Japanese-language table-top role-playing games (TRPG) stayed mostly under the radar of gamers and scholars in Europe and the US until 2008, when a first English translation of such a game was released. TRPGs made by Japanese game designers had been overshadowed by their digital cousins, computer RPGs such as Final Fantasy, and Japan has subsequently been imagined as a digital game heaven. Instead of engaging a computer interface, however, TRPG players come together and narrate a shared adventure or story. Using character avatars and following often complex rules, their game world and the plot line of their play exist mostly in their imagination.
One of the first English translations of a commercial Japanese game was Tenra Banshō Zero (Inoue, Kitkowski) in 2014, chosen for its “Japaneseness,” that is, a plethora of elements, such as samurai, Shintō priests, and creatures from Japanese folklore. Using Tenra’s English translation as a key example, this paper traces how “cultural brokerage” in the case of this game does not simply translate between cultures (e.g., a supposed to be authentic Japanese one and a vaguely “Western” one) but necessarily assembles and constitutes them as single coherent wholes. By tracking the translation process, this paper seeks to show that the “Japaneseness” of Tenra was its selling point but also nothing it simply carried with it: The “Japaneseness” of this game needed to be created first by telling a putative audience what “authentic” Japan looks like.
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