Japan has been rocked by a massive earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale. It struck 280 miles northeast of the capital, resulting in an ensuant tsunami, reported as up to ten meters high and moving at 160kph, slamming into the east coast a short time later, destroying coastal towns. Japan’s ministry has confirmed a number of fatalities, with the death-toll expected to rise.
The magnitude of this event cannot be understated. This was the fifth largest earthquake on record (since 1900), with ten of the subsequent aftershocks measuring stronger than the recent earthquake that caused havoc in Christchurch, New Zealand. Tokyo’s iconic Tokyo Tower is reported to be “bent at the top.”
And it’s not just Japan. A tsunami watch has been issued around the Pacific rim, with the likes of Hawaii and Australia on high-alert, braced for impact.
This is not gaming news, and we’re not going to exploit this tragic event by pretending it is. We here at the TheSixthAxis, however, would like to extend our hopes and thoughts to those effected by this calamity.
Japan didn’t invent gaming, but it’s a country synonymous with the culture. As some of you may know, I have a strong affinity with the country, and I’ve spent the last couple of hours frantically trying to reach friends in Tokyo, Kyoto and other regions. So far, everyone is safe.
I distinctly remember the quizzical looks from friends and family when, about ten years ago, I announced I was going to learn Japanese. “You’re going to learn a whole language – noted as one of the world’s most difficult to grasp – just so you can play some weird, silly games in Japanese?” one person asked. “No,” I replied, “I’m going to learn Japanese so I can speak to Japanese people.” There are 140 million of them. Japanese is the fourth most widely spoken language in the world.
I have spent time in Japan, making friends with some of the nicest people you could ever meet. Much is made about Japanese people and their mannerisms; how they show respect and care about one another, sometimes perceived by non-Japanese as silly or downright weird. The fact is: in my opinion, there is no friendlier collective of people in the world than the Japanese. There is no city like Tokyo. It physically hurt when I had to leave.
If you are a gamer and love gaming, I urge you to someday visit Japan. There’s nothing like walking down Akihabara, watching people strut about confidently in cos-play, as players of all ages talk fervently about games, play games, and live games with a zeal you won’t find anywhere else.
Gaming still has that niggling stigma of negativity in the West, and despite having ambassadors like Dara Ó Briain who champion the industry, and a British leader who has only yesterday announced (at the opening of a Special Effect centre) that the gaming industry is taking its responsibility very seriously, we – as a group – are still viewed by some as people who engage in subversive claptrap. We’re still seen as adults who “should know better.”
In Japan, gaming is not only universally accepted as a legitimate form of entertainment, it’s celebrated on multiple levels.
Which makes watching the news of what is now happening in Japan all the harder to bear. Not just because I have friends there who I know are, right now, afraid and unsure of what is going to happen next, watching as their apartments are tossed around like rag-dolls, but because I love games and I know, as a nation, the Japanese embrace our sub-culture. Hence, a strange bond of comradeliness and empathy is formed.
It’s going to be hard reporting on gaming news today. At least, I know my thoughts are going to be elsewhere. In an arcade in Koiwa, a suburb of Tokyo on the Chiba line, perhaps, with friends as we gamed, and drank, and enjoyed ourselves. Let those days return soon.