22:00, September 26 2023
In the light of recent discourse on playing DDR on leaked data, it is disheartening for me to see both sides of the world fighting over how to play their favorite game, sometimes even resulting in badmouthing the other.
I am generally critical about the west being lax towards pirating copyrighted content. Yes, Fair Use exists in the west, but I am pretty sure that 99%+ of the instances of copyright infringement in the western gaming sphere do not fall under Fair Use. I would even say that if Nintendo had cracked down on western copyright infringements as harshly as Disney did, Nintendo would be ranked among the tech giants with Google, Apple, and Microsoft, but that’s a topic for another day.
But I also know how western gamers are just unable to play their game legitimately. I have spoken with western rhythm gamers about this when Programmed World was a thing1. I know I will be blasted for even saying this, but honestly, compared to most of the JP players, I am somewhat sympathetic towards playing on data in countries that lack official cabs.
I wrote this entry to provide some perspective on the issue of “unofficial means of gameplay” and to provide some critique on our culture. And as this is the second time I am explaining this, I thought I had to post it somewhere more accessible, so I chose my own website.
Please note that I do not intend this entry to be representing the collective view of Japanese rhythm gamers, nor do I intend this to be an academic critique of the Japanese gamingverse. Most of the time the claims will be backed by anecdotal evidences.
これは西側の読者を想定した記事であり、日本語版を提供するつもりはありません。どうしても日本語で読みたい人はGoogle TranslateかChatGPTにでも聞いてください。 雑な要約をすると、この記事は日本/アジアがなぜ解析でのアーケードゲームのプレイに対して西側よりも厳しい姿勢をとっているかについて、英語圏の読者に日本人としての視点を提供するものであり、また、同時に日本・西洋の文化の批評(critique)を含むものです。
… but here I specifically chose the word as to not say “legitimately”, as saying “legitimately” would imply that this score was achieved “through legally clear means”. When Japanese players say this score was a 不正 (lit. illegitimate), here we mostly mean that the score in question was not played on a legal copy, not that it was cheated. The word 不正 sometimes means that it was cheated, so I can guess that Google Translate or ChatGPT might have translated it as such, causing confusions.
Here is a quote from what I wrote in the LIFE4 Discord about a year ago:
JP gamers, or “otaku” in general, have very strict mindsets towards copyright and rules imposed by the creators. Even on stuff like the FreeMelee movement we almost unanimously agree that this should be seen as copyright infringement and nothing else, because the copyright owner said so. If anything needs to be fixed they should not be done by infringing their IP.
This mindset might stem from past experiences/incidents regarding to the doujinshi culture, where copyright owners came in and “exterminated” entire fandoms by sending cease and desist notices. Almost nobody does R18 dojinshi of Pokemon and Tokimeki Memorial because their respective copyright owners cracked down on them. Now it is considered common practice not to crack down on fandoms, but it is very much justified for the copyright owners to do so. If not for the creators and copyright owners, we can’t enjoy their contents, so that’s the deal. Some fandoms are very strict about what they are “allowed” to express, so as not to piss off the copyright owners. This is mostly done by self-restraint, but in some cases a guideline is issued by the owners (e.g. Uma-Musume: anything that could piss off the horse owners could easily result in the content’s termination, so there is a strict code among the fandom where nothing R18 and offensive could be published).
So where does this tie into this situation? We are strict about rules because there could be actual consequences. In our viewpoint, Konami is totally entitled to crack down on this incident on grounds of broken license agreement, so this incident could easily lead to the termination of eAMUSEMENT service in the Indonesian arcade that sold the cab, and quite possibly could lead to less service outside of Japan, because their legal team would not want to deal with further broken license incidents outside of Japan. Konami could just go like: “If the outside world is totally fine with breaking our contracts, fine, we’re not doing service outside of Japan, because language is hard and laws outside of Japan is also hard. The hassle wouldn’t justify the revenue from servicing outside of Japan.” It might not be a rational decision, but it is very true that Japanese companies have a hard time negotiating outside of Japan and we tend to avoid risks and estimate risks higher.
I forgot that JP rhythm gamers had some history with Konami cracking down on fandoms. Diverse System used to do Bemani remixes, but they don’t anymore. They released an album with a remix of perditus†paradisus, which was only known at that time via leaked data (or maybe a glitch?). Ofc it got C&D’d, and now they only do originals
This pretty much explains most of the stuff I want to talk in this entry. We had history with gaming companies. We wouldn’t like to have another instance of that. I believe the western gaming community also had some history with Nintendo of America cracking down on emulators, but is it forgotten from the common memory of the community?
This might be just me, but when our economy is stagnant for 30 years, when taxes are rising, and when our major industries get caught in scandals (and sometimes even the media is complicit about it), as Otakus our only hope for Japan becomes the content industry (anime, manga, games). But also at the same time we hear about content creators not being compensated very well. Piracy just worsenes the economic situation for the content creators.
That might have been an overstatement for the whole industry, but we can feel that DDR is under severe economic pressure to survive. Even though DDR is one of the hardwares chosen for BEMANI Pro League, I believe DDR has always been on the brink of service termination. We came back once from the brink of death (DDR EXTREME). We felt it when DDR cabs started to disappear from our arcades2. We also felt that we weren’t getting a new version after DDR 2013 (when they removed the version name altogether). Also, when Konami announced DDR would be in BPL, that was when A20 PLUS was the active version, and that didn’t get new Level 18+ charts for 2 years. A competitive game, huh?3
So, if DDR isn’t considered profitable, the higher-ups would easily cut development budgets and eventually terminate service. Piracy would just contribute to quickening that eventual death of the game.
Japanese and most Asian cultures are classified as cultures of shame (or honor-shame cultures), as opposed to western Christian cultures being classified as cultures of guilt. As cultures of shame “stress self-denial and humility as ways of restoring the social order” (quote from the previous link), if someone was seen to break the social order, others will put that person to shame, effectively ganging up on that person.
Honestly I am not a fan of this course of action. I believe this is a form of “Lawful Evil”4. Being “good” in a shame-based society is based on complying with the social order (thus complying with rules and law), which equivalates (moral) “goodness” with “lawfulness”. This notion absolves the person of any wrongdoing against someone who breaks the rule/law as long as they don’t break the rule/law during that process. For this reason, I do not like the fact that some Japanese players are seeing this as a chance to “lawfully” bash western players.
Is it an unalienable right to play games? We consider it false, or at least false when it conflicts with the rights of others (here the copyright owners).
Moreover, gaming is still considered to be a “child’s play”5, so insisting on the right to play games under illegal conditions is considered even more childish and pathetic, and thus more shameful.
Although I disagree with this view, some people view the notion of “rights” differently from the west6. Some of us believe that rights come as a result of meeting our social obligations. As such, insisting on the right to break social contracts make no sense to them. This line of thought easily leads us down a slippery slope though, where the term “human rights” become somewhat of a left-wing exclusive jargon, and the Japanese government stops assigning the PM’s advisor for “human rights” and starts mentioning “human dignity” when they could have just said “human rights”…
Well, Japan isn’t all Tokyo/Osaka/Nagoya/Fukuoka/Sapporo…
This view has changed drastically since I moved from Tokyo to Ehime. Here, the only city that has even a single DDR cab is the capital city Matsuyama, and we have a local player who drives their car for 2 hours from Imabari to play DDR. It is the case for most rural areas, especially in western Japan.
The prefecture that has the hometown of HinaBitter (Tottori) does not have any official DDR cabs, and if you live in the capital city, it’s at least 2 hours to Matsue or Okayama. Good luck if you live anywhere else. Also, your closest local arcade has bad maintenance? That happens a lot in rural Japan too. Our local Round1 has a gold cab with shoddy maintenance which most locals consider it nonexistent. We are lucky to have another place with immaculate maintenance, but for other places the conditions aren’t so different from that of the US.
(update 9/27: DDR exists in Tottori, even in Kurayoshi(the model of HinaBitter’s Kuranogawa)! But it seems like Shimane lacks DDR cabs now…)
Also speaking of privilege, we live in an island country where land comes at a premium, so home setups aren’t viable at all because most of us live in high-density housing. Some outliers exist but they live mostly outside of the major city centers, which in turn separates them from decent official cab access.
Even if you lived in Japan, you can’t just go to Konami and drop them money to buy a modern DDR (or any e-AMUSEMENT enabled) cab. As from what I have heard, they will only sell you cabs if you are an arcade owner. Here “being an arcade owner” means that you have permits to operate as an arcade under Japanese regulations. This involves paperwork and regular checkups with the local police department. Even that isn’t enough to sell you some of the “premium” cabs. Some cabs are exclusive to large arcades (like Round1). Also if you aren’t considered a “loyal” customer to Konami they will sell you these “premium” cabs only under bundled deals, where you have to also buy some of their less-selling cabs (this has been confirmed by a former arcade owner on YouTube). For countries outside of Japan I assume that they have different requirements but they typically go through a deal with local arcade distributors.
So yes, they don’t operate under “free market capitalism”. Some of the restrictions comes from “bad business practices”, but it’s not all that.
Because it’s not free.
Contrary to popular belief, Konami isn’t a multi-nation gaming giant as opposed to Nintendo. It’s a Japanese Traditional Company. As such, I could assume that there aren’t many people who are capable of making deals with foreign businesses. Yes, we do have our English speaking population, but they choose to do business outside of gaming because they have a better shot at getting better compensation in other fields7. Also when it comes to areas that are notorious for piracy, it would be a very difficult job to come up with deals that will not screw them up.
It’s not free and easy to do business outside of Japan. It becomes even harder when the west has different notions of copyright. Also, when arcade gaming is a rapidly shrinking sector even inside Japan, who would want to take the risk to navigate difficult business outside of Japan just to scrape pennies?
Another quote from my post in LIFE4 Discord:
Also BMS is another story. Now they have BMS songs in SDVX and some other machines, but the BMS community has operated with very careful manners so as not to trigger Konami into shutting down BMS altogether
Yes, I know there are a number of players who play “analyzed BMS”8, or BMSes that originate from ripped arcade data. But they are generally frowned upon for obvious reasons. You do not say out loud even if you happened to achieve major milestones on cracked content. Who the hell knows if someone has FCed 冥 Another before the first reported instance on official arcade cabs? But nobody cares because you just don’t talk about that publicly, or you will get shamed for eternity.
The BMS community operated under a common agreement that people recognized the notion of BMS itself was gray zone, so obviously they agreed that playing on ripped data was bad.
This seemed to be also the case for Programmed World, as I read from the postmortem entry. They used to recognize that they were playing with illegal material, and thus they used to have an honor system where anyone who leaked data would be stripped access from the network. As such they complied to Konami’s cease and desist letter and shut down the network accordingly. Where did this honor system go when it comes to modern DDR?
I disagree with JP players saying something along the line of “go play GP instead”.
First of all, when it comes to “complying with Terms of Service”, DDR GP isn’t supposed to be serviced outside of Japan. Konami can just fix that if they want GP to be the legitimate method to play DDR outside of official arcade cabs.
But also at the same time, GP is just unplayable compared to arcade play. It’s not the payment system (yes I do have problems with how their payment system works). The sync fluctuates way more than in the arcade cabinets, effectively rendering it unplayable for competitive play. If DDR GP ran almost as consistent as the home version of SOUND VOLTEX9, then I can see that people wouldn’t have to resort to playing DDR on data.
So, for high level players, it’s not that people are refusing to play DDR GP because they refuse to pay. It’s more about the game not meeting the standards for competitive gameplay. I hope someday they will fix GP to be a better solution for legitimate competitive play.
Outside of Japan, DDR is considered to be “the” rhythm game 10. I remember when the commentators at the GDQ SOUND VOLTEX showcase listed the names of rhythm games people might know, DDR was the first on the list. So, I genuinely hope that this discussion/debate/debacle/drama (or whatever you call it) leads to a positive future where DDR becomes “the” rhythm game of the world. I genuinely hope for a level playing field among players of all countries to be achieved in order for DDR to succeed as a competitive e-sport11. At the same time, I hope this entry helped some people to understand and overcome our cultural differences.
Also did you remember that the “planned” DDR movie was supposed to be themed on saving the world using “the universal language of dance”? Yes, there are differences and real-world problems to overcome, but I believe that we can prevent “our” world of DDR from extinction through our universal love of the game.
When I visited the US and played on PW-enabled IIDX tricoro, I even saw content that was still supposed to be locked, but I refused to play them until they officially came out. ↩
Where did it go? I heard some of them crossed the Pacific ocean… ↩
Yes, I have jokingly said back then that Step Revolution taking over DDR would be better for DDR’s future ↩
As in Alignment Charts of Dungeons & Dragons. I am going to write some more on this topic but it will be in Japanese ↩
Even explaining gaming phenomena like this at length will cause my IRL friends to think “why do you waste your resources on such childish stuff?” ↩
On a side note, it’s not only the political right-wing that have a “different view on human rights”. Gamers use the word 人権 (human rights) for what they consider to be basic necessities or abilities in gaming. This can be seen as gamers talking about certain characters of gacha games as 人権キャラ (“human rights character”, meaning “the character you need to play the game at a higher level”), and the instance of former professional gamer Tanukana losing her sponsorship from saying “guys with height of 170cm or less have no human rights”. ↩
People jokingly tell me to join them to do international business for them, but no, JTCs don’t work like that, and I’m a tech nerd and not a sales person. ↩
You might have seen the word 「解析」(lit. analysis/analyzed) mentioned in Japanese tweets. That’s the term used for “playing on data”. ↩
I think IIDX INFINITAS also does a good job, but hardcore IIDX players say that INFINITAS is also bad when it comes to sync ↩
As opposed to Japan where IIDX and SDVX gets all the love ↩
In this sense, for me, Super Extra Exclusive and up^^beat Denver seemed to be more successful competitive e-sports experiences than the previous BEMANI Pro League. ↩