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The Anthropology of Fear: Learning About Japan Through Horror Games

1 November 2010

Abstract

Japan is the source of almost every major horror game franchise in existence. Whether they are attempting to mimic Western horror or create experiences rooted in the country’s long tradition of scary stories, Japanese game developers seem to be uniquely adept at building scary games. It would surely be worthwhile to study the Japanese culture to learn why they happen to be such prolific creators of horror games, but this paper attempts to address the question from the other direction: what can we learn about Japanese culture directly from the games that they produce? Using horror games as a lens, this research finds that many common themes in Japanese horror games can be traced back to non-game cultural origins. In some cases these motifs come from traditional folklore or ideas; in others they are a reflection of anxiety related to recent events. A number of Japanese horror games—including games attempting to mimic a foreign format—draw directly from Japanese culture. By studying these games we can therefore learn about the culture of Japan.


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