criticizing my interests


Last semester, I had to do an assignment in school where I took a cultural studies angle to critically analyze a video game. The video game I chose, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore, a JRPG* developed by Atlus and available on the Wii U and Nintendo Switch. It was one that was recommended to me by a friend and that I enjoyed playing. However, as I was doing some research on it and writing about it, it came to my attention that, while fun, it was a game with massive flaws especially regarding its understanding of gender. I am not going to unpack my findings and analysis here, but the whole process of doing that assignment had me thinking about engaging with things critically.

* JRPG = Japanese Role-Playing Game

先学期のこと。学校の課題で、カルチュラル・スタティーズの観点から、ビデオゲームを批判的に分析することになった。私が選んだビデオゲームは、Atlusが開発した日本のRPGで、Wii UやNintendo Switch用の『幻影異聞録 FE Encore』。友達に勧められてやってみたところ、とても楽しかった。ただ、ゲームについて調べたり、実際にレポートを書いているうちに、このゲームは面白い反面、特にジェンダーの面で、大きな欠点を抱えているということに私は気が付いた。ここで私の考察を詳しく説明はしないけれど、今回の課題を通して、自分の周りの物事についてより深く分析する姿勢について考えさせられた。

As a cultural studies student, I think that it is important to critically engage with the media we consume. There are ways that one can do this casually through discussions with friends or other conversational forms of discourse, semi-formally through things like blogs or magazines, or formally through professional and academic institutions. I find this process important not only because it is interesting and revelatory of new information but also because critical engagement allows us to understand what we are letting affect our ways of being. While it’s true that we are not sponges that mindlessly soak up information, we are also not impermeable concrete walls that keep anything and everything out. There are ways that the media that we consume, whether they be books, films, television series, comics, music, games, or anything else, can affect us through the explicit and implicit ideas found in them. This is something that I wholeheartedly believe is important which is why I choose to engage with these things in an academic setting. However, I wonder sometimes if I hold the media that I consume in my personal time to that same standard.



During the time that I played the game that I mentioned earlier, I thought that there might be some strange elements, but I didn’t think about them for a long time. Rather, these thoughts were passing and as I played the game further, I did not think about them very much at all – just accepting them as part of the world of the game even if they were things that I personally thought were odd. Other elements, I did not notice at all until I looked at it for this assignment. For example, in the game, many of the female characters wear extremely tight clothing to the point that it is noticeably ill-fitting in order to emphasize their breasts. I did not notice this design choice at all while playing the game.


It is strange to think that the part of me that engages in critical thinking may have been turned off while playing the game or that I was not paying attention to these things that in another situation, I would have immediately noticed. It is even stranger that, in reflection of other media forms that I consume, I do not ignore these things at all. When reading books, watching movies and television shows, and even while listening to music, I find that I am constantly attuned to these kinds of issues. I reflect on issues of gender, sexuality, race, and morality while engaged in these types of activities. So why was it that while playing this video game, it was different?


In some senses, I think that it could be because for the most part, I’m not used to thinking of games in that way. Thinking critically about media is not something that comes automatically or inherently – rather, because of the way that I practiced doing this as a literature student with books then later movies and television, I was able to engage in this way in my free time as well. But I’ve only taken two classes where we discuss video games so perhaps the lack of practice that I have with looking at games in this way has led me to be less stringent in thinking critically with them.


But mostly, I think it’s because, in most forms of media, we are consuming them from an outside point of view. We watch movies and read books knowing that we are an inactive person in someone else’s story. In music too, we are never under the impression that the song is being performed by us and the lyrics are words that are representative of ourselves. But in games, we are