?

I will admit, the choice of what to cover and what not to is not easy one. In fact -- and I will return to this point in a future article -- this is the most important issue facing the editor of any kind of specialist gaming publication. In essence, you are making as much of a statement by what you DO cover, as you are by what you DON'T cover. It's not even as simple as separating games from non-games, because this is impossible. What do I mean by that? Let me elaborate...

As I've mentioned before, and as I'll no doubt have occasion to mention again, no one has yet managed to adequately define the concept of a 'game'. Without an adequate definition we are therefore unable to separate games from non-games. If we throw out Nintendogs, someone will claim that we should also throw out Doubutsu no Mori (Animal Forest); if we keep Sim City, someone will claim that we should also keep Second Life. Without the definition, any attempt to defend our choices on the basis that some of them are more "like games" than others is doomed to fail and be ridiculed -- so we shouldn't even try. What we should do is make our choices based on what we feel is more important, what is more exciting, what is more fun, what is more fascinating. If we cannot rule out Nintedogs and Brain Training and Wii Fit on the grounds that they are not games, we can at least rule them out on the grounds that they are shit games, just as we rule out stuff like Barbie Horse Adventures: Wild Horse Rescue. In other words, every time we are faced with a piece of software we must use our judgement and our sense of taste to decide whether to cover it or not, whether to include it in our charts or not. Given the nature of Japanese corporate culture and mentality then, in which initiative, personal taste and judgement are to be avoided at all costs, it's no surprise that Fanitsu continues to simply cover everything that comes out. The results? Look at the charts.

But don't think Western publications are much better! Euroidiot had a THREE-PAGE review of Wii Fit last time I checked, as well as DOZENS of news articles, previews and videos of it, all the while it continues to completely ignore HUNDREDS of absolutely fascinating video games that are released in Japan and elsewhere (like, say, Korea, Taiwan and China) every year. Where is the coverage, where are the previews and the reviews of stuff like Namco x Capcom, Venus & Braves, Code Age Commanders, 2 Spicy, The House of the Dead 4, Rezel Cross, Ketsui, Pink Sweets and Death Smiles, Twelve ~Sengoku Fuushinden~, Initial D Arcade Stage 4, Trouble Witches, Akatsuki Denkou Senki, Big Bang Beat, Ikusagami, Tenkabito, Michigan, Mother 3, the list goes on and on and on...

Too busy playing Wii Fit I guess.