Do Virtual Earthquakes Still Shake Us to the Core? Simulating Survival in Japan’s Disaster Report Video Game


Ben Whaley (Ph.D. student, Asian Studies)

February 9th 12:30-1:30 @ Asian Centre Room 604

This talk asks the question of whether a video game might help us better understand the trauma of another through an analysis of the PlayStation 2 game Zettaizetsumei Toshi (2002, Disaster Report, 2003). In the game, players must use limited resources to escape from an earthquake- and tsunami-stricken Japanese city, while rescuing other survivors and crafting tools for survival. Ian Bogost (2011) argues that if video games are to foster empathy for real-world situations, then players should be cast as the “downtrodden.” I introduce the idea of “limited engagement” or a form of operationalized weakness in which the game design intentionally subtracts in-game skills and items in order to communicate a sense of vulnerability and victimhood to the player. Drawing on a personal interview with the game’s creator, this talk discusses the real-world survival skills and techniques the game series is credited with teaching Japanese players. I conclude by discussing disaster photography within the video game and how its presence within a larger interactive framework might prompt a stronger empathetic engagement with representational media.