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James Portnow: This Developer’s Life — SakuraCon!
April 24, 2009
week was a blast. I got to kick back and blow off working a weekend in
the first time in…well…ever. I went to the strange and wonderful
silliness that is SakuraCon, which means this week we’ll be exploring
questions like “Are you otaku?” and “What’s a furry…?”
though we’ll be looking at consumer conventions and what it means to
know your customer.
Oh and I’ll share pictures of cosplayers ‘cause
that’s always a good time…
WTF’s a SakuraCon?
if you didn’t pick it up from the above paragraph (in case you don’t
know the hip lingo the kids are speaking these days, just ask the nearest
sixteen year old what a furry is…also, have a good lawyer), it’s an
anime convention. In fact it’s the largest anime convention in the
So what was I doing at an anime convention? I
was dragged to it over vehement mock protestations by some of the
artists at Divide by Zero, as they had pieces in the
art show. It was a surprisingly edifying experience.
of you who have been following my adventures know that I’ve been on a
month-long tear of straight conventioneering. NEVER DO THIS. It’s a
But, ignoring my mindboggling failure to
understand my own general misanthropy and my gross underestimation of
my body’s ability to go without sleep for 28 consecutive days, what
made SakuraCon different? Well it was the first “consumer” show I’ve
been to this season. This meant a series of things:
- I could feel smugly superior about my otherwise insubstantial existence.
- I didn’t have to do any work.
- I got to talk to consumers.
and this is a helpful tip for all of you, I found out that a “consumer”
is not a person stricken with consumption. Upon realizing this, I
removed my medical mask (which was by no means out of place at an
SakuraCon) and began to engage with these rarefied creatures. When I
began, I would follow them silently for a period of 15-20 minutes so as
not to scare them off but, when I found they were relatively
unflappable, I began trying to interact with them more directly. I
would hail them with a friendly call of “Churl!” or “Thrall!” and then
ask them if they would like me to pour some glorious and undiluted
meaning into their otherwise vapid and hollow shells of an existence.
This seemed to go over well. Here is the data that I gleaned from
doing so (plus, pictures!)…
Consumers Part 2…the Serious Bit
interesting how often we talk about really knowing our consumer when
often we only look at them from behind a wall of numbers and data.
After going to Sakura I spent as much of this week as a I could spare
haunting Gamestops and hobby shops, just listening to conversations and
talking to the people wandering through. Here are my honest
- People are looking for stories
in-game stories, but campfire stories, the type of stories they can
tell their friends or, better still, the type of stories they can tell
another gamer they just met. Stories about poisoning the food in the
NPC baker’s bag or about landing on top of four guys in a Warthog or
beating a boss without taking a hit…these are the stories that people
are looking for.
Video games create shared experience, shared
experiences are the root of communication, and people love to
communicate. Even single-player games can become social, giving
players an experience they can share. After all, gamers these days are
- Newbs — For the most part even people who
play “hardcore” games aren’t “hardcore." They’re looking to kill some
time and have some fun. I believe (though clearly my sample size isn’t
big enough) that the true hardcore ubergamer is actually a much smaller
fraction than the sliver we believe it to be now. This doesn’t mean
that people don’t enjoy challenging experiences; they just don’t rest
their self worth on winning or losing.
- The demographic
really has changed —
There is no such thing as a “gamer” anymore.
Everyone plays games: young and old, rich and poor, all nationalities,
all creeds, every political affiliation and economic class. We haven’t
broken free of the stereotypes yet, but that’s all they are anymore, a
stereotype that represents a small fraction of the people who now play
promised, here’s the exciting, superfun cosplay gallery (and no, you
won’t be getting any pictures of the faptastic Cammy White…)
was a great experience for me. Rarely do I get to take that type of
step back. As often as I am light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek with
this column I’d like to mention one thing that moved me and I hope
provides some inspiration and motivation to everyone doing this job
during the long days of crunch.
I talked with a great number of
people who came to SakuraCon in costume as a character from a
videogame. One thing that was pervasive in talking to these people was
how much these characters, and these games, really meant to them.
spoke to a fantastically done Kratos. I asked him why he was dressed
(or rather painted) that way. He turned out to be a marine on leave.
He told me that “over there I’d sometimes think about Kratos whoopin’
ass and you know, he can’t be afraid because he’s on a mission”. He
told me all about the God of War series and even about
understanding the difference between Kratos and him and how he can’t
make the moral errors that Kratos made.
But beyond all
that, he ended the conversation with something that shook me to the
core. He said to me “Sometimes I say to myself ‘Fuck it _____ (he
referred to himself, I’m omitting his name) you can’t die in this
armpit of a country, otherwise you’ll never get to see what they do in
the next one (referring to the upcoming God of War)’.”
We’re a mass media. We affect people’s lives. We have to accept that these days.
Catch up with my latest adventures at www.gameculture.com.