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Why are Characters in Japanese RPGs Always Children? - Sankaku Complex

Western gamers asking why it is the characters in Japanese RPGs seem always to consist of a party of children have sparked an interesting set of responses from Japanese gamers.

2ch’s response to the question after it was translated and posted in a thread is instructive:

I’d like to pose a question in return – why is it western games are packed with muscle bound beefcakes?

Isn’t it just because games are for children?

It’s probably a difference in the premium market segments – how many Japanese would buy them with an old guy as the protagonist? Without children and adult NEETs buying them, their sales in Japan would likely not be good.

The west = as close to realistic as possible
Japan = as far away from realistic as possible

Visually speaking, aren’t young boys and girls better? I don’t want to play an RPG with nothing but middle-aged old guys in my party.

In Japan, adults don’t play them. They’re just a product, made for children by adults. For exploiting children, we could say. In Japan recently we are seeing more adult children, and there are adults playing them, but unlike Europe adults don’t normally play them. So it’s really the foreigners who are childish.

What the hell are “adult children”?

It’s probably just that over there fighting is not seen as something children should be doing. Also, if the hero isn’t 14-15 he can’t really be dating a girl of that age… perhaps that has something to do with it.

Because it’s easier to empathise with kids.

So why are all the western game characters totally ripped?

“Overseas gamers” < Aren’t there people from a variety of different countries overseas?

It’s just a difference in demographics. These games are for people in school. It’s no wonder they have protagonists the same age. When you’re an adult you don’t have the time or energy for games.

So why has Metal Gear, with all its old guys, sold well in Japan?

I don’t know about America, but in Japan you get the most freedom in your life from middle school to university.

Perhaps it’s because children and adults are much more clearly delineated overseas?

This isn’t really limited to RPGs – it’s the same with anime.

When I was a kid I always wondered why Japanese robot anime ace pilots were all kids…

This is not something I want to be told by a bunch of guys whose games are packed with bikini warrioresses.

Japanese games are aimed at children, but overseas a lot of people keep playing them even into adulthood.

Games are something children play, so the protagonists are children. Portraying their growth is a common story theme.

In Japan and overseas, if you put games or anime out for children you’ll get adults buying them too. There seem to be a lot of them overseas actually…

In the west they seem to think children entering into danger is a problematic subject, and not all are comfortable with it. On the other hand, in Japan having adults engaged in martial adventures is something people are uncomfortable about. Japanese tend to be distrustful of ideals of “righteousness” – often it is the villains who are pursuing ideals in RPGs. Basically Japanese prefer green protagonists in tales of empathy.

JRPGs are aimed at children, that’s all.

Anime style characters all end up looking like loli anyway.

Somebody in the original post said a Japanese person told him “highschool is the best time of your life for a Japanese.” I think this may be it. Japanese seem to think something important is lost when you grow up, like they worship a sort of childhood innocence. As a result JRPG protagonists are mostly youths.
On the other hand, overseas becoming older is more like “levelling up” and getting access to more experience and status. We could even say the western view has a “dream” – life still progresses and improves after childhood.

I don’t want to hear this from people whose games consist of a procession of muscle-bound gorillas.

Apparently a significant proportion of Japanese still view games as an entertainment medium for children.

With the average salaryman forced to work long hours and to turn much of his leisure time over to his company, it is interesting to speculate whether this is having an effect on the inability of Japanese publishers to make much headway into the mainstream of adult gamers overseas.

Censorship decisions made in Japan seem to indicate console publishers are very uncomfortable with marketing games covering more mature themes in Japan, and whilst the “mature gamer” is a cherished demographic overseas, in Japan it seems to be considered an inconvenient niche market (given the dismal sales of western blockbusters in Japan, this may well be a realistic asssessment however).

Japanese RPG developers (and for that matter, anime studios) might well find dumping their endless succession of adolescent casts and school settings has a positive effect on their increasingly tarnished reputation for originality overseas, although with most of the major Japanese RPG franchises having become the Japanese equivalent of EA Sports titles any significant change now seems unlikely.

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