What are the core differences between Japanese and American games? Since so many are translated into English, we don’t always even recognize the games we play are coming from different sources. This is a breakdown of the main differences between the two–keeping in mind that there are plenty of exceptions to any rule.
Are Japanese games less violent? Not necessarily. There are some extremely gory, bloody titles out there. Japanese games do, however, contain significantly less gun violence than American games. You don’t see many first-person shooters coming out of Japan. Japan’s anti-gun laws probably have something to do with this; only law enforcement are officially allowed to carry, and in fact currently Japan doesn’t have an official standing army.
That being said, there is plenty of non-gun violence in Japanese games, and Japan is the source of some of the greatest horror titles out there. If you’re familiar with the popular Silent Hill franchise of games and movies, you can get a sense of the level of violence we’re talking about.
Sex, however, is a much more significant part of Japanese gaming than it is in American gaming. There are Japanese games that are purely erotica, called “eroge” (short for erotic game); there are dating sims, which may or may not have explicit sex scenes; and there are fewer barriers to including sexual themes (or nudity) in games in general. While it is pretty rare to include sexual content in even M-rated American games, you’ll run into it far more often in mature Japanese titles. It’s important to note that just because a game looks cartoony or is animated, it doesn’t mean it isn’t porn. Make no assumptions, and you’ll be just fine.
Japanese games are rated on a different system. CERO (the Computer Entertainment Rating Organization) is the Japanese rating system, and there are some differences between CERO and the ESRB. Some games are playable across regions, and will not have an ESRB rating at all. However, any game that has been imported by American companies will be rated like any other American game. Here are the CERO ratings:
- A: ages 11 and under
- B: ages 12 and up
- C: ages 15 and up
- D: ages 17 and up
- Z: ages 18+
It is important to note that CERO does not rate eroge or dating sims.
Japanese games tend to be in the RPG, Fighter, or Action-Adventure genres rather than shooters. They are often more heavily story and character-focused than American games. They also (partly because of the nature of the RPG format), tend to be more diverse and inclusive—many of the most prominent LGBTQ characters are from Japanese games, and many games have central female characters. Japanese games appeal to a wider audience generally speaking, and a lot of young women gravitate toward Japanese titles for this reason.
Aesthetically, these games are also a bit more diverse than your typical American games. We’ve gotten pretty used to the 30-something stubble guy with a dark past that seems to be the eternal main character in American games. You’re more likely to see characters who are younger, or have exciting hair colors, or even characters who aren’t human at all. It’s not as if this is unheard of in American titles, of course–there are plenty of RPGs from both countries where players can customize characters–but Japanese games tend to feature more aesthetically interesting characters as default.
My suggestions for parents?
- As always, research the game before you buy it.
- Find out what kind of games your kids like. If they’re into stories, characters, and fantasy RPGs, you might want to gravitate toward Japanese games. Alternatively, if your kids are very young, they might love Nintendo’s large franchise of kid-friendly titles. If they like shooters with realistic graphics and quick-action scenarios, your typical American war game might be a better fit.
- Don’t make any assumptions based on the game’s aesthetics. In Japan, cartoons aren’t just for kids.
Finally, know that playing Japanese games is a great way to immerse kids in a different cultural outlook. Although no fantasy is going to be necessarily historically accurate, it’s a good opportunity to introduce kids to a new perspective, or even learn a new language.