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Last Updated: Monday, 25 September 2006, 12:20 GMT 13:20 UK
The friendly face of video gaming
By Jonathan Fildes
Technology reporter, BBC News website, Tokyo

Japanese cosplay, BBC
Many people spend hours making their costumes
Japan is the spiritual home of gaming.

The country may have the world's 10th largest population but it is the second largest market for gaming after the USA.

Although neither videogames nor games consoles were invented in the country, there is no doubt that Japanese people have embraced both.

This weekend thousands of Japanese gamers made the annual pilgrimage to the Tokyo Game Show (TGS) to pay homage to the videogames industry and to check out the latest it had to offer.

Player power

And if one were looking for evidence of how much Japanese gamers are devoted to the digital artform, you needed to look no further than the crowds of people wearing "cosplay".

Short for "costume play", it involves dressing up as characters from Manga, anime, and video games. It is perhaps the Japanese version of being a Star Trek fanatic

The culture that spawned it certainly attracts the same level of devotion.

For example, when Japanese internet entrepreneur Daisuke Enomoto announced his plans to become the fourth tourist to visit the International Space Station he said that he would blast off wearing a replica costume of Char Aznable, a character from the anime series Gundam.

Had he not failed his medical tests, Dice-K as the entrepreneur is nicknamed, would have been the first fancy-dress astronaut in space. At TGS, Gundam devotees mingled with cyber-pirates, robots and fantasy figures.

Daisuke Enomoto, AP
Mr Enomoto wanted to go into space dressed as an anime character
Hours, if not days, had clearly been spent getting "the look" just right.

Between two of the giant halls, stacked with computer games and new consoles, there was an entire area devoted to the videogame obsessed.

Whole families and gangs of friends were all dressed in elaborate home made suits in homage to their favourite characters.

They were only outnumbered by the crowds of fans wanting to take a souvenir snap of themselves with their favourite imitator.

The cynical may think that they are paid by the multi-billion dollar gaming industry.

But chatting to one woman, dressed in a detailed, PVC cyber-page-boy outfit, she said that she spent hours tailoring her costume for no other reason than because it was fun and it made her smile.

Playing for fun

And it is this sometimes child-like attitude that seems to pervade much of what is on offer at the hundreds of stands at TGS.

On the Konami stand, gamers endured long queues to play on the latest versions of games like Pop Music Fever and Drum Mania. The latter involves players hitting a tiny drumkit in response to on screen prompts.

Everybody that stepped away from the arcade like atmosphere had grins on their faces.

Screenshot from Blue Dragon, Microsoft
Blue Dragon proved popular at the Tokyo show
Elsewhere, other gamers were being introduced to Cykan's Puppy On, where players look after and groom a virtual puppy. The posters for the game read: "In a beautiful European style village, you can live with a pet that you've always wanted."

Japanese companies even manage to turn some of the more mundane aspects of daily life, such as the financial markets, into fun games.

Konami's Kabushiki Baibai Trainer Kabutore (Stock Transaction Trainer Kabutore) follows in the footsteps of other profession-based titles like Caduceus: Surgical Operation, released in the west as Trauma Centre: Under the Knife.

But to say that all games available in Japan are pure wholesome fun would distort the picture. Well-known titles in the west with a more violent bent, like Devil May Cry 4, were also on show and getting their fair share of attention.

But titles like this tend to depict violence against fantasy creatures, devils or aliens; certainly not humans.

That kind of thing is just not on in Japan, one senior executive told me. To portray any sort of violence against humans and particularly authority figures, like policeman, is frowned open and shunned, he said.

Realistic blood is also not acceptable.

On the Xbox stand, three games - Dead Rising, Crackdown and Rain of Vampires - were only allowed to be shown in an enclosed area for those people who were over 18.

Screenshot from Trauma Center, Atlus
Trauma Center lets players perform virtual surgery
The queue for the exclusive area had just six people in it at one point while on the other side of the stand, the new fantasy Role Playing Game (RPG), Blue Dragon, had queues of two hours.

An industry insider said that he thought that part of this aversion to bloodshed could be in response to Japan's sometimes-violent past.

Germany, he pointed out, was the only other country with gaming laws as strict as Japan's.

Others suggested that it could be because of the deep level of respect ingrained in Japanese culture or the fact that Japan had never embraced guns in the same way as the west.

One woman sat eating her lunch from a bento box away from the main hall, told me that the long working hours common in Japan meant that people liked to escape into a happy, fantasy world.

Not one with the same downsides as normal life, she said.

Whatever the reason, the result is that the products of the Japanese games industry and the Tokyo Game Show are eclectic, and sometimes peculiar, worlds to dip into.

Both have their eccentric characters and their idiosyncratic rules. But both too are about having fun. Like cosplay it is about raising a smile.

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