Exploring Jamaican Game Culture (Interview)

November 1st, 2008

jamaican flag

Continuing on from the last set of mini-interviews, I would like to turn our attention now to Jamaica. This time I have recruited Kirk from the Infidel Gamer blog to discuss the state of play over in Jamaica. We talk about a number of topics such as games that appeal directly to Jamaican people, how Jamaican culture is represented through games as well as the local arcade. I hope you enjoy.

Daniel: First off, I should probably start by asking; what do you think sets the Jamaican style of gaming apart from other countries?

Kirk: Firstly thank you for interview opportunity Daniel. From my observation and experience I think that the Jamaican style of gaming is different from other countries because Jamaicans are social gamers who enjoy playing not only at home but in a group with friends.

Daniel: Where do you think this comes from? Do Jamaicans usually do things together in a particularly social manner, together in each other’s company (hence games are a natural extension of that)?

Kirk: I would say most definitely. Now that I think about it Jamaicans really are social people who enjoy going out and interacting with each other. Video games highlight that trait as although many households now have access to the latest games, nothing beats going out and playing with friends.

Daniel: What sort of games do you find to be popular in Jamaica? Is there any particular style or genre?

Kirk: All genres are enjoyed in Jamaica but I find that shooting games, racing games and fighting games stand out a little more. There is also a huge following of FIFA players.

Daniel: These types of games tend to do well as multiplayer titles, I guess this goes back to that social element of Jamaican culture?

Kirk: Yes. The excitement and exuberance really gets crazy sometimes when playing with friends in local arcades.

Daniel: I noticed on your blog that you mentioned something about getting games delivered in from overseas. How do you guys normally purchase games, through standard retail or online?

Kirk: Games can be purchased at retail here but most times are available weeks late after the initial hype and then there are times when only “popular” titles or genres are supported. Good luck finding a game like Sins of a Solar Empire or Heroes of Might and Magic on a retail shelf in Jamaica. With the proliferation of technology, the internet and local courier companies, many serious gamers now purchase their games online and are then able to play them in a matter of days of their North American release.

dee jay street fighter

Daniel: Much like Australia, Jamaica has a monarchy based government system. Do you find there to be any confliction between the government and video games? Such as content ratings, distribution and so forth.

Kirk: The government right now doesn’t have video games as a priority, there is no localized game rating system and there are still only a few game retailers but I think there is a lot of game creation talent here in Jamaica and who knows maybe I could open a local video game studio one day.

Daniel: You should give it a shot, there are plenty of free tools for indies to break in nowadays. Given your responses it sounds like retailers also import their games from North America. I guess in this case, the players are just cutting out the middle man, right?

Kirk: I’ll definitely give it a try once I get some personal priorities out of the way. As for the middle man, the savings are evident when we buy our games directly as there is a 10-15 percent savings for me personally when I source my games overseas.

Daniel: Jamaica is popular for it’s apt reggae music scene, do you think that there are there any games which typify this part of Jamaican culture?

Kirk: Jamaica, it’s music and culture has been playing small parts in games for decades, from as far back as Deejay in Street fighter to as recently as the Jamaican gang in the GTA series.

Daniel: What do you think of these sorts of examples? Are they realistic or just archetypal/stereotypes of Jamaican culture?

Kirk: I think it’s a little bit of both.

Daniel: How would you like to see Jamaican culture further adapted into video games?

Kirk: Without a doubt a Jamaican music game spanning long history of Jamaican music would be a definitely hit.

Daniel: Say, you told me before about your local arcade in which you go to play some games (Area 51). It seems a little different from the concept of arcades that I’m familiar with, that is a series of arcade machines in which you insert coins and so forth. Can you explain this set up some more?

Kirk: Area 51 is a very unique arcade and I am good friends with the owners. Their aim was to reproduce a living room environment for gamers to come and enjoy playing with friends, hence the accessible consoles systems, comfortable seating, huge plasma screens, massive video game library and refreshments under one roof. The coin arcade system has been tried here but all have failed, that sort of arcade experience is exclusive, expensive and restrictive, plus with new games coming more and more frequently and with customers always wanting the latest and greatest the the arcade machine died in the previous century.

area 51

Daniel: So there’s no retro-love for the old coin ‘op or older titles? Beyond the cost (it’s expensive over here too) why do you think that is? Lack of nostalgia or history with this style of play?

Kirk: Apart from massive 80’s arcade hits like Pacman and Space Invaders there was never a coin ‘op culture in Jamaica. Although there have been video games here from before I think the Super Nintendo truly kick started the video game sub-culture here.

Daniel: Who decides on what games are available in the arcade? Do users get an input?

Kirk: The arcade is nothing without it’s loyal customers and they play and important part in deciding which games are available. Gamers in Jamaica are no longer in the dark about which games are available and at times follow games for many months via magazines and websites with the intention of playing them at the arcade as soon as they get released (Gears of War 2). The Area 51 team also tries to introduce new less popular games to the customers, one such example was Time Splitters for the original Xbox which was unknown but when introduced became very popular with players at the arcade.

Daniel: I love Timesplitters, although it’s hard to find down here. Which games tend to be the most popular at Area51? Why do you think this is?

Kirk: Multiplayer games without a doubt are most popular for obvious reasons. Game series like Smash Bros, Halo, Gears of War, Tekken, Need for Speed, Call of Duty and FIFA are popular because although you can played online it’s more personal or should I say social when you are playing with friends on a couch right beside you or just across the room, a headshot in an 8 player game of Gears of War is so much sweeter when you can see the recipient’s reaction and run over for a few seconds with your team to do some friendly jeering. ^_^

Check out this video to see some of the popular games and set-up of Area 51 in early 2008.

Daniel: Do many of the players in the arcade also play games at their homes?

Kirk: Yes. I’d say 90% of the arcade visitors also have at least one video game system at home.