Tiny Use Case 2: Can we test one of the points from Hiroki Azuma’s “Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals” with the JVMG database? Part 4: Questions of validity and the theoretical implications of our results

It has been quite a journey getting to this fourth part in our series on Tiny Use Case 2. We started out by introducing Hiroki Azuma’s discourse defining work, Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals, and picking out a claim that would be worth examining on the JVMG database. Next we introduced the two datasets (The Visual Novel Database (VNDB) and Anime Characters Database (ACDB)) we were employing for our analysis, and examined some key descriptive statistics. Finally, in part three we employed the toolkit of regression analysis to see whether our two hypotheses are confirmed or contradicted by the data at our disposal. Our hypotheses were:

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Tiny Use Case 2: Can we test one of the points from Hiroki Azuma’s “Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals” with the JVMG database? Part 3: Regression analysis

Following the first part of this series, where we introduced Hiroki Azuma’s seminal book Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals, and identified the point (“many of the otaku characters created in recent years are connected to many characters across individual works” (p 49)) we are testing on the JVMG database; in part two we discussed the two datasets (The Visual Novel Database (VNDB) and Anime Characters Database (ACDB)) we are working with and the operationalization of our concepts on these datasets. Furthermore, we examined some key descriptive statistics , and based on what we saw, we reformulated our initial two hypotheses to be the following:

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Tiny Use Case 2: Can we test one of the points from Hiroki Azuma’s “Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals” with the JVMG database? Part 2: Descriptive statistics

In the first part of this series we introduced Hiroki Azuma’s seminal book Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals, and identified a point to try and test on the JVMG database, namely that “many of the otaku characters created in recent years are connected to many characters across individual works” (p 49). This led to the formulation of the following two hypotheses.

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Tiny Use Case 2: Can we test one of the points from Hiroki Azuma’s “Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals” with the JVMG database? Part 1: Formulating a hypothesis

Hiroki Azuma’s Dōbutsu ka suru posutomodan: otaku kara mita nihon shakai (Animalizing postmodern: Japanese society as seen from otaku), published by Kōdansha in 2001, has been one of the most influential treatises on not only Japanese otaku (the word roughly translates to avid fans of anime, manga, games, etc., similar in meaning to geek in the English language domain), but also on the production and consumption paradigm defining Japanese anime, manga, light novels and games in late modernity. The books impact on the discourse around otaku and the just enumerated domains is truly international thanks in part to the English translation, which was published in 2009 as Otaku: Japan’s database animals (introduction and translation by Jonathan E. Abel & Shion Kono, University Of Minnesota Press, all quotes in the following are from this English edition).

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Tiny Use Case 1 Part III: Eyes Wide Open – Tareme and Tsurime as predictors of character demeanor

Part I of this blogpost left us with the question of whether there is a specificity to visual novel game characters. Part II concluded with an invitation to compare two specific design elements, tareme and tsurime, in light of the player’s position during the gaming experience and the data available on the VNDB repository. In this third and final part we will summarize the analysis of data pertaining to tareme and tsurime leads us.

First, we need to remind ourselves that the exchange of gazes between the player and the character is one of the defining elements of a visual novel game’s experience. A visual novel game is played in a first-person perspective: the prose is written in the first person and character sprites are generally depicted as looking at the player.

This digression has been necessary to highlight the importance that the first person and the gaze have in generating the experience, and in turn re-highlight the potential importance of eyes in the construction of the characters. This brings us once more to tareme and tsurime and what kind of demeanor they communicate. According to their description on VNDB.orgtareme suggests a gentler and caring demeanor, opposed to tsurime, which suggests a demeanor that is more distant and generally non-friendly.

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Tiny Use Case 1 Part II: Data from vndb.org and the Player’s position

Is there a specific ‘visual novel game character’ or are they simply a subset or a video game adaptation of anime/manga characters? This is the question we were left with at the end of part I. While the question is obviously too large for one tiny use case, it is still possible to gather some insights into what constitutes a visual novel game character. It might not yet be possible to do a large-scale comparison with anime and manga characters, it is very possible to garner precious insights through the examination of vndb.org data about visual novel game characters.  

First, let us look at the numbers of vndb.org: the site catalogues 91240 visual novel characters via a system of 2140 traits. These characters come from a grand total of 27951 distinct visual novel game titles. The Visual Novel Database’s trait system is a rich apparatus with which fans can catalogue characters in visual novels on the basis of specific categories. There are trait trees pertaining to a character’s hair, a character’s eyes, their body shape, their clothes, personal items, personality, their role in the game’s narrative, what they do and what is done to them, with separate trees for sexual activity.

To employ such a system in a meaningful manner, we first decided to consider the position of the player as they play through a visual novel game. During the course of the game, the player is (usually) first introduced to each of the game’s characters, and then presented with the first of many choices to steer the gameplay experience towards one character or another. Intimacy is gradually built through discovery of a character’s personal narrative, which articulates conventional design elements known to fans and producers into the game’s specific narrative context. By knowing the character more and more, the player can make decisions that are more in accord with a specific character.

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Tiny Use Case 1 Part I: Investigating Japanese Visual Novel Characters

The first Tiny Use Case undertaken within the JVMG was about Japanese visual novel games and their characters. Japanese Visual Novel Games are prose-heavy interactive experiences whose main goal is to win the affections of one or more characters. Visual novel games feature situations and interaction proper of Japanese anime and manga, which the player navigates by choosing which path to take through the narrative at specific points. These points are presented as choices between multiple options, each of which will steer the player towards one character or another, or even towards a failure state. The player progress towards a character’s affection through a series of narrative events, until physical intimacy is reached. When intimacy gets physical, it is usually represented in pornographic fashion, with situations proper of pornographic manga and anime.

Japanese Visual novel games present an interesting research object in the form of character design elements: are these characters simply anime/manga characters deployed into an interactive framework with pornography along the way or is there some specificity to characters in visual novel games? How can we employ the JVMG data efforts to garner insights into the distinctiveness (or lack thereof [2]) of characters in visual novel games? Can we test this against knowledge from both the researcher and scholars in the field?

The importance of characters to the game experience is, by itself, not something distinctive. For all intents and purposes a character can exist as manga, anime and within a video game without any media having ‘precedence’ over the other. One example is Uzumaki Naruto from the eponymous franchise: while the manga has come out before the animated adaptation, there is no substantial difference between Uzumaki Naruto within the manga or within the anime.

Certain characters can also exist before media adaptation, an example of which is Hello Kitty. Characters in visual novel game are design according to specific practices which call for the usage and re-usage of shared conventionalized elements. A visual novel game character can be immediately compared to another by highlighting the commonalities in character design they possess. This is beyond authors quoting one another, and is more akin to a common system shared by content creators and also content consumers.

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Working with the Tiny Use Case workflow methodology in the JVMG project

Following the success of our project launching workshop in July 2019, the work on processing community databases started in earnest (you can read about the technical details of the process in relation to ontology creation and data transformation). By November 2019, we were ready to start examining the data and our infrastructure through the lens of exploratory research.

We decided to adopt the Tiny Use Case workflow methodology to have a number of short-term research projects that would be substantial enough to generate meaningful and interesting results in their own right, but would be compact enough to provide an ongoing stream of feedback on issues with the database, the project infrastructure, and researcher needs. Since each Tiny Use Case is only 3-4 months long, it provides us with an excellent tool for assessing our progress and for uncovering newer issues, as each TUC has a different focus and somewhat different requirements.

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