fc2_1.JPG['Tokyo Beat' is a new, bi-weekly GameSetWatch-exclusive column by writer Ryan Winterhalter, focusing on expressions of game culture in Japan]

A small white sign marks the entrance to Super Deluxe, a bar in Tokyo’s party center, Roppongi. It’s easy to miss, but it catches my eye just as I pass. I enter the building, and make my way downstairs. I arrive in time to find a table, but not early enough to score a place to sit. The venue is packed.

Over two hundred and fifty people mill around drinking, chatting, and waiting for the event to start. The crowd is diverse, mostly comprised of expatriates from one country or another. English and Japanese seem to be the languages of choice, but occasionally I hear a bit of German or French. Finally, the lights dim and Pecha-Kucha Night begins.

Pecha-Kucha Night is simple. A presenter comes on stage with a slide show prepared. He or she has twenty slides and twenty seconds for each one, for a total of six minutes and forty seconds. The first presenter is a photographer, John Sypal, who discusses his photography featuring foreigners in Japan. The next is a German student discussing political statements through “guerilla gardening.”

Some presentations are hits, like the Wai Wai Steel Drum Band’s performance. Others are so boring that most of the audience treats it like an intermission, a time to use the restroom and grab another beer. In 2003, Pecha-Kucha Night started in Tokyo as a place for architects to discuss their work, but its size and scope has expanded greatly since then. Participants can give presentations about anything, including games.

fcs_2.JPG Pecha-Kucha and Game Culture in Tokyo

The Pecha-Kucha format is growing in popularity. Organizations and events are using it outside of Pech-Kucha Night itself. The University of California San Diego used it in their “SoftWhere 2008” conference; where Georgia Tech professor, Ian Bogost, gave a presentation on platform studies and the Atari 2600.

In Tokyo’s Pecha-Kucha number 62, Mark Cooke, a freelance consultant and game developer gave his presentation, “10 Games in 10 Hours,” in which he tried to develop ten different games over the course of ten hours. The result was ten games and one knockout presentation.

Games ranged from a simple rhythm game, to a tile based, architecture themed puzzle game, even a game with a bit of social commentary about the homeless in Tokyo. Tonight, in Pecha-Kucha number 63, Patrick W. Galbraith, author of the Otaku Encyclopedia, gives a presentation about Japanese anime, game, and geek culture.

Two hours in: the audience is getting restless. Presentations have been going on for a while now, but when Galbraith, a PhD candidate at Tokyo University, is called on stage, people take notice. He is, after all, dressed like Goku, a character from the popular manga Dragon Ball. Accompanying him is a girl dressed as a French maid, Ayakawa Yunmao. She is head of the Maid Cooperative, a professional organization for the hundreds of maids who work in Tokyo’s geek Mecca, Akihabara.

These women work at maid cafes where customers come to relax, hang out, and occasionally pay for a maid to accompany them while the shop for video games and comic books. Together, they teach the audience about Japanese Otaku (geeks) and Akihabara. This isn’t Galbraith’s first time presenting. He says he always receives feedback from his Pecha-Kucha presentations. “I use a lot of props. Give 'em the old razzle dazzle.” People respond to that.

The Advantages Of Cross-Media Communication

Pecha-Kucha Nights provide a forum for game enthusiasts, academics like Galbraith, and creators like Cooke to express their ideas to a large number of people and get personal, face to face feedback immediately. Cooke says, “I have to admit, it was a bit nerve-wracking to get up to present some silly game ideas in front of hundreds of people, but after hearing the crowd laugh, it took the weight off my chest. After the presentation I had the opportunity to speak to a lot of the attendees, many of which said they enjoyed it and looked forward to playing their favorite game of the ones I presented.”

Two things that make game related presentations at Pecha-Kucha important are: one, while Pecha-Kucha originated in Tokyo, it is now a worldwide event. There are Pecha-Kucha Nights, on at least a quarterly basis, in over two-hundred cities all over the world. Two, anyone can present. At the last presentation in Tokyo, musicians, photographers, gardeners, artists, writers, and architects gave diverse performances. Games are a creative field, and there is no reason they should not be represented as well.

If you’re involved in the game industry and want to talk with different groups of people, check out your local Pecha-Kucha Night. Get involved and see what people are looking for. You will hear responses to your ideas that you will not hear at game biz conferences, at work, or on the internet. Presentations can lead to unexpected networking or creative opportunities.

Cooke offers an example, “One of the games from the presentation, Architris (a blue print, layout, puzzle game), spurred conversation with a Tokyo based architect that has been really interesting. We have been brainstorming the rules for how the game will work, while trying to give it some architectural basis in reality.”

Pairings like these don’t usually happen at video game industry-only networking events. Cooke continues, “It has been great to be able to connect to creative people outside of the game industry. Having the opportunity to experience new ideas and learn from people from many backgrounds has been very valuable for me.”

Conclusion: Game Culture On The Rise

Japan is filled with expressions of game culture outside of games themselves. Game themed Pecha-Kucha presentations only serve as an example. Important media tend to develop a culture around them that extends beyond the media itself. Books, for example, have an academic tradition going back thousands of years along with neighborhood book clubs.

The culture surrounding motion pictures includes amateur film makers, movie clubs, and also, a young academic tradition. Games are still new on the scene, and gaming culture is just starting to take root outside of the internet. Right now the best place in the world to watch gaming culture bloom in the real world is Tokyo.