An American woman in love with Japan
When I was in the seventh grade, in the heady days of 1993 and 1994, I fell in love with a nation. That’s not an easy feat, let me tell you. I am a red-blooded American woman who loves herself some of the good old U.S. of A, but my love for video games was unmatched, and it didn’t take long for me to figure out where they came from mostly.
In those halcyon days, I was an ignorant little wretch, playing what I could when I could with little money. All I could depend on was my mother getting paid every two weeks so that I could have a pittance of what she earned in the form of an allowance. I received $25, and the ink on the Treasury Department stacks was barely dry before I’d find a way to blow it on my favorite hobby/habit. Why, I could have saved millions by now probably if I hadn’t bought countless issues of GamePro and EGM that were summarily read at dinnertime from cover to cover. The gaming news of the day was most important for me, and I learned the behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts of the trade and gaming journalism all at once. Call it a supplementary education if you will.
While I received a quite proper game education and academic merits in Columbia, S.C.’s public institutions of learning, at the arcade I was becoming cultured in the ways of the people speak. And at home, I was learning subtly about a country I’d never seen and still haven’t ventured forth to in the ensuing 20 years: Japan. My first glancing blow with the Land of the Rising Sun was through Street Fighter. Now, I realize like most people who play the series that there are several nations represented in the World Warrior tournament. Japan is one of many. However, the primary language spoken among all of the characters in the original version of Street Fighter II — with the exception of Zangief, Dhalsim and Guile — is Japanese. And yes, even Ken Masters, who is half Japanese, speaks Japanese fluently.
So, when I booted up the game after ignoring it in favor of Mortal Kombat, I realized there was something going on there and it wasn’t the good old English I was used to hearing. The shock of hearing the language for the first time was akin to being set free to roam in the world for the first time: I didn’t know how to act. I soaked up the language, enthralled with E. Honda’s stage and the concept of sumo. I’d never even heard of sumo at that point, and though I was aware of China and some of the food that I thought came from there (Americanized Chinese food is among my favorites), I had no idea about the history, customs or culture of either China or Japan. All of that changed when I did a shoryuken for the first time.
I dove into the world of a land I didn’t know with abandon. By the time my eighth grade year rolled around, I knew more about samurai and sumo than most 13-year-olds and I finally understood that Japan, at that point, was the place I needed to be because every game that I’d ever played had come from there. And thus began my lifelong dream of traveling.
I also had to learn two concepts at that point: Cultural sensitivity and open-mindedness. As a black teenage girl and now as a black woman, I had to learn that there are other people in the world besides myself and my own race of people. At the same time, I realized that there are people out there in the world that have preconceived notions about who I am and what I love. While I have a deep appreciation for Japanese culture, it is impossible for me to ever become Japanese. I can’t think Japanese, I certainly can’t speak it and I would never claim in any way, shape or form to understand the country’s way of life. However, I can indulge myself in what it has to offer and open my mind to it as well. So, when I’ve heard someone say that I am trying to “turn Japanese” because I happen to love geisha or watch a lot of anime or play a lot of video games, I shut that nonsense down.
That’s what this entire issue of Gaming Insurrection is about this quarter: We appreciate.
Lyndsey Hicks is editor-in-chief of Gaming Insurrection. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org