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Intimate Fantasies: An Ethnography of Online Video Gamers in Contemporary Japan

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Title:Intimate Fantasies: An Ethnography of Online Video Gamers in Contemporary Japan
Authors:van Ommen, Mattias Raoul Dores
Contributors:Yano, Christine R. (advisor)
Anthropology (department)
Keywords:Cultural anthropology
Asian studies
Digital Cultures
show 2 moreJapan
Video Games
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Date Issued:2020
Publisher:University of Hawai'i at Manoa
Abstract:A widely covered government white paper reported in 2017 that young people in Japan are more likely to find their place of belonging—“ibasho”—in online spaces than they are to find it in school or workplace communities (Japan Cabinet Office, 2017). As one prominent example of such digital spaces, Japanese online video games have experienced rapid growth over the past decade (Takada, 2017). Yet, Japanese video games are still under-analyzed, in particular in analyses of players’ modes of consumption (Picard & Pelletier-Gagnon, 2015). Recognizing the global popularity of video games and Japan’s significant place in their production and consumption, my central research question is: what is it that draws young people in Japan towards these digital, online spaces?
In my dissertation, I argue that players develop what I call “fantastic intimacy”—appreciating fantasy content as separate from offline social identities, yet using the fantasy game world to seek out genuine human connections that easily bleed into offline relationships. Specifically, I look at Final Fantasy XIV, a popular online video game part of a globally successful Japanese franchise, with over 200.000 current and over 1.5 million past users in Japan. Because of it being a social, persistent, online space, I use ethnographic methodology to study it (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, & Taylor, 2012); conducting participant observation from Spring 2016 until Summer 2017, I became an active member of a player community of around 20 members. At the same time, I conducted participant observation in urban Japan, especially Tokyo, paying attention to the themed spaces in which the physical and the virtual come together. After developing rapport with players in the online fantasy world first and then also in offline locations, I interviewed 34 players in Japan. Just like fantastic intimacy itself, then, ethnographic methodology in Japanese virtual worlds is predicated upon digital fantasies becoming a focal point for rapport building, before it is possible to expand the relationship into the physical world.
While its players are often viewed as socially withdrawn, my study shows that games can be used by players to connect with members of society with whom they would not otherwise interact. In fact, I show that it is the fantastic nature of the space itself that allows these relationships to emerge in the first place, due to how offline status categories like gender, occupation and education are initially de-emphasized. From a focus on fantastic intimacy, I explore related issues in Japanese digital communities such as: increased gender diversity in gaming communities; online gaming communities as sites for meeting romantic partners; the relevance of offline themed spaces for digital communities; the player “avatar” and historical shifts in player-avatar relationships; novel forms of affective expression in online communities. I conclude that it is fantastic intimacy that explains most convincingly how players become emotionally invested, build community, and find ibasho in these online communities.
Pages/Duration:330 pages
Rights:All UHM dissertations and theses are protected by copyright. They may be viewed from this source for any purpose, but reproduction or distribution in any format is prohibited without written permission from the copyright owner.
Appears in Collections: Ph.D. - Anthropology

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