Thursday, May 25, 2006

My Soapbox on Ethnocentricity and Maiden Love Revolution

I was scrolling through Feministing this morning when I came to this post. It speaks briefly about a game coming out in Japan called Maiden Love Revolution that features
the role of 220-pound Hitomi Sakurakawa as she struggles to slim down - mostly by restricting her diet. To advance, Hitomi must count calories and increase her exercise. The game keeps stats on her progress and ultimately rewards her conformity with a boyfriend.
I was struck by a comment that followed which stated "the Japanese are very strange people." I see this type of comment often (there's a lot of posts out there on the latest ridiculous game or what have you from Japan) and it really gets to me. Yeah, I post all the time on misogynistic stuff that irks me, and I'm not defending this game--particularly because of the subject matter, and also because it sounds boring and dumb. However, I want to point out that it's important to consider ethnocentricity, when criticizing or analyzing something from another culture.

I'm no expert on Japanese culture, but I know that there's a lot of different genres and categories that feature games that wouldn't fly here in the US. It's important to note that subjects like sex aren't viewed in the same way in Japan as it is here--we have separate cultures--but in the same breath, it's important to recognize that Japan is a patriarchy, just like the US. We might not make sex games or weight loss games, or promote such titles in our mainstream culture, but we're not innocent.

People are quick to judge other culture's problems, which turn out to be similar to the problems that we have. (See: cultural relativism.)

UPDATE: Lake Desire over at New Game Plus makes some great points about the premise of the game, one being that it stigmatizes overweight people from dating.


Ragnell said...

Actually, I read this carelessly at first and thought that it was a solicitation for a soon-to-be imported game.

Lyle said...

I have to admit, sexist story themes aside, this game sounds pretty cool to me. Throw in a male player character, give this a little bit of a dating sim and I'd want to play it. At the very least, this game represents a fantasy where there are easy and consistent rules achieving thinness... and in a video game it's much easier to work out regularly and resist sweets.

100LittleDolls said...

That's a really interesting point, Lyle. I hadn't thought about it that way. (And it was hard for me to find more details about the game itself, just synopsis. I can understand why some people were uncomfortable with the idea, though.)

Well, I doubt we'll see it stateside however.

Christopher said...

I've been thinking about this kind of thing since that reappropriate post and I think that in some cases, at least, there's more then simple ethnocentrism at work.

I think that there's a sort of understanding that the Japanese can, will, and should judge American pop culture in the same way. After all, the term "weird" essentially has ethnocentricism built into it; there's no way to comprehend it without recourse to what is average in your particular culture.

This may well be too generous of me, but I think that when people use the term "weird" they are aware of its ethnocentric connotations, but feel that it's an essentially trivial thing, and that such ragging is an expected element in inter-cultural pop culture analysis.

Or, to put it another way, I think a signifigant number of people who would call this game "weird" would be quite happy to hear from a Japanese person that we are weird for, I dunno, being so homophobic and yet liking something as homoerotic as pro wrestling.

100LittleDolls said...

christopher-- Thanks for your comment, you definately have valid points. I probably should have linked to them in my other posts, but I found this game talked about in other blogs and kept on coming across things such as "what do you expect from a county that has animated porn" and stuff like that. There's this general since of disgust that keeps on coming up (with items such as the girlfriend lap pillow, etc.) and I think people just need to be careful to not generalize--blame the patriarchy and not the general population. Some comments that I've read come across as downright racist--though I'm sure the commentors probably wouldn't see it that way.

Lyle said...

I see, too, where the concerns about the game come from. There are a lot of valid worries there, one that I'd love to see adressed. Truthfully, I like the idea for the game more than what I've heard of the game.

(For example, I hope the part about watching the main character's caloric intake involves more portion control than just eating less. I suspect that's not the case tho.)

As a Sims player, I kinda have that sort of fantasy world where there are some clear and simple rules (that apply the same way to everyone) towards becoming ab-tastic.

100LittleDolls said...

That would definately add a new spin on the Sims. :)