The Character’s the Limit: The Limitations of the Media Mix in Video Games

Curator's Note

Scholar Marc Steinberg’s theory of the “Japanese media mix” centralizes the role a fictional character plays in Japanese postwar marketing to promote a diversity of consumer goods. In the “media mix” model, a character’s image is “fixed” and it is the intangible idea of their existence that allows them to be dynamically mobile. The transmedia fluidity of these characters provides the potential for incompossibility (narrative inconsistency), which makes them easily exported to any media form (Steinberg 188-9). However, apart from their visualization, it is imperative to assert that character traits determine marketability, as characters both shape and are shaped by narrative. While these characters could be transported to different media texts, their characteristics might hinder the scope of movement across consumer goods. If, for example, the character is engaged to promote a product or deposited into a world that goes against the character’s scripted morals, it would be tantamount to character assassination. So, while a character is mobile, it is not without limits.

Although Steinberg focuses on characters in anime and manga, the media mix is applicable to characters from video games as well. Spanning over seven mainline games, the protagonist Kiryu Kazuma—the legendary “Dragon of Dojima” from the Yakuza series (Ryū ga Gotoku, 2006-present)—has been the face of the franchise. As an incompossible and mobile character, Kiryu has made guest appearances in various video games beyond the Yakuza franchise such as Binary Domain (2012), Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational (2011), and Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania (2021). While his presence in these games may seem outlandish, he embodies the narrative of an all-encompassing entity that carries with him the logic of his primary character traits. As evidenced in the weapons catalogue in Yakuza as well as the zombie survival spin-off Yakuza: Dead Souls (2011), Kiryu’s ability to handle guns allows for the suspension of belief for his character to be in Binary Domain (a third-person shooter video game). Similarly, golf is a playable minigame in various Yakuza games which makes Kiryu’s appearance in Hot Shots Golf plausible. In Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania, a tiny Kiryu enclosed in a ball showcases his agility navigating the tricky terrains whilst consuming “Staminan X” (a health item found in the Yakuza games) along the way.

While Kiryu’s character image has been successfully transported to a hodgepodge of games, creator Nagoshi Toshihiro has made explicitly clear that Kiryu would least likely be appearing as a guest in fighting games (one-on-one physical combat pitting players against another player/computer). Despite being highly requested by fans, Kiryu remains absent from such titles as Tekken 7 (2015) and Super Smash Bro’s Ultimate (2018). The crucial reason for his absence in the genre boils down to the character’s persona: while Kiryu has no qualms beating up men who cross his path, he abides by his strict moral code of not hitting women (Behan). Fighting games such as those listed above generally include playable female characters that can be selected as opponents. Kiryu’s presence in those games would go against his steadfast morals and be out of character as a hard-nosed (ex-)yakuza.

These examples demonstrate that there is a clear distinction between what is feasible and what is not within the media mix. Detaching the characters from their background stories and personal character traits to be placed in a random marketing ploy— even with the potential for incompossibility— would decrease the credibility of the characters themselves, thus destroying their well-crafted image (Steinberg 189).


Works Cited

Behan, Daire. “Yakuza Director Explains Why He Doesn't Want Kiryu in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.” GameRant. Web. 14 November, 2020.

Binary Domain. Sega, 2012.

Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational. Sony Interactive Entertainment, 2011.

Steinberg, Marc. Anime’s Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. Print.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania. Sega, 2021.

Super Smash Bro’s Ultimate. Nintendo Switch version, Nintendo, 2018.

Tekken 7. Bandai Namco Entertainment, 2015.

Yakuza. Sega, 2006.

Yakuza: Dead Souls. PlayStation 3 version, Sega, 2011.

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