Yakuza 2: Institutional Knowledge and The Virtual Classroom

February 25th, 2009

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I want to continue discussing Yakuza 2, but in a different frame of mind. Back in my article titled What I Learnt From A Stone Frog Spitting Coloured Marbles, I took the underlying principles of a post by Iroquois Pliskin regarding the way in which games teach players and adapted it to Zuma’s ball flinging frustration. This time around, I’d like to adapt the same idea (the process of how games teach us things) to Yakuza 2.

You’ll remember that in my previous entry I discussed a certain event in which I went into a bar (of sorts), chose a lady of my choice and then proceeded to eat fruit and drink beer with her while she probed me with cute questions. The whole premise of this place was completely foreign to me, as I mentioned in the post; Australia doesn’t have such places…well at least to bounds of my knowledge*.

As foreign as it was I found the whole excursion to be extremely refreshing in a way that a lot of games aren’t. Obviously the “wow, they do this shit in Japan” factor was in play, but so too was the education of “instiutional knowledge”.

As the name suggests institutional knowledge is the knowledge gained by someone who has interactions with an institution**. For example, I go to work and I know which door I have to enter in, how to swipe my card, how to speak to my superiors, how to avoid them when I want to, which people to suck up to and which people to leave alone etc. Institutional knowledge is something that is rarely taught, rather acquired over time. It’s like street smarts for an institution. Institution then can be define in many ways and not just the ones build on concrete and cement. Institutions can range from banks, restaurants and hotels to group seminars, friend relationships and catching public transport.

In the example of Yakuza 2 the game allows the player to acquire institutional knowledge on multiple instances. In fact, the gamey parts of the institutional interactions (you either select product/service, walk around or leave) to a certain extent ensure that it’s taught. Their choices provide you with some light contextualization. With this said there is enough opportunity for both realization and education of institutional knowledge within these environments.

For instance, at the bar place (it’s called Prime BTW) the game drops you into a situation where you must eat and drink. Your enthusiastic partner will ask you to select what you wish to eat and drink, with your choices affecting how well she likes you – incidentally determining if she’ll want your company again*** . The game turns these activities into smaller games which both teach and allow institutional knowledge to be self-educated. The verbal requests by staff colour the purpose of the institution, the way the staff and your lady friend respond to your requests allows mastery of knowledge to be slowly acquired. You soon figure out that buying the cheapest booze never makes her happy, or that accepting extra time results in a higher bill at the end.

Being a game set in a foreign culture, the cultural aspects layer on top of the institutional knowledge. Each country has institutions and the way that participants operate in those institutional contexts change based on cultural norms. For example; the cultural divide between the get-to-know-you-first Chinese and seal-the-deal Western trade approaches, as documented in this paper.

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Yakuza 2, being a game set in an overseas, day-to-day commodity environment not only teaches the player institutional knowledge, it shares the wisdom of Japanese institutional knowledge. Everything within Yakuza’s institutions are affected by Japanese culture; the way people react to you, the rules of the institutions etc.

So what’s the point of all this then? Well, consider this. Institutional knowledge is difficult to teach, it’s something gained solely through experience. Think of any company doing business in the increasingly global market, a local business dealing with migrant customers, multiple ethnic types in the work place etc. When dealing with any intercultural context these things matter! If a video game can teach a player not just institutional knowledge, but also that knowledge in an overseas context, then there is clearly more merit here than just entertainment value.

That’s the end of the post. I did just want to include a short ranting post script too, it’s slightly detached from the main piece though.

Within the niche of foreign language and culture, the concept of the virtual classroom has been discussed at lengths with the dominance of references pointing to online life-sim Second Life. From my observations of other people’s experiences, Second Life is quite a rudimentary and troublesome medium which relies on pre-made tools and the online attendance of participants. Particularly with different time zones, the prospect collapses in comparison to the breadth and depth seen in Yakuza 2.

Yakuza 2 in reference to the virtual classroom is by no means a perfectly just relation. The upsides include greater detail and attention to authenticity, the flaws come from the lack of pre-set educational elements. Whatever the case, the argument can be made that Yakuza 2 also succeeds as an educational tool for Japanese context and etiquette.

*If I had Powerpoint installed on my machine I would load it up and dig out some references to justify this nonsense.

**Maybe we do? I do think that if we did, the “after hours service” connotation would perhaps be less discrete, making it a different place. I don’t know, I’m not a Yakuza!

***Yes she gave me her email!

  • The Japanese bars you’re referring to are usually known as “Hostess Bars.” I’m sure you’ve gathered their purpose from playing Yakuza 2. Customers, usually Japanese businessmen, go in, sit at the bar, order drinks and (most importantly) have a Japanese woman chat them up, compliment them, etc. I’ve only ever been in one, and it was quite strange for me.

  • Wow, thanks for the insight. I’m very curious to know if I’m right/wrong about there being any sort of suggestion of out of hours activity with clients etc. This is something that I sensed in the game (she gave me her email, extending our exchange beyond the institution) but it’s not so clear since I haven’t visited too frequently. Last time I went twice in one day and the same girl said that I always wear the same clothes and they were smelly. 😀