It’s one of those things I’ve noticed for a while, but couldn’t articulate until recently. I started playing a famous video game named Final Fantasy 7 throughout college, and again in recent months using an old Playstation 1 that I got free from work. For gamers, FF7 still stands out as one of the best story-lines in game history, and the more I play the game, the more I realize the huge amount of social-commentary in it for Japanese audiences.
Some examples are pretty obvious: the game has a strong message about modern life and ecology, and explores Gaia Theory too. This is pretty clear in the game, and I won’t revisit it here.
What I did notice was other, less obvious bits of social commentary that were written for Japanese audiences in particular. For example, much of the story revolves around the city of Midgar, which has very advanced technology, but is a kind of urban dystopia for most people who live below in the slums. There’s a comment in the game about how Midgar used to be comprised of eight cities, but merged into one, and the names of the old towns were forgotten. The history of Tokyo shows that, under the Tokugawa Shoguns, the tiny of village of Edo (江戸) expanded and expanded and swallowed all the area around them, such that if you go to Tokyo now, there are many place names that have no meaning anymore.
Also in the game, Midgar, like Tokyo, is unified by a big train system that allows one to go everywhere, and is at the forefront of technology and industry. Clearly a connection.
Also, another thing that struck me was the back-story about the war with Wutai, a Chinese-like kingdom that features in the game. The story is explored when Aeris’s adoptive mother talks about her losing her husband who fight as a soldier on the front-lines against Wutai, and how many people lost loved ones during that time. Something I saw recently on Japanese TV reminded me about the Second Sino-Japanese War (which became WW2 in the Pacific later), and I realized that this backstory in FF7 about the war between Midgar and Wutai sounded a lot like the Second Sino-Japanese War, and the same sense of needless destruction and loss of life.
I don’t know if there’s a connection or not, but it seems likely.
When I used to play this game in college, I didn’t know any of this, but I imagine that if I was a Japanese youth growing up in Japan playing this game, I might have intuitively picked up on these connections. This reminds me of another post about how video games reflect one’s culture, though people like me from another country wouldn’t necessarily notice it.