Japan has a myriad of head scratching attractions that are borderline appalling. Yet, strangely enough, they draw a certain following that seems to flourish in Japanese society: Maid Cafes, Gyaru Mamas, Snack Bars, Karaoke, Cat Cafes, influence of sex fetishes, etc.
If none of those things send you straight to Google Search, then get ready for Purikura – The video game industry’s answer for the female market. But wait! Is it a video game or nothing more than a photo booth?
What is Purikura?
Purikura is short for Purinto Kurabu (Print Club). The phenomenon that has swept women up and down the country refers to the photo booths where pictures are taken and then can be altered to portray a number of different effects. In its early days, the concept was simple: stand in a booth and take a funny picture with friends or your hubby.
But over the years, the concept has greatly evolved into a billion dollar industry. With advancements in technology and the need for variety, Purikura machines can send photos to cell phones and email addresses. Some print clubs go as far as renting out costumes to customers. I do admire the cosplay, Meow!
Comparisons to Video Games
On the surface, Purikura comes off as an over glorified excuse for young people to waste their money and to take ridiculous looking pictures (I’m sure we’ve all heard that before. Minus the ridiculous looking pictures, unless if you’re into that). On the other hand, given its popularity and its evolution over the last 15 years, many would suggest that these so called “camera booths” have provoked a sense of identity and social connection between young people of this generation and the next. Sound familiar?
In 1994 Sasaki Miho proposed and developed the idea of Print Club for Atlus Co. Ltd. The following year, Atlus joined forces with Sega Enterprises Ltd (Yep, the same company that gave us the Dreamcast, or the Sega Genesis if you prefer) to produce the first Purikura machines. Initially, the target audience was older couples and families, but wasn’t met with much acceptance. Over the next couple of years, Purikura saw a boom and quickly became popular among its younger generation, more specifically, among females.
The quick growth of Atlus and Sega’s photo machines saw the rise of cheap knock off copy cats that dared to challenge the creators. But with Atlus and Sega’s insight into the gaming industry, they were able to evolve the booths into a more interactive product.
Now, users have the ability to mix, distort, brighten, manipulate, color, write, add, subtract, etc. (pretty much all the tools that come with a good photo editor) to create photos that suit their desires. As well, many creators are introducing music and themes to enhance the experience for its users. As well, some booths allow users to record video and then send it to friends and family.
While Purikura was initially meant to provide a product for older couples and families, its growth and survivability is largely due to young adolescent women. Only recently, has Print Club seen a rise in families and older couples.
If we step back from the history of Purikura and compare it to the video game industry, we can see similar trends. While Pong was an instant hit, Atari was met with similar challenges. How did they stave off all the copy cats? Atari had to change, adapt, and continue the leading edge in video game technology. In fact, Atari challenged its staff to innovate the game, and in the Christmas of 1975, Atari released a version for consumers to take home – an interactive design that allowed users to play in the comfort of their home.
The video game industry’s success is based on adolescents adopting these machines and urging companies to enhance each new experience. But on the other hand, according to the NPD, each year we’ve been seeing a growing interest among older people. Maybe because it’s an aging adolescent group, but I believe it’s because of the attraction of online gaming, the growing number of genres and the appeal motion control has on families and older couples.
Going back to Purikura for a second, over the past few years, Print Club has seen a rise in usage with older generations too. Many of the reasons mirror what is happening within the gaming industry: i.e. appeal stems from the ability to send pictures to friend’s phones and emails (internet connectivity), portable versions being integrated into phones and digital cameras (compacting the industry and spreading it), the variety of ways to manipulate photos and the growing number of booths found near tourist attractions and family oriented places (growing number of genres). I admit, the video game industry and Purikura’s histories aren’t exactly the same, but at their foundation, they’re nearly symmetrical to each other.
Using The Booths
By now you probably have a somewhat clear idea of what Purikura is. I don’t want to get into a step-by-step editorial of how to use it, but I want to focus more on the interactive experience and the similarities and differences to how a video game is played.
The ultimate goal of video games and Print Club is to create an experience through digital means. In video games, reality is contorted and a fictional reality is created. To enrich that experience music and sounds effects are used, visual graphics and attention to detail play a large role and your characters have a wide range of motions, etc.
Similarly, Print Club isn’t all that different. Within the photo booths, the goal is to provide a surreal experience. Often times, many of the booths have themes and music to create a make believe reality.
While the ultimate goal is to enrich an alternative reality, the major difference between the two is that video games are restricted to boundaries that the developers have created (on the other hand Sandbox style games like Grand Theft Auto and Fallout are beginning to break out of those boundaries). Whereas Purikura gives users the freedom to create their own realities, and dare I say, the ability to create an identity.
Generalizations aside, that may be the most profound difference that draws women to Purikura and men to video games – the ability to create versus the ability to operate.
Obviously, there are glaring differences between video games and Print Club, but at their cores they are fairly symmetrical to each other. With what you now know, what do you think? Due to their similarities, should more video game companies start investing more into Print Club to access the female market, or are their markets too different for more developers to take an interest in it? Leave your comments below.