Clotaire Rapaille wrote a book called The Culture Code. The eponymous code is “the unconscious meaning we apply to any given thing“. This, naturally enough, includes games. Rapaille’s well-argued theory is that, essentially, we interpret everything not only fro the perspective of an individual and as a member of the human race (Jungian theories of the collective human subconscious plays a part) but also from a national (or racial) perspective).
Naturally this can get extremely confusing if studied too deeply, but we’ll cite a strong example before moving to games. Wedding are held around the world (in fact, Rapaille uses this very subject as one of his examples) but are entirely different depending on location, from the extremely decadent to the religiously austere. In the book, Rapaille uses his knowledge to decode countries and brands – in this latter way assisting marketers and consumer relations, along with consumers themselves (though this is arguable, as marketing is almost always about peddling wants not needs).
In this article, I am going to use Rapaille’s technique to decode games. I’ll look by country of the three biggest markets (Japan, the US and the UK). Lets take a look at what works in which territory, and why. Bearing in mind Rapaille has used this technique for businesses such as Nestle to have very positive effects, it is still nonetheless a social or people based science. This means that at times conclusions can be difficult to place in a qualitative perspective.
Insular and traditional, Japan is a country based on order and system. The idea of of a rigid structure and authority is still commonplace. This explains why games – in particular RPG’s with an emphasis on rules and number crunching do so well in the land of the rising sun. However, things are certainly changing, with much more creative types breaking down barriers in the younger generations. This energy results in games such as Katamary Damacy – even globally seen as unique and fresh for the industry. Games such as Okami reach between both worlds, offering a traditional tale with calligraphy on a modern platform. This cultural bridging on a national level offers a fulfilling experience.
The USA is big, bold and brash, with a comparison from Rapaille as that of an ‘adolescent‘. Is this why we see so many violent videogames, or those with a focus o war? Perhaps this national culture understands the difficulties in finding its’ own way so play them out on virtual battlefields. First person shooters such as Halo, Call of Duty and Doom are all American franchises, as well as finding a home in many dvd trays of families there.
This is perhaps the hardest territory to define, as people have a hard time thinking of genres that have came from these very shores (well the very shores where I live at least). Yet Tomb Raider, Rome: Total War and other popular series stem from here. Of course, one of the most well known is Grand Theft Auto from Rockstar North. San Andreas sold 1 million units in 9 days back in October 2004 – truly a milestone in the videogame industry. I guess we also need to look at games that sell well to give a closer indicator of what is seemingly a very mixed genre of games. Football games (football, or soccer if you prefer, being the national sport) always sell massively, no great surprise there. Beyond Fifa and Championship Manager though there’s also sales of the ‘freedom/control’ based franchises – Elite being very famous over here, along with Civilization. Is this relating to our colonial past? Thatcherism perhaps? I guess diversity shines through too, what with lots of different games frequently cycling in the charts.
Overall, Rapaille’s work is interesting, and can clearly be applied to any cultural artefact that a society has produced, whether it be a book, a film or a game. I guess one thing I’d be intrigued to see would be a game designed with Rapaille’s principles in mind. Would this produce a single ip that would sell incredibly well in a territory, but be somewhat unappealing to others? Is a good game always a good game whatever the concerns it is based on?
Do people have negative and positive ‘imprints’ of games, or are they based simply on the quality of the experience? I know as I’ve grown older my gaming tastes have changed, but I’m not sure if this is based upon a better understanding of my own national culture. Nonetheless, there’s a few jockey simulators that are popular over in the far east which wouldn’t sell over there for instance. Evidently there are some cultural differences at play which aren’t fully explored just yet, and the varied responses and interpretations we may have to artefacts from other cultures.