Hello again, Kotaku readers. My name is Sisi. I am an award-nominated game designer, a roleplaying game enthusiast, and mobile gaming casual. Maybe you’ve already read some of my pieces about Genshin Impact, and I’m psyched to be doing this for you on a full-time basis.
I can’t help but notice a dearth of analysis on Asian games that goes beyond, “The art style looks neat, and the gameplay feels good.” So I spent a great deal of time writing deep dives on games and series such as Yakuza, Fire Emblem, and western titles that featured Asian characters.
My motivations were purely self-centered. I wanted to write pieces that I would want to read. When one of my Genshin Impact pieces was added to the game’s Wikipedia page, I realized that I could improve the critique available for Asian games. I want people to be curious. I want people to stay informed, even titles that aren’t mainstream. I want people to dig deeper and demand more from games than gorgeous anime art.
How should we talk about video games that are made by developers who didn’t grow up with the western games canon? How do we talk about games made by artists who come from pop culture traditions that aren’t Tolkien or Dune or American military shooters?
I’ve got some ideas. For starters, it’s important to accept that games may draw upon histories and cultural references that don’t align with the white Christian canon. Magic systems that might seem incomprehensible to a western audience can make perfect sense in the context of Buddhism, a religion practiced by roughly 500 million people. The Yakuza series also makes more sense if you’re familiar with the history of post-war Japan. And personally, I find it exciting that a globally popular game like Genshin Impact features wuxia literary tropes.
If players don’t want to play the same ten World War II shooters or medieval campaigns set in England, then they need to accept that a game’s references may not be immediately comprehensible to them. And that’s okay! As a critic, I’m not solely interested in games that are easily consumed. Art should challenge us, just as we should challenge games.
I say this as a writer who started out in game development, a background that informs my journalism. I believe that video games have a special magnetism because every video game is a conversation between the player and the designers. When I’m designing a game months before you will ever play it, I’m anticipating your mental state and instincts. Every play session is a discussion that takes place within a computer box, even if neither of the participants come face-to-face with the other.
As someone who’s been through the unglamorous grit of shipping video games on deadlines, I can’t help but view every released game as a tiny miracle. I forgive where the vision fell short. I want to give breathing room for stories to be more complicated than at first glance. I want to write about games with the nuance that I wish my own works were afforded. And maybe that’s okay.
The only wrong way to write about games is to approach them from an angle of dismissal. Even when a game isn’t up my alley, there are potentially millions of people whose gaming vocabulary and frame of reference were shaped by a game I bounced on. Isn’t that fascinating? There are so many little atomized worlds within the gaming community and not enough time to cover them all.
I’ll be another set of your eyes and ears. Let’s go on a journey together.