Let's be positive, for a change

A recent post by Michael Abbott of the Brainy Gamer cut a little too close to the bone for me. In it he riles against the cynicism, or "snarkiness", he feels is so prevalent in video game websites and blogs. And honestly, he has a point. There does seem to be a prevailing sense of snarkiness on a lot of game related websites, which is why I usually and subconsciously limit myself to games news reporting sites, as opposed to editorials, like the Magic Box where I can find what I need reported as dull fact without the stench of some person's opinion which more often than not is clouded by personal opinion and cynicism. It's also why I really enjoy the Brainy Gamer as his obvious enjoyment of the games he is playing and talking about shines through, reminding us developers that despite what we think of the games we create there are people out there who really like playing our stuff. We should be grateful for that and remind ourselves we are not in this business to satisfy our own muses so much as to satisfy our customers, oh, and to make a profit but those latter two should go hand in hand.

So, for a radical change, I'll have a look at some positives about working as a foreigner in Japan because, despite my many grumblings, there are some. I know it's more fun to bitch and moan about my commute and natto and whatnot, but I know there is a real danger some excited pipe dreamers are put off the idea of working in Japan because cynical old sinners like myself keep harping on about how dreadful it all is. I've made fairly similar posts before and may be repeating myself on certain items, but this post is more for me than it is for you.

What is good about being a foreign game developer in Japan?

1. As a multilingual, assuming you will bite the bullet, as you should, and learn Japanese, you have access to a much wider pool of information and data than most of your colleagues. During my morning trawl through my usual sites and blogs I usually end up the main informer to the rest of my colleagues. They see me as a source of news and information, which helps me gain a certain standing which, though a little unwarranted, does help my ego.

2. You're the Devil on the inside looking in. Japanese culture has many, widely reported negatives for those that are part of it, but seeing as you'll never be one of those you have a real opportunity to not only protect yourself but try to improve the situation for others. By setting the example of coming in early and leaving early, as well as getting all my work done by actually working during office hours, I have, on more than one occasion, inspired Japanese colleagues to do likewise. As I have the license to break the rules it's much easier for others to follow, the onus taken away from them and put on my head. At a previous company almost a dozen colleagues ended up coming in earlier and leaving earlier and meetings were scheduled, eventually, to reflect this.

3. You've done something quite difficult that a lot of people dream of but few have the drive to actually accomplish. Though I always keep saying how working in Japan isn't really half as difficult as most people like to think, it is quite a lot of work. For every one of us who made the move, and there are quite a few, dozens haven't though sort of wished they had. You haven't taken the easy route of staying at home and being comfortable, you've moved across countries or continents, leaned a new language, a new culture and are, whether you like it or not, a richer person for it. That doesn't mean you're in any way better than those who haven't made the move, of course, but it is something you can feel proud of, if you're so inclined.

4. Your name, being foreign, sticks out in the staff roll (credits list) like a sore but elegant thumb. Your name actually gets noticed by those who view the list just because it isn't in kanji.

5. Even if the train lines are not, life generally is pretty darn good in Japan. Sure, people are selfish and annoying, like everywhere, and Tokyo can be quite dirty and overwhelming, but the immense choice of things to do is just fantastic. You could eat a pretty good meal for a reasonable price in a different restaurant every day, if you want, or be stuck in the middle of town with no idea what to do and be within a stone's throw distance from a couple of dozen venues to occupy your time at. There is crime, but the overall sense of security is still present. If you lose your wallet there is a real chance it'll be returned to you somehow. And though in everyday life your role as a part of Japanese society is marginalised, you'd never know this on an average night out, where you'll bump into friendly, drunk people everywhere.

6. With Japan as a base you can travel to many interesting places on a tight budget. Not only Japan itself has a lot of interesting places to visit, but for fairly low air fares you can travel to most parts of Asia and Hawaii and see the world without having to be a backpacker.

7. Your work environment will be a lot more varied than back in the West when it comes to the mix of genders and personalities. In many studios in Europe and America it's still a bit of an old boys Star Trek clubhouse, with the overwhelming majority of employees being male and of a certain age and type. In Japan the mix is far more generous and though there are problems here too, the overall impression is that it's far more mixed.

8. Though there will be the occasional arse who'll resent you for being foreign, earning more or being able to sidestep the rules, generally people you'll work with are friendly, open and, most importantly in light of the subject of this post, not so damn cynical. I've never had a drive-by in my time in Japan, the hateful tradition especially prevalent in the UK, where random colleagues would walk past a monitor and say "that's shit". When checking out new titles there is more of an open interest rather than an exercise is slamming the product. And just because you're not Japanese some colleagues will be very excited to work with you, chat with you and get you out at night to get you drunk.

9. Being in Japan makes you just about different enough to write a blog, whether your life deserves one or not.

10. At long last Japan now finally has good deodorant in the shops. Sure, it's only Lynx/Axe which makes you smell like a horny teenager, but at least it works better than the powdery shite that was the norm previously.

With every employment decision you must weigh the pros and cons against each other and obviously Japan has its fair share of cons, like working conditions and pay for example, but don't let's forget there are pros too and I especially need reminding of that sometimes but so do you, the reader, who may at times feel mired in this blog of putrid cynicism. I apologise for that, but I'm only doing what, as a Brit, comes natural.


  1. I admit, I'm quite cynical when covering games myself, though not as harsh as Destructoid or Kotaku.

    It goes without saying that during these times, bashing a product makes people assume you're honest, where as praising it labels you an automatic sell-out.

  2. "but I'm only doing what, as a Brit, comes natural."

    And you're doing a damn good job of it too ;)

    Seriously though, I know I'm not the only one who enjoys reading your blog, with or without cynicism. It's entertaining and enlightening and makes the reality of working in Japan a bit clearer for those of us who have at one time or another contemplated moving over there. So yeah... Thank you for writing about what many would like to but haven't yet been able to do.

    Peter (Swedish person living in the UK)

  3. Great post:

    #6 true except you'll be forced to take vacation only during Golden Week, Obon and New Years when all the prices double or more and everything sells out.

    #7 true, but it's like this. In the USA it's 1 women for every 20 men in gamedev. In Japan it's at most 3 for every 20 men. So, more then twice as good but still crap.

    for #8 I had a different experience which was essentially the same as my experience in the states. When looking at a new game everyone bitched about everything and anything they could see. Nitpicking the tiniest details.

  4. Thanks for giving my post some thought...and for the Buddy Christ photo, which always gives me a good snicker.

    Your essay suggests that we occasionally self-reflect, which is really all I'm suggesting, and your point about remembering us gamers who love games is especially welcome.

    To me, Japanmanship can be counted on to provide remarkable clear-sightedness about your work in the industry and your life in Japan. I have no fears that a little positive reflection will turn you into a company-man or corporate motivational speaker any time soon! ;-)

    Nemphtis' point about bashing perceived as honest and praising perceived as selling out is an excellent one (wish I had thought to make it).

    In the industry I work in (academia), we are very driven to nitpick, split hairs, and generally stake out and defend some kind of intellectual turf against all comers. It puts one in a perpetual defensive stance that rarely results in writing that displays enthusiasm or joy. I got tired of it, basically, which is how I wound up writing about video games. It's a crazy community, but I do love it.

    Thanks for your kind remarks about my work.

  5. Gman, I usually come in to work during Golden Week and Obon as Tokyo is nice and quiet then and I can take the time off during a period not plagued by astronomical prices. As #7 and #8 I guess it differs from company to company. The people I've worked with so far have generally been far less cynical and male, but mileage may vary.

    Michael, the gaming fraternity is indeed...interesting, shall we say. I have found that over the last few years we are seeing far more level-headed and insightful blogs and sites by both amateurs and professionals than ever before. I have no dubt this trend will continue even tough we may never see the death of fanboy frothing and cynical hate-merchandry. Keep up the good work on your blogcast!

    And I'm going to delete Nemphtis' comment and claim his remark as my own - one of the perks of having your own blog! :) Just joking. You hit the proverbial right on the head there.

  6. Thanks for the post JC, and for the blog in general. I find your articles to be enlightening and informative, and have never felt they were overly cynicial. The picture you paint, at least as far as I've understood it, is not one of an environment so frustrating that it's worse than the UK or so rose-tinted as to be better but just of an environment that is different.

    I reckon that's the key to longevity when going to work in a different nation/culture: preparing yourself for the fact that it will be neither better nor worse but just more of the same in a slightly different package. At least that's what I tell myself. Hopefully I'm right as I will be coming over to work in Japan in about 18 months ;)

  7. It's a very cool post, JC.

    I have been working for over half a year in NTT Laboratories in Japan and it has been one of the best periods in my life.

    I liked people, I liked Tokyo, I have put my effort into learning the language (I was familiar with culture before) and I totally agree with your points.

    I want to go back, too, one day. :)