The joy of immersing ourselves in a good video game is one of the greatest pleasures unique to the 21st century. Whether it’s stomping on Goombas as Super Mario, or scaling dungeons as The Legend of Zelda’s Link, the medium has enabled players to interact with stories like never before.

As video games have evolved in popularity and technical capability, so too have the ways we interact and play, and the storytelling has become cinematic in quality. With this has come greater levels of scrutiny into how video games influence players. Do the digital bullets we spray into Nazi zombies make some of us more inclined to real-world violence, for example? Do characters based on stereotypes influence our perceptions of real-world people?

On the other hand, a great deal of research has been conducted to show the positive power of gaming. From making us more knowledgeable, to improving problem solving skills and attention spans, video games have proven potential to enrich our lives beyond simple entertainment.

BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment, one of Japan’s biggest video game developers, is interested in the potential of video games to influence players and, by extension, society for the better. Now the company will begin a partnership with Aoyama Gakuin University Project Research Institute to study the potential for video games to help tackle pressing social issues.

What is the BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment and Aoyama Gakuin Project Research Institute’s joint research project all about?

BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment and researchers from Aoyama Gakuin, one of Tokyo’s most prominent universities, will team up to conduct research around 3 key themes in video games: accessibility, social inclusion, and diversity and inclusion. The aim of the partnership is to develop games in ways that support and promote issues like these that can influence society for the better.

The project team will consist of researchers from Aoyama Gakuin University who have previously conducted research on eSports, and experienced video game developers from BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment. The collaboration seeks to leverage the skills and experience of Aoyama Gakuin University researchers in combination with BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment’s entertainment-focused video game expertise.

What is the research team going to investigate?

The research project seeks to promote key themes that societies around the world are tackling, and that are particularly prominent in Japan at the moment:

  • Improving accessibility - The research team will investigate how to create games that can be enjoyed comfortably by as many people as possible.
  • Social inclusion - The research team will explore ways to bring social issues into games with a vision to deliver messages of social inclusion.
  • Diversity and inclusion - Research will be conducted into the definition of diversity and inclusion in entertainment and how this can be realized.
  • Why is the research important? Context from the games industry

    The timing for research into how video games can be used to tackle social issues is ripe. More and more people are playing video games; especially in the wake of COVID-19 people have been turning to video games for entertainment and to connect with friends using online play. As the medium has expanded, commentators inside and outside the industry have called for video game creators to take more responsibility for the social impact of gaming.

    Video games have the potential to deliver messages to large audiences, but attention is often paid to negative trends that currently exist in game development. For example, games often come under criticism for gratuitous levels of violence, and excessive sexualization of female characters. This is certainly true of video games in Japan which commonly undermine strong female characters with scenes and interactions depicting their gratuitous sexualization. Concerned parties argue that these kinds of contents have a negative impact on players, especially impressionable younger ones.

    Meanwhile, not only games but the companies that create them are under scrutiny too. The video game industry is renowned for long hours, unrealistic deadlines, and widespread instances of sexism towards female employees. Such recent developments in the games industry have led to calls for video games to promote accessibility, social inclusion, diversity, and inclusion.

    BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment believes the video game industry is ideally positioned to help solve social issues by promoting social inclusion and increasing awareness of multiculturalism via games. The research collaboration with Aoyama Gakuin University will hopefully produce academically rigorous insights into how video games can best be used to achieve this.

    Takahiro Takeuchi, Director of the project and Professor at the School for Cultural and Creative Studies, Aoyama Gakuin University, said:

    “Our mission is to create a model for solving social issues by utilizing IP from various (game) companies. However, using different intellectual properties to create socially impactful games may be seen as a paradox by many who view video games as causing many societal issues. So I believe the joint research has great significance for society, and we will make an effort to share useful results with society.

    BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment will apply what they learn from the joint research to their games, as well as sharing it amongst the games industry. Similarly, the researchers have confirmed plans to publish a book detailing the research after they complete the collaboration project.

    Project Startup public symposium will be held on June 26th, 2021

    BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment has expressed their desire to carry out their research while maintaining ongoing discussion within the games industry, academia, and the public.

    To facilitate this, BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment and Aoyama Gakuin University Research Institute members will hold a public symposium about the launch for their collaboration.

    The symposium will be led by Aoyama Gakuin University researchers working on the project and Katsuhiro Harada from BANDAI NAMCO. Mr. Harada is best known as the mastermind behind the Tekken fighting games.

    The symposium will present discussions about the current state of the games industry and the future outlook for the joint research project.

    For further details on the symposium, see the below:

    • Name: Solving Social Problems through Intellectual Properties Startup Symposium: Research on the Possibility of Using Games to Solve Social Issues
    • Date and Time: June 26, 2021 (SAT), 14:00 start (Japan time)
    • Location: Aoyama Gakuin University, Aoyama Campus, #17 Honda Memorial Hall 6th Floor
    • Target: Open to public (pre-registration required/free admission)
    • Content: Purpose of “Solving Social Problems through Intellectual Properties” and its establishment, and an Introduction of the joint research, “Research on the Possibility of Using Games to Solve Social Issues”.
    • Format of discussion: Keynote speech, panel discussion

    ※Content noted may change without notice.

    ※Further details and instruction for pre-registration will be available on the website in the future.

    For readers who can understand Japanese, a link to the Japanese announcement of this project can be found here.

By - Toby M.