In the chaos of the Great East Japan earthquake, there was a story that understandably drew little attention. It’s a story about a small game development team within its publisher, Irem. The team makes a series called Disaster Report – video games about surviving natural disasters. Just after the quake, the most recent game, Disaster Report 4, was cancelled, and all the previous Disaster Report games were removed from Japanese shelves, almost without comment.
But despite the garish way they’re marketed in the west, the Disaster Report titles were really quite slow and respectful games. Their subtlety is immediately visible in the trailers and Japanese boxart, which is soft and innocent. They don’t promise the thrills or graphical punch of some games. They only promise that they will try and show you what it is like to be a person escaping from a beautiful and welcoming environment that has suddenly become hostile.
In the games, you try to help people, but sometimes they die. There may be something you can do about it, something difficult and frightening. But often there isn’t. Coming to terms with this is evocative – it is not great art, but it is sincere.
I was a particularly nerdy kid, growing up. I was raised by a single Dad who was plenty nerdy himself, and I usually opted out of sports-related activities in favor of playing as many video games as I could get away with. I have this excellent picture from my 8th grade Little League baseball team. On the day where everyone got action shots, I asked to have my picture taken on the bench, math binder in hand, since most of my game time was spent there doing homework. (I’m pretty bad at math, too.)Never in a million years did I think that I would be the kind of guy to watch other people play video games, cheer wildly, and yell “OH MY SHIT DID HE JUST DO THAT”. In other words, I never thought I’d be into sports. Until I went to Evolution 2004. That mass of roaring people cheering Daigo on? I’m in there, somewhere.
I imagine that attending Evo is, for a few brief days, a taste of what it’s like to be any average guy with a beer belly, some gym shorts, and a profound devotion to ESPN. A basketball fan can walk into any sports bar in the world and mouth off about how terrible the Warriors are and start a conversation. They can watch The Big Game with a crowd of people and not feel self-conscious about spending their time watching big guys play with big basketballs. And when they’re at work, they can say “So, how about them Knicks?” and everyone else is obligated to reply with “Hell of a team, gonna go all the way this year” whether they pay attention to basketball or not. Well, fuck the Knicks. Here at Evo, the name of the game is MAHVEL, BAYBEE.
Basically, it’s a brief trip into a world where taking games seriously is totally fucking normal.
So! You’re going to Evo next year.