Mehr als Super Mario

Artist / Referent



Mi 14. April 1999, 20:00 bis 01:00, Zürich

Elektronische Spielkultur in Japan In Zusammenarbeit mit dem Museum für Gestaltung

Japan gilt gemeinhin als Geburtsland der elektronischen Spiele und als Hochburg der Spielkultur. Was verbirgt sich hinter dieser Vorstellung? - Antworten auf diese Fragen kommen von Masuyama, einem profunden Kenner der japanischen Spielkultur, er auch bei der Konzeption der Ausstellung GAME OVER mitgewirkt hat.

Text von Masuyama

Good evening. Ladies and Gentlemen.
My name is Masuyama. It's my last name. I only use my last name outside of Japan.
Because we Japanese are not used to be called by the first name except among a family. So you can just call me Masuyama.

First of all, I would like to thank people who invited me here today. It's very good opportunity for me to speak to you about Videogames.

I have been involved in the videogame industry in Japan from 1985. First as a critic, later as a producer.
So it's been almost 15 years now...

My basic interest towrad videogames is "video games as social phenomena". I think it's very unique in 3 contexts.

1. It's DIGITAL.
2. It's Interactive.
3. It's big business.

In other words Videogame is the first commercially successful and socially accepted digital interactive media.

and also it's the first succesful software genre from Japan.

My fundamental question is "What is videogames?" , "why it became so popular all over the world?" and " why Japanese games are popular?".

Tonight I would like to introduce a little history of videogames and some latest titles from Japan. to give you a basic context and some clues to think about videogames.

Videogames were invented in the U.S. in 1960's in the lab of artificial intelligence as a spare time project. Young students and teaching assistants did it for fun, not serious research.
Called "Space war". Looks something like this.

I think it's important to note "Space war" was run on the first generation of "mini-computer" called PDP-1 from DEC.
PDP-1 also was the first generation of computers which has Video monitor as Input/Output device. Before that people were using papers punch cards, or even mechanical switches and blink lights for Input/Output.
It means video game was born right at the time when computer and TV monitor have met.

But "Space War" was never released to the market. Students liked it very much and the programm was copied and spread to other universities and research labs who used the same type of system.
But nobody had an idea of "videogaming as business" exept one Graduate student in Utah university.

His name is Nolan Bushnell. He played "space war" at the univercity and he was assistant manager of fairground. He remenbers he was one of the very few people who understand the digital technology to have fun and the economics of fariground.

After a couple of years of working in a semiconductor company, he decided to develop videogames. It was released on the market in 1971. called "Computer space". An arranged version of "Space war".
It was not successfull at all. only 2000 or 3000 units were sold.
Because the rule and the manupulation of the game was too complicated. It was OK for hobby players in the lab but too difficult for the people drinking beer in the bar.
So Bushnell changed the direction of game design. He looked for something very popular so you don't have to ask anyone how to play.

It was this.(Video)
called "PONG". taken from the sound of bouncing ball.
obviously the rule is pretty similar to tennis people easily understand. It became a huge success and the first well known videogame in the history.

designed to be played by one person.

Space Invadors(1978)(VIDEO)
the cannon ball was only 1 dot wide.

Smooth animation.

Super Mario(1985)(VIDEO)
Controller cross key+A.B
visual expression of human type character

This was the early stage of videogames.
Although the technology has developped incredible, the basic "fun" of videogames has not been changed.
You may be able to name several genres of videogames like shooting fighting racing, driving...etc. But I would say there are only 3 basic "funs" in video games.

1. Action game. Players enjoy action or interaction with other characters of objects. technically it involves lot of "hit-checks".
2. R.P.G ,and Adventure. Basic joy is stories and treasure hunting.
3. Strategy games. Card games, Board games, war simulation.

Even if you see hundreds of titles released every month, I would say, 95% of those must be in these three categories.

Most of videogames have 2 elements in common.
it has final goal to achieve and has win/loose system.

But quite recently, I see another trend.
There are some softwares which can not be regarded as traditional video games. They don't have a win/loose system. they don't even have a particular goal to achieve.



Pikachu(VHS, Nintendo64)

Finally, I'd like to summerize my answer to the question I raised at the beginning.

"Why VG became so popular?"

One clear answer to me is "It has become a counterpart or good playfellow when people play him/herself."
There are many ways you can have fun when you are alone.
But most mass-products for that purpose you would buy are uni-directional.
Videogames have been successful to be a "software playfellow" to satisfactory level. When you got bored with one videogames. It means you got bored with that particular playfellow.

another question was "why Japanese games?"

A big difference between the west and east about the image or consciousness towards Machines.
I know this is very big generalization but I think it is important to understand Japanese popular culture in general.
In Japan machines or monsters are NOT necessarily opposed to humans. We don't have big distinction between those two. Sometimes an advanced machines like human-type robot are even regarded as ideal evolutionally form of humans.
I think some of you have seen many Japanese Manga or Anime which features human-like robot respected oe admired by human. It's quite natural to us.

I think this difference can observed in many Asian cultures.
But there is another characteristic very unique to Japanese culture. It's the tradition of "smaller is better". This is observed by Korean Scholer Dr. Lee O-young. He said there is nothing like that in Korea or China. More than 1000 years ago in Japan, it has been written in old literature "All things small, no matter what they are, all things small are beautifull."

Videogames can be described as "small garden" or "micro cosmos".
People who traditionally loves small things and think machines can be a friend must love videogames naturally.



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