« September 2004 | Main | November 2004 »

October 26, 2004

Power+Up attempts to identify cultural practices

Kohler, Chris. Power+Up. Brady Games, Pearson Education. Indiana. 2005. isbn 0744004241.

This book is a passionate claim for the importance of Japanese cultural influence on the console game industry. It also argues that said Japanese influence has lead to an increasing cinematic quality in console video games.

Both arguments presented by the book are self-evident for anyone who has spent any time (and money) playing video games. It's strength lies in the moments when it identifies the specific cultural mores that inform the particular voice of Shigeru Miyamoto and Hironobu Sakaguchi.

The former argument is important to document, and this volume makes a good first effort. Kohler points out specific cultural dynamics that informed the creation of such economic and critical successes as the Mario and Zelda, as well as the Final Fantasy series of games. Shikaku sedai, the “visual generation” has no notion that manga, the popular comic-book art form of Japan, has any generational or thematic limits. Any subject and any audience can be addressed by and through abstracted and symbolic comics. Mukokuseki is a method of acheiving that abstraction in manga. It is the aesthetic of removing cultural and ethnic markers from the drawings of characters. Kohler doesn't trace the rise of this aesthetic, it would be interesting for someone to do so. Without this particular thread we are left to wonder “why?”. Kawaisa is the quality of cuteness to which Japanese consumers are drawn. Kohler argues that these large cultural tropes informed Miyamoto‘s aesthetics. Kohler focuses his attention on the strong influence of Nintendo and Miyamoto. His argument would be stronger if it ranged a bit broader. This leaves an opportunity for others to extend the work.

The second large argument in the work lays out a history of video games such that the cinematic qualities are privileged. Taking cues from film criticism, Kohler creates a narrative that establishes cinematic narrative elements as evolving and emerging as technology and game designers increase in sophistication. This is an understandable approach as game criticism attempts to find its own language. It is also problematic in that it tends to position games as imperfect films. To his credit, Kohler, in later chapters, acknowledges the element of “control” that differentiates video games from filmic conventions. There is a kind of circular irony in these passages of text that seems to have escaped Kohler. He describes the powerful influence of Star Wars on the Japanese game industry, in particular on the first two iterations of the Final Fantasy series, complete with characters in FF1 and FF2 named for characters in Star Wars. George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, was admitedly influenced by Japanese film maker Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress, a story about a samurai rescuing a princess from an evil empire. The story is told from the point of view of two bumbling peasants who fall under the protection of the samurai.

Posted by SWEAT at 12:00 AM | Comments (0)

October 25, 2004

Glen posts Emergent Aesthetics essay

G: I submitted an initial version to EAD06 last night, check it out!

EAD06:Design:System:Evolution The European Academy of Design Sixth annual conference. The paper can be found for download on another page.

Posted by SWEAT at 11:00 PM | Comments (0)

Starbucks Blinks

This week's issue of New Yorker magazine arrived on Friday. When I paged through it this weekend I noticed a strange full-page ad that made me do a double- and triple-take. It was a sepia-toned image, in extreme close up of a single coffee bean. Dark roasted, of course. The bean is so big I didn't recognize it at first.

There was a surpisingly discreet Starbucks logo on the bottom right-hand corner of the page, with a simple legend: artisan roasters since 1971.

Juan Valdez opens a coffee shop in Manhattan, and Starbucks feels the need to assert itself with an appeal to craft tradition. Starbucks does not represent craft roasting, nor craft brewing to me. They may have been craft oriented at one time, but now they seem to be about industrial grade production.

My faith in Juan's strength is reaffirmed. He made Starbucks flinch.

Posted by SWEAT at 11:00 PM

October 05, 2004

Juan Valdez and Conchita take on Starbucks!

In an entry on BoingBoing today, Xeni Jardin points to news about the new Juan Valdez Cafe that just opened in NYC. [Permalink to her post]

The New York Juan Valdez Cafe is the second one to open in the US. The first one opened in Washington DC earlier in September. The Colombian Federation of Coffee Growers, who created Juan Valdez, have plans to open one exclusive cafe in each major city in the US.

More links to extended coverage after the jump.

The Federation has begun to pursue a strategy of vertical integration to capture more of the money that consumers pay for a cup of specialty retail coffee for the growers back in Colombia. This is a vital economic strategy for Colombia. The article in the New York Times contains a multimedia graphic describing where the money goes in a cup of joe. [NYTimes.com registration required]

In keeping with the long term message of the Federation, that Colombian coffee is the richest in the world, the cafe's are designed to express high quality and forward thinking. Gothamist and State of the Art, two online magazines about NYC have images of the new cafe.

I had a chance to have coffee at one of the cafe's in November of 2003, in Bogotá where they were rolling out the idea. The coffee was first rate, and the environment was warm and inviting. I could have stayed there all day.

Posted by SWEAT at 04:34 PM