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The “May I Play…” Article as the Start of a conversation, not the End of one

I don’t have a poignant subtext for this meme, I just wanted to share.

So, did you charitably read the previous linked article where my friend Mendez talks about gaming-as-other?

I love this article, and I love sharing it with my communities of gamers over here in Japan: I play online with native Taiwanese, Chinese, Singaporean, Malaysian, Indonesian, and Korean gamers. I game face to face with a mishmash of faces and cultures (predominantly in Japanese or “Mutt-English”). I enjoy hearing the feedback from folks around here. In short, there’s a lot of the following comments from Asian gamers (as in “English as a Second Language, actually born/living in Asia, “Never lived in/visited America/Europe” Asians) I’ve shared this with, after giving the “read it charitably” speech:

Japanese friend: “What? I read it and it makes sense but… I don’t quite get it. Maybe I missed some language/culture nuance?”

Taiwanese friend: “I get what he’s saying, but a lot of it doesn’t seem to apply to me?”

Japanese friend: “I enjoyed reading it, but it seems that this is mostly… “USA culture stuff?” “

To crunch a long, long story short: This article for me is not a religious verse to be handed out and memorized. Instead, here in Asia, it’s the starter-gun start of a very interesting cross-cultural conversation with people I’m interested in sharing myself with.

Indeed, for myself, only a fraction of what Mendez writes about applies to me (20-30%?). But with the rest, I get where he’s coming from. And even if I don’t need to draw upon it all right now, it’s great to have in the toolbox for later. Most of the harsh criticism towards the article that I’ve seen online from western sources (reddit, etc) are basically dismissive: “It doesn’t apply to me, so it was a waste of time”, stuff like that.

I tend to think about gaming and sociology… a lot. Like, I wish I could turn the wheel in my brain so that I would eagerly think and learn about other aspects of my professional career as much as I read/learn about gaming and social networks. Save for maybe network/system performance, that’s one professional topic where I read that shit for fun too. Well, when it comes to system performance (everything from hardware to nestled systems of software components to fundamental queuing theory) or personal productivity books, I read a LOT of stuff that people in the field are going through that doesn’t necessarily apply to me. Just because it doesn’t apply to me right now doesn’t mean it’s not a problem for someone else. Maybe I’ll never need to pull upon that information. Or maybe I will, or else I’ll have an opportunity to help someone else in my field who is struggling with that problem. Learning about this sort of thing from an expert who’s willing to break it down in simple, easily to relate articles, is a really pretty tool to add to the toolbox for later.

Aside from that simple aspect of “Cool Tool, Bro” and tossing the article in the back of the brain to maybe draw upon later, the other great aspect of this article is the discussion it brings to the table to people not submersed in Western culture: People who haven’t grown up rolling their eyes at Hollywood/mass media’s portrayal of them their whole lives. It is a real conversation starter, and a way to relate questionable items of one’s own (non-western) culture for self-reflection and improvement.

When I sent this article around to other Japanese and Asian friends, it wasn’t just to close the book on an issue, but rather to start a new conversation. Starting off with an innocent-wink “So… what did you think?”, going down the path of “That part that did apply to you, what do you think about that?” and “The parts that didn’t apply to your experience, here’s a bit about where Mendez is coming from (drops a small amount of cultural history about Asians in the US)” to “Do you see any parallels in your own country/culture or gaming?”

I love these conversations, as I end up learning a lot more in these kinds of exchanges than I thought I would when I just dropped the article. I get lectures/lessons on the Singaporean gaming scene. Differences in all-female vs mixed Japanese TRPG tables. Interesting takes on “The Foreigner” in Chinese or Japanese media. A real hot, explosive, messy, cultural exchange. A lot of it is sociological-academic heroin: So much new cultural reference points. Some of it is even “problematic”, and needs further discussion!
(for example, when my native Singaporean-Chinese friend told me – after reading the article at my request – that during one online RPG session, a white person from the US called the Singaporean’s portrayal of a historical Asian character “racist” and was offended: There was a LOT to unpack there from all angles!)

In short, if you come across this stuff, if you are interested in “Getting better at gaming”, or better yet, “Getting better at people“, give these articles a read, even if they don’t seem to apply to you – you bastion of progressive liberal spirit. Chances are that you’ll find a real-world use for them later, or else they become a kickoff for a real, meaningful, cultural exchange with gamers from completely different cultures: There’s so much to explore when looking into the similarities and differences of these points, and such conversations beat Asian-typical (at least in Japan/China) “idle food talk” for interest and depth.

Okay… so this post is where I was going to bring up my actual “usability points” for gaming when using Japan/Japanese language as a theme, but I’ve spent too much time talking about the positives of expanding your horizons with articles about culture/ancestry and gaming, so I’ll call this “Part One” and move the pragmatic stuff to “Part Two”.

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