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Where Games Go To Sleep: The Game Preservation Crisis, Part 2
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Where Games Go To Sleep: The Game Preservation Crisis, Part 2

February 10, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

Heading to Japan, the establishment of an official museum dedicated to video games is one that has been fraught with ongoing challenges. The very challenge of opening a video game museum in Japan is one the author of this article is very familiar with. An attempt was made by the author to gather interest in opening an "International Video Game Museum" near Tokyo while residing in Japan on the JET, The Japan Exchange & Teaching Program.

A business proposal was written, submitted to two major business organizations in 2005, all with the intention of gathering interest from associated Japanese software developers and publishers. Despite efforts to push the concept forward, along with pinpointing an actual location for the museum, there was no interest from Japanese video game developers and publishers.

The project would be shelved in 2006 due to lack of interest. An application for a Japanese government-sponsored graduate school scholarship to further research the museum, intended as an international tourist attraction, was denied in 2008.

The Japanese government would find itself in a publicized political and financial conflict that made headlines when it attempted to open its own museum with a section dedicated to video games. This museum was then known as the National Center for Media Arts (NCMA), and the conflict was covered in numerous Japan Times articles.

The NCMA was aimed at researching, collecting and displaying manga, anime, video games and digital art. The plan was assembled and pushed forward for funding by Japan's Agency For Cultural Affairs. In April of 2009 it was announced that 11.7 billion yen of funding ($132 million USD) had been approved in a supplementary budget plan for the NCMA to be built from the ground up.

It appeared that the NCMA was moving rapidly forward, all under the watch of then-Prime Minister Taro Aso, a figure who made it well known to the public that he was an avid manga reader. The 10,000 square foot facility was to be built in Tokyo's waterfront Odaiba district.

The news was largely ignored by the media until then Democratic Party of Japan president Yukio Hatoyama blasted the plan, calling it a "state-run manga café". Hatoyama declared that the money set aside for the NCMA should be used for struggling single-mother households. Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs head Tomatsu Aoki noted that its overall agency budget for 2009 was 102 billion yen, about a third less than South Korea's, and seven times less than France, according to a Japan Times article which pointed out another official defense:

"...The NCMA plan's inclusion in the supplementary budget is that it will serve as a fiscal stimulus in the current economic downturn -- which is why the supplementary budget was created in the first place."

There were mixed reaction from those within Japan's popular culture industries about the NCMA plan. Some were for the NCMA while others were against it, arguing that the enormous amount of money budgeted for the museum would be better suited to directly support the working environments of employees (both current and prospective) of Japan's popular culture industries of anime, manga and video games -- all struggling amidst the impact of the financial crisis.

A Japan Times article covering the unfolding debacle in July 2009 interviewed 28 year-old Yujiro Funato, a producer at Realthing Inc., a company that produces animation and computer graphics. Funato did not hold back his criticism of the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party), blaming it for being too late in building the NCMA:

"It should have built it 20 years ago... Things are going in the wrong direction because they're talking about it when there is no money."

Funato also expressed skepticism about pledges to improve things for workers in the field: "Nothing is likely to change. The private sector should make efforts on its own," Funato said.

One month after this Japan Times article was published online, Yukio Hatoyama would be elected Prime Minister of Japan, defeating Prime Minister Taro Aso, removing the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) from power for only the second time in 54 years.

In preserving video of actual gameplay, GameCenter CX is a Japanese television show that is accomplishing this feat. Numerous video game titles are played on each episode with the help of game guides and even on-set production staff. Host Shinya Arino visits game arcades all over Japan and interviews famous game designers in between game-playing segments.

Newly elected Prime Minister Hatoyama and the DPJ cancelled the construction of the NCMA, leaving its future uncertain.

It should be noted that many pop culture museums based in Japan were not immune to the financial crisis. A Robot Museum in Nagoya that opened in October of 2006 closed within a year. The Rock 'n' Roll Museum, a staple of Tokyo's Harajuku district, closed in January of 2010 after sixteen years of operation. The world's first John Lennon museum, located in Saitama, would close in September of 2010 after ten years of operation.

Many still believe there should be one single center dedicated to all aspects of Japan's pop culture. Since the NCMA plan was dropped, the Japanese government is proposing a new plan to bring together resources in collecting and displaying works in conjunction with conducting research.

This time the plan would be budgeted at just 250 million yen ($2.3 million USD), utilizing existing facilities, and sixteen different universities and organizations (including those based in the Australia and UK) would contribute to the effort. With regards to video games, Japan's CESA organization would contribute to the research sector.

One of the participants of this new effort is Meiji University, which has tentative plans to open a new library with exhibition space in 2014, called the Tokyo International Manga Library. Meiji's new library would not only preserve anime and manga, but it would also preserve commercial video games, home video game consoles and software. Meiji University's planned museum would join the established existence of local government museums promoting Japanese pop culture that include the Kyoto International Manga Museum and the Tokyo Anime Center.

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