Remember a decade ago? Heck, remember six or seven years ago? I do. I remember telling Japanese gamers that Western games were great and seeing the wry smiles. I remember hearing that the Xbox didn't have any games on it Japanese people wanted to play—a polite way of saying Western games stink. How things have changed, no? Just ask Phil Fish.
The mastermind behind upcoming platformer Fez, Phil Fish is known for being brash, opinionated, and wearing his heart on his sleeve. In short, Phil Fish is known for being Phil Fish.
During a recent Q&A session after documentary Indie Game: The Movie, which features Fish and his game Fez, a Japanese game developer noted that so many indie game seemed inspired by old Japanese games and asked what Fish (and the other panel members) for an opinion on the country's modern games.
According to website Develop, Fish replied, "Your games just suck". Here's Develop's description how that was receieved (please read the whole article for context):
Others looked on awkwardly as the Japanese developer was then subjected to a string criticisms about game design flaws in his native country. The developer nevertheless thanked the panel for their response and returned to his seat.
I contacted Fish about the comment. "My delivery could have been more tactful," Fish replied via email, "but I do think most modern Japanese games are god-damn awful." Fish was clear that he does not hate all Japanese games, but did add that he felt as though many Japanese games are stuck in the past.
Fish is entitled to his opinion. If he thinks modern Japanese games stink, that's fine. He obviously loves the Japanese games he grew up with, and maybe today's Japanese games are just not for him.
But the words "modern Japanese games" are loaded at best. For example, if you like fighting games, well, you bet your ass you like modern Japanese games. Ditto for if you are into shoot'em up games. And what if you like dating simulators? Or racing simulators? Or you simple enjoy hunting monsters? Or what if you like music games? Or stealth games? And what about, you know, Nintendo? "Modern Japanese games" is so nebulous.
Fish's remarks were quickly translated into Japanese and became online forum fodder, with Japanese netizens arguing whether or not Japanese video games "just suck". According to one forum member, all Japanese games suck save for Nintendo and Capcom. While another begged to differ, adding that Capcom sucked. From Software of Dark Souls fame was brought up as a Japanese game company doing interesting stuff.
"Has Canada ever had a famous game or game maker?" wrote a 2ch commenter.
Elsewhere in the thread, one said that Western games lacked originality; another pointed out that Fez wasn't even a retail game, but a downloadable game—as if to discredit it. While other stated that Fish's remarks were "cruel", writing them off to Western elitism.
In the past few years, Japan and Japanese games have become a whipping boy in the West—an easy target to criticize. Yet, in Japan, Western developed games are increasingly becoming popular, with gamers excited to play titles like Skyrim. But are Western games really better than Japanese games? Or is Western game development tech simply more advanced, resulting in better looking games with bigger budgets? Or do Japanese games "just suck"?
"But from long ago, the majority of games suck," pointed out one 2ch commenter. You know, I agree. Look at the majority of video games released. The majority of them, in the West and in Japan, stink.
"This whole thing is being taken out of context and blown way out of proportion," Fish told Kotaku. It might be, but remarks like that are bound to be translated into Japanese and bandied about the internet. Even if Fish wasn't slamming the entire nation of Japan (I don't think he was), it will come off that way. What Fish intended, but didn't exactly do tactfully, is lost further in translation. According to Fish, "The whole thing is unfortunate." It is.
I do think that Fish should be allowed to say what he thinks—even if that ruffles feathers. He also must deal with the consequences of doing that. That being said, I feel bad for the Japanese game developer who asked the question. I don't know what his reaction was, how he felt, or what his name even was. The answer might have felt like a smack to the face—or he might have agreed with it wholeheartedly.
I do know what it's like to be in another place with people speaking another language and hearing them deride things your country does or makes, unintentionally making you wonder if they just don't like where you're from. Not everyone is like that, of course. And over time, you learn to brush off those remarks. There are always those with strong opinions, who don't think twice about sharing them. Sometimes they use tact. Sometimes they forget. Just ask Phil Fish.