Monday, 25 November 2013

The Sengoku Period in Japanese History

                                                                        Left to right: Kamakura clan; Oda clan; Tokugawa clan      

In the late 1100s, Minamoto no Yoritomo became Japan’s first shogun (military commander; general) when he established the Kamakura Shogunate, deriving its name from the city in which he resided. In doing so, he essentially usurped the political power of the Emperor, with it then passing to a succession of Regents drawn from the allied Hojo clan. The Kamakura period was notable for the transition from centuries-old reliance on Confucian principles, to feudalism derived from a very strict, well defined set of laws derived from military code, the subsequent emergence of the Samurai, and two very ill-fated Mongol invasions! In both cases, the Japanese were quite possibly saved from eventual defeat by large storms that effectively destroyed the Mongol fleets!

In 1338, shortly after Emperor Go-Daigo’s short-lived Kenmu restoration failed to permanently re-establish civilian/imperial rule in Japan, marking the last time the Emperor would hold real power until the Meiji restoration of 1867, Ashikaga Takauji became the first in what was to be a long line of succession when he founded the Muromachi or Ashikaga Shogunate. The Ashikaga Shogunate would continue until 1573 when the 15th and last Ashikaga shogun, Ashikaga Yoshiaki, was driven from Kyoto by Oda Nobunaga.

The Ashikaga Shogunate, although they re-instituted the military system of government that was put in place during the Kamakura/Hojo era, struggled to maintain the loyalty of many daimyo (regional military warlords who ruled territories throughout Japan), especially those whose domains were distant from the capital region of Kyoto. Increased trade with China, the appearance of trade-based cities, the growth of local economies and developments in agriculture all added to a growing desire for greater local autonomy on the part of peasants and nobles alike.

More than a century after the founding of the Ashikaga Shogunate, civil war loomed as a result of a conflict between Hosokawa Katsumoto (a Kanrei - deputy shogun, part of the Ashikaga Shogunate) and his father-in-law Yamana Sozen, who may have resented his son-in-law’s power and connections. The heirless shogun at the time, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, had convinced his brother to act as heir. The brother, Ashikaga Yoshimi, had been a monk, and had required some convincing to assert a claim to the title Shogun. Unexpectedly, the shogun had a son, and Yoshimi didn’t want to give up his claim. Hosokawa Katsumoto supported one claim, Yamana Sozen the other.

Timeline of the Sengoku Period 1467 - 1600

1192    Kamakura Shogunate founded
1274    Mongol Invasion fails
1281    Mongol Invasion fails
1333    Kenmu Restoration - lasts until 1336
1338    Ashikaga Shogunate founded

1467    Ōnin War begins - the beginning of the Sengoku Period
1477    Ōnin War ends 

1551    Oda Nobuhide dies; Nobunaga takes over
1573    Oda Nobunaga ends Ashikaga reign
1582    Oda Nobunaga commits seppuku rather than face defeat
1590    Toyotomi Hideyoshi unifies Japan

1600    Tokugawa Shogunate founded

The Ōnin War

In 1467, small skirmishes gave way to open warfare as tensions erupted between Hosokawa’s “Eastern Army” and Yamana’s “Western Army” in Kyoto (the capital). Both armies were roughly 80,000 strong, and much death and property destruction soon followed.

The shogun did little to discourage the fighting, spending his time instead involved in more courtly pursuits like poetry reading, possibly the tea-ceremony and in planning a follow up to his grandfathers “Gold Pavilion”; the “Silver Pavilion”, or Ginkaku-Ji. Eventually (almost 10 years later), with Kyoto now greatly smoldering ruins and both Sozen and Katsumoto dead, the Yamana clan left Kyoto and went home, with neither clan achieving any real “victory”.

The shoguns relative apathy/ineptitude in dealing with the conflicts surrounding the Onin War signaled to daimyos (feudal warlords) across Japan that there would be little or no imperial repercussions, should they choose to engage in their own little private wars for territory. And so they did. Widely. The conflict that had enveloped Kyoto spread to the surrounding provinces, and onward to outlying provinces as well.

Thus began the “Warring States” or “Sengoku” period as we’ve come to know it, a long series of regional conflicts that saw daimyos from across Japan vying for power, with little regard for the will of the emperor. The term “Warring States” is derived from the Era of Warring States, a violent period in ancient China that concluded with the victory of the state of Qin in 221 BC, creating a unified China under what we would come to know as the Qin Dynasty. It is popularly believed incidentally, that Qin, pronounced “chin”, is the origin of the modern word China.

With the further dilution of the already ineffective centralized imperial authority that resulted from all the regional conflicts, many old and already powerful clans, like the Takeda and the Imagawa, were able to further consolidate their power and expand their spheres of influence. As well, various religious groups were able to capitalize on the relative anarchy and gain political power by uniting peasants against the rule of their local daimyo, forming numerous Ikkō-ikki.

Ikkō-ikki were loosely organized groups (or mobs) of peasants, monks, farmers, priests and local nobles who wanted out from under the military rule they were subject to. Though their popularity and rebelliousness tended to attract the attention of powerful military leaders (as you might imagine), the most successful of these groups remained independent from military rule (and a thorn in the side of ambitious daimyo) for nearly 100 years. 

Gekokujō and the Oda

Another manifestation of the social upheaval brought about during the Sengoku period, is known as “Gekokujō”, which translates to “low conquers high”, in reference to the tendency during this period for those of lower rank, but considerable ambition and ability, to forcefully overthrow those above them who were unable to hold on to power, whether due to luck or ineptitude. An especially historically noteworthy example of this involved the subjugation of the Shiba clan by the Oda clan.

A power vacuum formed in the relatively obscure Owari Province in 1551, home of the Oda clan, when magistrate Oda Nobuhide died. His legitimate heir, Oda Nobunaga, faced internal opposition to his ascending to the leadership of the clan. Nobunaga’s uncle, Oda Nobutomo, used the support of the impotent Shugo (governor), a member of the Shiba clan to back his own claims of legitimacy.

Nobunaga ultimately recruited a different uncle to support him, slew Nobutomo, and ascended to the leadership of the clan, as was his legitimate right. He then used the head of the Shiba family, the son of the former governor, (murdered by his now deceased uncle) to make peace with several rival daimyo, taking advantage of Shiba clan alliances. The Shiba family were eventually cast out of the Oda clan once it was revealed that they were plotting their own return to power.

Oda Nobunaga had ambitions to unify Japan under one ruler. He continued to consolidate his power, and was the dominant force in central Japan for more than two decades, conquering province after province with ruthless efficiency. In 1573, Nobunaga drove Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki into exile, bringing an end to the 150-year reign of the Ashikaga Shogunate.

As he became increasingly powerful, coalitions of rival daimyo formed to try to put an end to his ambition. They succeeded eventually in 1582, on the eve of Nobunaga’s invasion of Shikoku, aided by the betrayal of one of Nobunaga’s generals, Akechi Mitsuhide, who led a small force to kill Oda well behind his own lines. Rather than face the shame of defeat, Oda committed seppuku before his would be assassins could reach him. Mitsuhide’s army was defeated in turn less than two weeks later by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who would become Nobunaga’s effective heir.

At the time of his death, Nobunaga controlled more than half of Japan’s provinces, in particular, those closest to the capital region of Kyoto. Minus the treachery of Akechi Mitsuhide, he would likely have succeeded in his goal of a unified Japan. Especially considering Hideyoshi would go on to unify Japan less than a decade later, in 1590. A decade after that, Tokugawa Ieyasu, another Nobunaga loyalist, would establish the Tokugawa Shogunate. A Tokugawa shogun would rule a unified Japan for more than 250 years during a time of relative peace that came to be known as the Edo period, until the Meiji Restoration restored imperial rule in 1868, under Emperor Meiji.

Popular Culture Influences

The Sengoku period has influenced countless media and popular culture projects. Some of the ones I found most interesting include:

Seven Samurai
Akira Kurosawa's 1954 classic Seven Samurai s one of the most well known. It follows the story of a village of farmers that hire seven masterless Samurai (Ronin) to fight off bandits who will return after the harvest to steal their crops. It’s been included on short lists of “the best films ever made” on several occasions. Seven Samurai was remade in a western setting and also did very well in North America as The Magnificent Seven, starring Yule Brenner, and Charles Bronson and Steve McQueen, among others.

Naked Seven

One of the less well known is its sexploitaion equivalent, “Naked Seven”, a 1972 entry in what has been dubbed The Roman Porno era. In this version, the samurai are beautiful women, and… well… there’s a lot less fighting in this one.

Nobunaga's Ambition
Nobunaga's Ambition is one of the first ever “turn-based grand strategy role-playing simulation video games”, released by Koei in 1983. Interestingly, the box reads “Nobunaga’s Ambition. Be Ruthless – Your rivals will be!” I wonder if the developers were aware of Oda’s reputation for ruthlessness?

Shogun the BoardGame
Shogun was a strategy wargame like RISK but with different kinds of pieces, representing different kinds of units. It was first released in 1986 by Milton Bradley, and has been re-released subsequently under three or four different titles. This game is unrelated to James Clavell’s book of the same name.

James Clavell’s Shogun
This game, on the other hand, is based entirely on the Clavell novel. Released by Infocom in 1989, the events in the game take place near the end of the Sengoku period, at the dawn of the relatively peaceful Edo period.

Shogun Total War Franchise
This 2000 RTS allows players to lead one of several clans vying for the Shogun's seat of power. Amongst these are the famous clans Tokugawa, Oda, Hojo and Takeda.

Samurai Warriors Franchise
This 3rd person hack-n-slash game, released in 2004, features fifteen different playable characters based on historical figures from the Sengoku period, including Uesugi Kenshin, Takeda Shingen, and Oda Nobunaga.

Pokémon Conquest
This 2012 game is an interesting mash-up of Pokémon and Nobunaga’s Ambition. The player travels around the game world, recruiting Pokémon and battling a variety of opponents, in an effort to conquer the region and unite it as one nation. Like Pokémon, the gameplay is turn-based strategy, but unlike the main-series Pokémon games, it is also a tactical RPG.

After centuries of political instability and warfare, the Sengoku period ended around 1600 with a unified Japan, under the Tokugawa, its final Shogunate, ushering in the Edo era, a time of relative peace and stability.The power of the military class would wane over time, with the Meiji restoration in 1868 heralding the final days of the Shogun, and of the Samurai, putting power back in civilian hands, with Japan emerging as a modern, industrialized nation and military power in the early twentieth century.

Streich P. Civil Wars, Sengoku Era (1467–1570) [e-book]. 2013. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 25, 2013.

Beasley W. The Meiji Restoration [Electronic Resource] / W. G. Beasley [e-book]. Stanford, Calif. : Stanford University Press, 1972.; 1972. NEOS's Catalog, Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 25, 2013. 

Turnbull, S. War In Japan 1467-1615. 2002. Osprey. Oxford, UK.

Clode, G. Timeline of The Sengoku Period: Japan’s Age of War,, 19 Feb. 2011, Web, 24 Oct. 2013

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Sailor Moon, RapeLay, Dating Sims and Preservation

The online articles presented an interesting contrast between the female-empowering world of Sailor Moon and the female-exploiting world of Rapelay.  The character complement in the Sailor Moon franchise is reminiscent of that in Super Mario Bros 2, as outlined in Kinder’s suggestion that the expanded cast was an attempt to widen the target audience by providing more characters to whom potential players might relate. As well, Kinder’s point about her son playing a female character in Super Mario Bros. “even at the risk of transgender identification” rather seems to reinforce the need for media like the Sailor Moon series, which provide platforms for the exposure of LGBT characters in a favourable light.

Fuller and Jenkins’ (1995) description of characters as essentially cursors, mediating “the player’s relationship to the story world” mirrors what Forster (1927) termed “flat” characters; those that can be summed up easily, and which tend to be built around a single notion, theme or characteristic. Players have the ability to “become” a flat character most easily, super-imposing their sense of self on the character. “Round” characters on the other hand, are deep enough to get to explore, and take some time to get to know; they are capable of carrying and adding to a narrative as a result of their own personality depth.

Is Rapelay a game where character and personality is secondary, like Mario or Lara Croft? Does it matter to us if players of games like Rapelay enjoy it because it’s a glimpse into another world where they get to examine a rapist, or whether they enjoy it because it lets them be the rapist? As Newman points out, “there is no Mario or Princess to the player – there is only me in the game world”. Regardless of how we answer this question, if we agree with the notion that violent video games don’t cause violence, does it not follow that rape games (odious as one may find them) don’t cause rape? Where exactly to draw the line is, as one of the articles pointed out, a slippery slope.

I am struck by an interesting contrast. In my board game VILLAINS, everyone plays as the bad-guy; supervillains. Among test players, this notion, and the criminal actions required/offered within the game, seem to enjoy almost universal appeal. People love the idea of turning the Hero trope on its head, and experiencing it from the other side. In Rapelay you play as the bad guy as well, flipping the damsel in distress trope on its head, but it suffers from widespread condemnation. Why the difference in appreciation?

Newman’s Chapter Nine was the least engaging of the readings for this week, but I am left wondering how Tool Assisted Superplays (or any superplays, for that matter) can work in a game that is non-linear? What would the goal then become?

The ambiguous nature of the limitations imposed by The Digital Millennium Copyright Act – makes preservation/archiving of software illegal, in that the specifics of how to do so are themselves, often explicitly illegal. There’s an urgency to this issue. It’s like endangered species; when they’re gone, they’re gone, and much software is in danger of disappearing!

Hemmann, K. “Sailor Moon and Femininity”, Contemporary Japanese Literature, Wordpress, 11 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. "RapeLay", Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 29 Oct. 2013. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.

Galbraith, P. “Dating simulator games inspire legion of followers—and detractors”, Japan Today, Japan Today, 29 Aug. 2009. Web. 19 Nov. 2013.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

RPGs - East vs. West

The two Wiki articles highlight a differentiation between “Japanese” RPGs and “Western” RPGs that may or may not hold a lot of water in reality. As well, the differences discussed have been inconsistent, with one or more attributes first being ascribed to one camp, then over time, to the other.

There are usability reasons why the predominantly console based early RPGs (Eastern) were originally designed differently than the PC based RPGs (Wesern). The one that sticks out in my mind is the efficiency of a joypad in action games, versus the efficiency of a keyboard for inventory and party management. That the “mirroring” of the console/pc divide was perceived as “a cultural difference” provides an interesting glimpse into the nature of perception. Where we see differences (in culture), I expect we are more prone to project those differences into other arenas.

That said, there are legitimate differences that are not platform driven. Western games do tend toward more subdued, gritty colour palettes, while Eastern games do tend toward a more vibrantly colourful appearance. Additionally, the level of “cuteness” accepted/expected in Eastern games is much higher. These are both likely related to accepted cultural norms as well as target audience.

Western games tend to focus more on unique character creation than Eastern games, which often focus on the player’s use of pre-designed characters. This allows the “Eastern” games to focus more on dialogue and story development, while the “Western” games focus on the player’s identification with the character/s they play. I expect the Western mantra of “freedom of the individual” plays a large role in the love of non-linear games where players “relate” strongly to the “unique” character they have developed.

Azuma’s discussion of the importance/lack of importance of narratives comes to mind. As one who has played both “kinds” of games, I recognize a preference for free-roaming, open world exploration games. I want to write a series of my own small narratives, not plod through someone else’s large narrative.

Azuma, Hiroki. Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals. Trans. Jonathan E. Abel and Shion Kono. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

"Role-playing video game." 10 September 2013. 
Web. Acc. 12 November 2013.

"History of Eastern role-playing video games" 10 November 2013. 
Web. Acc. 12 November 2013.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Nipponbashi, Nostalgia, Narrative & Space

“Thematic recycling is used to gain commercial benefits. Nostalgia is rendered a tool of consumption, the repetition and simulation of earlier experiences being the aim of nostalgic product-making.” - Suominen

There exists in Japan an Akihabara II – an Otaku district in Osaka called Nipponbashi. In 2009, a project to promote local business led to the creation of a couple characters – Neon-chan and Hikari-chan. Their appearance is a nod to a well established visual character style. At what point does something become nostalgic? Can it do so having never gone out of style? The two characters are without any appreciable narrative back-story to make them appropriate spokespeople, but as quoted by first Cobley (2001), then Newman, Ricoeur tells us that narrative “is most importantly about expectation and memory”. Further, Suominen determines in The Past as the Future, “nostalgia is rendered a tool of consumption, the repetition and simulation of earlier experiences being the aim of nostalgic product-making.” Are the images of Neon-chan and Hikari-chan effective marketing tools then, because they remind people of pleasant past experiences with similarly imagined individuals; because they are expected?

Newman, in the Narrative chapter, suggests that we can view games as being “co-created”, by designers and players, as all players “gain” a unique benefit from the game; all players “play” the game in their own way. He sums up his point well with the statement “fans poach from texts what best suits their own predilections.” In the Suominen article, Henry Jenkins goes on to argue, “The fan community does not clearly separate artists from consumers. All fans are potential writers or other kinds of artists, whose talents just need to be noticed, nourished and introduced.”

Both of these statements help to explain the popularity of fan-generated content in Otaku culture. Additionally, Newman’s description of a session of video game play as an assemblage of “particular elements from the pool of possibilities”, afforded “causation by creating and demonstrating their linkages” not only further helps explain the popularity of fan-generated content, but suggests a practical similarity to the idea of the moe-database suggested by Azuma.

 Juul, says Newman, claims it is not possible to have both narrative and interaction at same time; “…the events are happening now, and what comes next is not yet determined…”. How is this not possible in both interaction and narrative? As suggested by Cobley and Waugh (2001), Newman also tells us that post-modern narrative brings together the diegetic and non-diegetic worlds, rather smashing the plane that separates them. If this is so, and the viewer/player is able to experience both the game and non-game world at the same time, how can we possibly say that they are unable to experience both interaction and narrative simultaneously? If what Jull means is that narrative tends to destroy the enjoyment of interaction within the diegetic world, I agree with the possibility in princiuple, but would argue that Newman is right when he suggests that invisible walls and other unnatural hindrances present during interaction are bigger risks to immersion than are cut-scenes.

Matteas, "Nipponbashi - Otaku Sacred Land in Osaka"

Suominen, "The Past as the Future? Nostalgia and Retrogaming in Digital Culture"

Newman, J. Videogames, chapter 6 and 7

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Glocalization & contemporary Japanese Game Industry

Newman examines the structure of games, with particular attention to the mechanisms that separate “sections” of game play, be they cut-scenes, reward screens, loading screens, and even Boss levels.

Frasca (2000), in discussing the ability to save progress and thus avoid consequences, argues that “video games can never be considered “serious”.  I take exception. Challenging, sure, but never? Frasca’s error I think lies in believing videogames as trying to be the same as literature or cinema, and they are not.

The Loftus and Loftus example that follows is reminiscent of projects I worked on several years ago, making first person sims to train people to do dangerous jobs.
“If only I’d put on that rad suit”.
Players die in a simulation that closely mirrors their real world, and they feel keen regret. The regret functions as a negative reinforcement, they don’t want to experience it again, and they learn. That’s pretty serious, if you ask me.

I remain entirely unsure what reading “the end in the beginning and the beginning in the end” means. (Cobley 2001; Ricouer 1981)

Inafune raises an interesting dilemma. With so many indie game developers producing great content, what does that mean for existing, big developers, particularly the Japanese, with their population aging, and in numerical decline?
He points out rightly the opportunities for variety within a multi-platform industry, with games design and platform accommodating disparity in available play-times, styles and development budgets.

Azuma posits that as time passes, books and magazines will become more like web pages, and movies and television more like video games, in that the content will be subject to user interpretation and arrangement. I expect there is some truth to this, but I think it’s more accurate to say that there will exist a range of media, some of which will adhere to the paradigm Azuma suggests, and some of which will adhere to existing paradigms.

Azuma states that the “outer layer”, the visible, is only an interpretation of the deep, inner layer, the invisible. This still requires the belief in a “deep inner layer”, and isn’t a book just an interpretation of thought? Isn’t thought just a series of electrical impulses?

  • Aoyama and Izushi, "Hardware gimmick or cultural innovation? Technological, cultural, and social foundations of the Japanese video game industry",
  • Consalvo, "Console video games and global corporations: Creating a hybrid culture",
  • Inafune on the sad state of Japanese gaming (Interview)
  • Newman, Videogames, chapter 5
  • Azuma, Otaku, chapter 3

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Transmedia: Consumer Content, Character & Gender

Kinsella points out the ease with which user created manga content became shareable with the introduction to the masses of photo-reproduction in the early 1970s, and how large publishing companies ceased production of “radical and stylistically innovative manga” shortly thereafter, because such content no longer matched their mass-audience’s desires. Has the proliferation of so-called “indie” games had a similar effect on the video-game publishing industry?

Hemmann’s blog suggests that the kind of alternate endings and narrative changes to original works produced by manga circles “raise the possibility of a plurality of receptions and interpretations”. Similarly, Azuma suggests that once consumers possess the settings they “can produce any number of derivative works” through which they derive great satisfaction and identity. Applying this same behavior and analysis to video games, one might easily question how large, unwieldy organizations like triple-A production companies will be able to meet the demands of future consumers who want frequent, unique, edgy content, suited to their particular tastes.

Henry Jenkins, as explained by Condry, describes what he sees as the “migratory behaviour of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they want”. Media mixes increase the ability of those who feel moe towards a particular character to inundate themselves with representations of that character. (Azuma) Will the financial success of future video game producers then, depend not on what we would traditionally call quality, but on their ability to engender a particular response in players?

Osamu Tezuka’s transformation of manga into a “thematically and artistically expressive medium” (Creative Japan) may have been the genesis of the importance of character in modern manga, though I suspect Tezuka’s idea of “character development” bears little resemblance to the otaku database of characteristics.

The move away from a grand narrative (Azuma) in favour of a focus on setting and character style, accompanied by the short life-span of the vast majority of manga properties (Condry) is reminiscent of the conditions that led to the video game crash of 1983. Producers are faced with significant production costs, and often little time to recoup them! Is this the result of an audience preference for character and not narrative driven work, or are decisions based around production efficiencies causing relatively “expensive” narrative work to be avoided?

There has been a measured increase in female video game players, either actual, or perceived because of reporting irregularities. (Newman) Why is this so? There were very few female manga creators before the advent of easily accessible photo-reproduction in the early 1970s, which preceded an explosion of both independent content and female authorship. Kinsella notes “girls’ manga carries themes associated with escapism, self-indulgence, and willful feminine individualism”.

The video game industry has been criticized for its near universal depiction of women as helpless sexual objects. Has the increase in availability and ease of production of “indie” games been responsible for more women in video games, both as players and as authors?

Kinsella, "Japanese Subculture in the 1990s: Otaku and the Amateur Manga Movement"

Hemmann, "Doujinshi"

Condry, Ian. "Anime Creativity: Characters and Premises in the Quest for Cool Japan"

Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "Creative Japan"

Newman, "Videogames"

Azuma, "Otaku"

Friday, 18 October 2013

Donkey Kong: A History & Relevance

DONKEY KONG: A History and Relevance

John Montague   HUCO 617
October 16, 2013
In 1981, the video game industry was still in its relative infancy. PONG had been available for fewer than ten years, and the Atari 2600 for fewer than five. Industry revenues were on the rise, and Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi saw opportunity in the large American market. Nintendo had experienced success marketing toys for the last ten or fifteen years, and had introduced a few successful video game titles in Japan, but had yet to experience success in the U.S.

Yamauchi, a driven no-nonsense businessman, instructed his engineers to discard what they knew in search of innovative ideas, and did so himself by hiring Shigeru Miyamoto, a creative designer whose interests and bearing could have hardly been more different from Yamauchi’s. Miyamoto apprenticed under legendary Nintendo engineer Gunpei Yokoi, and under Yokoi’s supervision, Miyamoto was tasked with creating a game to replace the poorly selling Radar Scope in the American market. Miyamoto’s unique artistic style and vision would lead to several seminal innovations in the video game industry, and to a multi-billion dollar bonanza for Nintendo.

In Miyamoto’s game, Donkey Kong, players take on the role of Mario (originally called Jumpman), as he tries to free his girlfriend Pauline (originally simply The Lady) from the clutches of Mario’s angry pet gorilla, Donkey Kong. The action takes place at a construction site, with Mario jumping obstacles, hammering rolling barrels thrown by Donkey Kong, and climbing ladders to reach Pauline. Just as he succeeds, Donkey Kong grabs Pauline and climbs a ladder to the next level.

To a contemporary player, this might not seem to be noteworthy, but at the time, several things were groundbreaking. According to Guinness1, Donkey Kong was the first appearance of a narrative in a video game. Every subsequent game that has made use of a story owes Miyamoto and his vision a nod of thanks. Additionally, Donkey Kong was the first video game to require (or allow) players to jump, and it was the first to suggest that the game world was larger then the single screen on which players played. It did so through its narrative, using short cut-scenes to connect one level to the next. Finally, Donkey Kong introduced the popular “damsel in distress” trope to video games, creating a thematic template for games like The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Brothers.

In its first year of sales, Nintendo introduced 60,000 Donkey Kong arcade cabinets into the United States, generating revenues in excess of $180 million dollars. The Donkey Kong franchise is one of the best selling of all time, having spawned dozens of games involving its titular character. In total, the Donkey Kong game franchise has sold more than 54 million copies, but that’s only the beginning.

Mario, the everyman hero in the original Donkey Kong game, spawned a separate and even more successful franchise, with titles like Super Mario Brothers, Super Mario World and Mario Kart. Mario became Nintendo’s ambassador to the world, and the Mario franchise has sold a whopping 446 million copies of its various titles, worldwide!

Miyamoto’s creation inspired many copycats, but it also changed the way designers look at games, and what players expect of them. For innovations in game play and narrative depth, almost every game that came after it owes Donkey Kong a debt of thanks.


The Ultimate History of Video Games
Kent, Steven L., Three Rivers Press, NY, 2001
Nintendo: The Company & Its Founders
Firestone, Mary, ABDO Publishing, MN, 2011
Pin This Tale On The Donkey
Schmuckler, Eric, MEDIAWEEK, 1055176X, Vol. 5, Issue 26
Ewalt, David M.;, Online Article, 11/20/2012