Region Lock Segregation
Just some of the gorgeous, colourful PSP covers from Japan-only games.
With all the recent talk of the 3DS arriving, one announcement from Nintendo left me wondering if the circumstances that led to the creation of UKA could be repeated in 10 years’ time.
You see, the “big bang” that eventually led to me building this site happened back when I was 13. Like most kids my age, I enjoyed video games, but never gave any thought as to where they came from. That is, until a magazine called Super Play hit the shelves.
Super Play was a real pioneer of its day. Not only did the cover reflect a distinctly Japanese style, but the writers took the time to explain where these games came from and the history of the TV shows or manga that inspired them. The magazine also featured articles on Japan itself, and of course, anime. They reviewed import games and suddenly the world seemed very much larger than what I’d been presented with before.
So how does this link into the 3DS launch? Region locking. Now, it’s nothing new of course, consoles have been region locked since the NES, but handhelds were for the most part exempt from this cultural segregation. I have fond memories of my parents buying me games in airports abroad to play on the flight home. It was part of the experience, and it made owning a handheld part of a gateway to a wider world of ideas.
This decision seemed particularly mean-spirited given that Nintendo reps wouldn’t answer any questions about this tactic directly. Instead we were met with a load of marketing double-talk which meant nothing (i.e. bullshit). The bottom line is that Nintendo want to aggressively control their own content and launches, which would be fine if they were ever any good at it. The delay on Wii of the latest Kirby game just shows how little Nintendo think of the UK market – hell, SEGA wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Europe embracing the brand in light of Nintendo’s nonchalance, so presumably the house of Mario has learned bugger-all in over 20 years.
But to be honest, despite the fact I picked up a 3DS (a decision I deeply regret – the curse of feeling down and living near a 24 hour ASDA sadly) it probably won’t be with me for long. Most of the games I play are imports, and there’s no chance of that on this system. The 3D adds nothing either by the way, it’s a mixture of hype and gimmickry which will soon fade if all the mutterings on forums are to be believed. Just wanted to get that in!
So why do I fear for the future of new sites based on Japanese culture? Well, with Sony refusing to comment on their own region locking policy, and the decline of Japanese video games in the Western market, I’m deeply worried that the notion of importing these incredible, culturally diverse titles is coming to an end. And so will the chance that some teenager will stumble across them and find their imagination ignited.
I’m a massive advocate of the PSP, as anyone who knows anything about me will tell you. Mostly I love the software that’s available for the machine. Without restrictions on my hardware, I’ve been exposed to some of the greatest games I’ve ever played.
Gundam vs Gundam, Macross Ace/Ultimate/Triangle Frontier and Project Diva are just a few titles that have eaten days of my life. Games that surprise, inspire and bring people together. Games that have a cultural identity beyond the identikit brown FPS games produced in the West.
In short, games are important. They impart knowledge and passion. And now the large corporates are trying to lock it all away. If Sony follows Nintendo’s lead, it’s going to take away something very important.
Let’s be blunt – the recent outpouring of support for Japan was most strongly felt by those who have been touched by Japanese culture. The anime fans. The manga fans. The Transformers fans. The gaming fans. Those of us who appreciate the uniqueness of this incredible culture in whatever way and embraced it, not because it was shoved down our throats, but because it wasn’t. We ignore the scorn of others who see these things as “geeky” or “weird”. We don’t need to be told what we should be drawn to.
This cultural fidelity between nations is not born of government treaties or trade agreements, it’s something that people feel without instruction or dictation because they see something of value and respect it for what it is. But to do this, we need free access to these cultures, not condescending pricks in suits telling us what we can and cannot have access to in order to make their graphs go in the right direction.
I’m not anti-business by any means. I’m simply pro-culture. So let’s embrace streaming anime sites, internet radio, games imports and anything that allows us to experience something broader than our own backyard without interference or adjustment.
And if you’re listening Sony, do the right thing and let us import our games if we want to. After all, it’s no crime to love thy neighbour, no matter how far away they might be.