Tiny Use Case 4: Examining the concept of media mix by looking at networks of co-staring characters

Taking inspiration from the network representation of real-life actors co-staring in movies (see Bacon number) the central question for this Tiny Use Case (TUC) was can we find patterns in the networks of co-appearing characters that are specific to Japanese media mixes (explained below). The short answer is we couldn’t, but read on to learn about the interesting things we found in the process of trying.

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Tiny Use Case 3 Part II: Stratifying Our Dataset

During the first part of this blogpost, we outlined our investigation into recurring practices of character design in visual novel games employing character data from The Visual Novel Database (VNDB). To map these practices, we visualized our dataset as a network of nodes, and examined its modularity and the eigenvector centrality of its subnetworks. Through the combined examination of modularity and eigenvector centrality, we were able to observe patterns of trait distribution across our dataset. We identified three trait communities, one of which included the near totality of character traits describing character sexual activity and pornographic depictions. The gendered distribution of types of pornography in the field of visual novel games elicited us to stratify our dataset according to characters’ intended audiences. This second part of our blogpost describes the results of our data stratification.

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Tiny Use Case 3 Part I: A Bottom Up Approach to Visual Novel Game Characters

The process of designing characters for a visual novel game relies on shared conventions for drawing character clothes, hairstyles, accessories, for articulating character demeanor (through visual and other cues) and more. In some cases, certain character types are conventionally depicted with certain visually recognizable traits. For example, a character’s hair could be drawn so that it sports a strand of hair which moves according to the character’s mood, this is called an ‘ahoge‘(idiot hair), and signifies a correspondingly whimsical personality. Another character might treat their love interest coldly while secretly harboring affections for them, struggling in the contradiction, a ‘tsundere’ demeanor, which does not necessarily have a corresponding outward visual trait to signify this personality type. Ahoge and tsundere are two of hundreds of templates for character design, which combine to shape a character’s identity.

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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 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

At the end of part I of this blogpost, we were asking ourselves whenever we could use data from The Visual Novel Database to further our investigation into visual novel game characters. First, let us look at the numbers of vndb.org: the site catalogues over 91240 visual novel characters via a system of 2140 traits. These characters come from a grand total of over 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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