Disaster Report: real world events and the language of video games

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.
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