Games, Photography

Print Club + The Game Boy Camera

So far, the new year has been good for research and writing. My TA duties don’t kick in until February, and teaching one course (a course I have taught 3 times before) allowed me to focus on writing, writing, writing. At the same time, I am taking advice from a colleague to take it easy a little bit post-defence. I know the defence was in September, but teaching two courses in the same term as my defence had me always on my toes, and I really didn’t slow down until the holiday break. So, I’m using this Winter “lull” to reorient myself and partition out some time of the days to rest, apply to academic jobs, watch Star Trek: DS9, and do some research and writing (but not at the same intensity of “I need to fininish the PhD, I need to get revisions by this deadline or else I’m paying another round of tuition,” etc). And I also have relaxed time to ready things for little bean! So far, it’s been nice – a little bit frightening because I am now sessional – but nice.

On to the topic of this week’s blog post: Last week, I got really excited about a research “find” that helps strengthen some connections I am making in my Game Boy Camera (GBC, from now on) paper. I thought to share this find, which is not so much a find but a drawing of connections that could be contested with.  But here it goes.

Early on in 2018, I had been doing some RA research on photography and had come across Digital Snaps: The New Face of Photography. It’s an excellent collection on digital photography, but one essay stood out to me in relation to the GBC: Mette Sandbye’s “Play, Process and Materiality in Japanese Purikura Photography.” The essay stood out to me for two reasons: Sandbye’s connection between photography and play, and purikura photography’s uncanny resemblance to the kind of photography featured in the GBC. You can read an earlier blog post in which I write through my initial thoughts around that essay (and more), which then served as a paper I delivered at R-CADE.

But when I returned to my section on purikura photography to expand upon it and make it more of a proper section in an essay, I noticed that Sandbye’s article focuses on more recent purikura (from the 2000s and onward), and so I started looking at articles that focused on 90s purikura machines. The result is not many, but I found Richard Chalfen and Mai Murui’s “Print Club Photography in Japan: Framing Social Relationships”  to be pretty helpful at providing images of older purikura – or Print Club – machines. Elsewhere, I found a Kotaku article by Brian Ashcroft that claims Print Club  “revolutionized” arcades and “the arcades demographic.” And then there was Jeremy Parish’s Polygon article, in which he refers to the GBC as “a portable Print Club station.”

From my research, Parish’s article seems to be the only article that refers to the GBC as Print Club (but I am still going to look further into the depths of the internet and blogosphere). It’s only a brief remark, but it further confirmed the connections I was making between Print Club and the GBC and their approaches to play and photography. But I needed a stronger connection, an almost border-line “was Nintendo inspired by Print Club?” connection. Print Club was released in 1995, and the GBC was released 1998, so maybe there could be some kind of cultural zeitgeist connection. So, instead of approaching from the photography angle, I decided to look more into the video game angle of Print Club.

It is well-known that the first Print Club machine was developed by Atlus in 1995. The idea had been pitched and developed by Sasaki Miho, an employee of Atlus. But after an unsuccessful attempt at marketing towards families, Atlus teamed up with Sega to target adolescents to much greater success. The original arcade cabinets (Print Club 1 and 2) even look like a regular video game cabinet more than it did a photo booth, which I think is pretty significant when framing photography in a particular way:

What follows the success of Print Club is interesting. Starting in 1997, just over a year after the release of the first Print Club machine and coinciding with the release of the Print Club 2 cabinet, Atlus published Pocket Purikura on the Game Boy. The game became a series, which has not been released outside of Japan. But because the Game Boy did not have an internal camera, Pocket Purikura could not allow users to take photos of themselves. Instead, in the series of Pocket Purikura, you designed an avatar that you would then use to play mini games and explore areas to unlock frames, items, and backgrounds that you could then take in-game pictures of. Below is some shots from the game taken from an emulation (on the left, PP1; on the right, PP3, which seems to be more concerned with heteronorms around “life goals”):

What caught my interest is that the game included mini-games (which I never got to or play because I require a translated version, unfortunately). Because Pocket Purikura could not take pictures, the developers seemed to lean into the video game aspect of Print Club: the ability to “play” with one’s image/avatar.

The existence of Pocket Purikura on the Game Boy gave me a better sense that the Game Boy Camera didn’t just emerge out of nowhere. Further, the GBC, in my opinion, builds upon the limitations of Pocket Purikura while also tapping into the purikura cultural phenomenon. In short, there is both a technical and cultural reason the GBC emerged when it did. Unlike Pocket Purikura, the GBC afforded users to take photos of themselves and others to use as in-game avatars for the few mini games on the GBC. While there were no “unlockables,” the Game Boy Camera still provided a portable Print Club experience, while also providing mini-games like Pocket Purikura (but to be clear, not the same kind of mini games).

The Game Boy Camera is still a unique…adaptation?…of purikura photography, but I found the original arcade cabinets and the Pocket Purikura Game Boy series of games to draw a strong connection between the GBC and purikura photography. What started off as a “hey, that’s an interesting point I can make” turns out to have some techno-cultural grounding. There is much more I can say about this connection, but I am now approaching 1000 words and I should return to editing the essay (yes, I am in the editing stage, woo!).

Academic Life

2019, the year of reorientation

For the first time in a while, the new year has got me thinking a lot about changes. Not so much resolutions. Coming into this year, I wasn’t thinking too much about what I need to change for myself. I mean, as always I have to remind myself to take time off and to find comfort and relaxation when I can. I also made a more conscious effort to see friends and family during the holiday season. But no solid 2019 resolutions.

Rather, I think 2019 has a whole lot of reorientation. Not change to improve myself, but change to reorient myself towards new beginnings.

Two major things occurred in the tail end of 2018: 1) I finished the PhD, and 2) my wife and I are expecting (we call the baby “little bean”).

I am beyond excited to be a parent. Although we are the first of our friend group that are expecting, I have been finding support and love from my fellow colleagues (and from my friends!) who pass down advice and reassure us that everything is and will be fine. These conversations feel like they can be a blog post on their own, so I will leave it here for now. But with little bean expected in June, I’ve been really thinking hard about career-related choices and the personal things that matter to me the most.

Finishing the PhD has kickstarted a lot of emotions. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating: I go through being absolutely relieved with the PhD being done to being absolutely terrified about what comes next. And I think I really realized that I’m DONE done when everything slowed down in December.

The anxiety didn’t truly kick in until I realized I had to worry about what I was doing for work in the Winter term. Between finishing the PhD, defending, and teaching two courses, I was caught off guard when some sessional colleagues asked me what I was teaching in the Winter and I didn’t know. Luckily, I did receive another section of Digital Lives, and through some word of mouth I secured a TA position for a Pharmacy Communications course (which I am really looking forward to, as it will offer some change of pace and some additional experience working with STEM students).

Despite these teaching positions, the whole scenario has me worried about Spring. Or, with a slightly more positive spin, it’s kickstarted me to start looking elsewhere.

That being said, I am applying for academic jobs. But some I won’t be hearing from until February-ish or end of January. So even though I have applied to multiple academic positions, I still need to think about what I will be doing in the Spring (constantly, family and friend discussions of “what’s next” in December were met with “I’ve applied and am waiting, who knows!”) .

The winter term seems like the best time to really start thinking and applying for alt-ac jobs. In the past, I have considered applying to alt-ac jobs (and I did, but only a very select few). But during that time, I really just wanted to finish the PhD and focus on my academics. Defending in September was perfect timing for academic jobs because I could apply with confidence, and post-defence gave me the positivity and encouragement to pursue academia. While I am still receiving that support and encouragement, the new year has got me thinking about alternatives.

And these alternative don’t necessarily mean that I have to stop all research that I am doing. I really enjoy doing research and writing, so I know I will also keep that up in whatever form I can. For now, while another teaching position would’ve made feel more financially secure, I am going to take this opportunity to continue research and writing, to look out for jobs I am interested in, and to pursue creative and non-academic work.

So, there’s a lot of reorienting my life around the changes that are coming in 2019. And despite the anxiety behind these changes, I feel happier for what’s to come.