The Financial Times on Japanese Arcades

Let’s analyze this new video from the Financial Times.  It’s pretty much the archetype of stereotypical reporting on Japan, so I think it is worth looking at not so much to point out how dumb the Financial Times reporting is, but rather as a demonstration of all the typical elements of bad reporting on Japan.

First we have the title.  This is the most important decision to make because it is the main thing that will get people to click on your video.  The Financial Times shows us how to do it right:  just make an inflammatory lie.  They went with “The last of Japan’s video arcades.”  How is that even remotely true?  The one arcade the reporter went to is far from being “the last” one; there are about five thousand officially licensed arcades in Japan.  The trend since the peak in the mid-1980s has been to have fewer, larger, more centrally located arcades, but we are still a long way from some random SEGA Hi-Tech Land being the last one.

The next most important thing to get clicks is, of course, the thumbnail image.  Now here is where the Financial Times really dropped the ball.  There are two important rules for thumbnails:

  1. Make sure it has nothing to do with the video.
  2. Make sure it has sex, violence, mystery, etc. to intrigue and beguile your hapless victim/viewer into clicking.

By choosing a picture of Canabalt, an American runner game from 2009, being displayed at some convention they really nailed the first one:  absolutely nothing to do with the video.  But the lack of sex and violence will sadly mean this video will never go viral.

Now, as for the content of the video itself (though I know it hardly seems important at this point), there are a few things to be sure to do when covering any story in Japan:

First, make sure to interview as few people as possible.  Financial Times interviews exactly two people:  the manager of the one arcade they go to and one customer there.  Pretty good, but you can do better by making it one or even zero people.

Second, conduct the interviews entirely in English.  Sadly, they dropped the ball again here and went for subtitles.

Third, make sure to offer no evidence to support your thesis.  Here they succeed brilliantly by showing no data, no circumstantial evidence, nor even any interviewee saying anything at all that supports their assertion that Japanese arcades are about to disappear.  The only reason we know what the video is trying to say at all is because the reporter helpfully tells us what is happening and we just have to take his word for it.

Fourth, make sure to constantly provide evidence that contradicts your thesis.  Again, the Financial Times has this point covered:  the one arcade the reporter goes to is bustling, the manager he interviews talks about all the latest popular games, we are shown videos of very new arcade games displaying the fact that new ones are constantly being developed and produced, he talks about how you can just play video games on home consoles or smartphones and then features a player who talks about MaiMai and Wonderland Wars, games only available in arcades that require large, expensive equipment and thus will never be playable anywhere else, and even the reporter himself admits that he could spend hours just playing Virtua Fighter–indicating that arcades still have strong appeal.

Fifth, make sure there are as many non-sequiturs as possible.  For example, in this video the reporter says about how “even the manager admits this place is an outlier” and goes on to talk about how much of a decline the industry is in, and then it cuts to the manager where you are expecting there to be a clip from the interview talking about how things have gotten worse since the peak in the 1980s, or how he’s barely able to keep the store open, or anything negative at all that would back up what the reporter just said at least a little bit.  But no, the manager just talks about how much better things have gotten at arcades; how much bigger and brighter and more inviting they are, and how they now draw a whole range of people rather than just scary chain-smoking types like they became associated with during their heyday.

And finally, make sure to include as much stereotypical, but totally irrelevant information as possible.  In this case the reporter talks about the aging population, long working hours, and even Pokemon Go (which was never as big in Japan as it was in the West and is well, well past its peak popularity).

Then all that is left to do is wrap it up with another inflammatory lie (the reporter goes with saying the arcade industry is in “terminal decline,” something that can’t even be known), and you’re all set.  Congratulations, you have produced another worthless piece of journalism sure to mislead and confuse all who view it.  Sleep well knowing that the world would have been better had you not gotten out of bed today.

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