Project G-Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster (1964)

Alternate Title: The one where Godzilla gets lasered in the dick.

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The Godzillaverse has a revolving cast of monsters in it, but there are a bunch that show up with consistency.  You get four of the main ones appearing all together for the first time this film, with the monster who’s widely considered Godzilla’s greatest rival getting the big introduction.  Heck, he’s even supplanted Godzilla in the title here!  So you know he’s got to be a big deal!

So with the introduction of King Ghidorah and with bringing Rodan in to the Godzilla canon, this movie establishes a couple of set pieces and the way things work that other films in the series will continue on with.  This is also the most pulp sci-fiish of the Godzilla films we’ve seen yet, also establishing a new trend for the series.

And, it’s also where the movie wades knee deep into the goofiness the old Godzilla films where known for.  Which, it’s been moving in this direction.  This isn’t out of nowhere.  King Kong vs. Godzilla had a lot of parody and cartoonish moments.  But this takes it a step further.  Some parts here are just downright slapstick.  And there’s no going back from that.  Kids were making up a big share of the movie market in Japan at this time, and apparently, they don’t go for big, deep, metaphorical critiques on the nature of war like adults do.  Go figure.

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The film centers around a brother-sister duo.  Media Girl is part of the production team behind one of those History Channel shows about aliens and weird conspiracy theories that my own sister spends too much energy on.  Detective Bland is, well, a bland detective.  The princess of the Ruffle Kingdom is coming to Japan for some reason or other, and Detective Bland is assigned to be her security.  Also, it’s January, but there’s a freak heat wave going on so it’s like 80 degrees out.  This never actually matters, but hey, global warming is bad, okay?

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Unfortunately for the Princess, her uncle wants her dead for political reasons.  These guys are the worst dressed.  Absolutely the worst.  Look at that picture up there.  Imagine a whole country of them.  So they put a bomb on her plane as it’s heading towards Japan.  Princess is watching a meteor shower from the plane, when she starts hearing a voice telling her to get out.  So she apparently bails from a plane in flight, just as it blows up.  Did she make it out in time?  Who knows?!  I do, because I watched the movie.

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Shadows of Mass Destruction. The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 2-Gameplay

Part 1-Intro

Part 3-Presentation

Part 4-Setting

Persona 1 Retrospective

Persona 2 IS Retrospective

At this point in the Persona series, gameplay has truly become only part of the full experience.  Persona 1 and 2 had plots too, and a lot of characterization, but they were still as much gameplay delivery engines as any other game out there.  Starting in Persona 3, they put a lot more depth and content into their plots and characters, to the point where the gameplay is not the only selling point they have.  And for a lot of people, the gameplay is not even the main reason they get into the game.

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Yet, no matter how good your story, setting, characters, etc. are, if the game side of your, you know, game, isn’t up to snuff, the game as a whole won’t be good.  It’s been tried, and good plot really doesn’t make up for bad gameplay.  So even with the Persona series running head-first into the story-based wall, let’s start by taking a look at where you’re actually going to be spending most of your time when you’re actually playing the game.

By this point, we’ve already had two, but three, but really two, games in the Persona canon.  That’s enough to establish a pattern, right?  Although both of those games are rather distinct from each other, there’s still some common design elements that we can pull out here.

So, what is makes a Persona game, and how do those elements relate to Persona 3?  Well, thus far, to make a Persona, you take the typical for the time Shin Megami Tensei design, strip out a bunch of the more unique to the franchise and complicated features to simplify gameplay a bit and make it more accessible to the typical JRPG fan.  And then you come up with some crazy and experimental features that few if any other games in the genre are doing and make them absolutely central to the whole experience.  And then, of course, there’s the whole plot and themes making heavy use of Jungian Psychology personified, and the main characters with the variable stats and ability loadouts, the butterfly motifs, the vast sum of humanity summoning their own demise, multiple endings but not really, etc. Etc.  There’s lots of stuff in the recipe for a Persona, and it all carries through to this game.

And I suppose this is a good time to mention, for pretty much this entire retrospective, I’m going to be basing it off the FES version of the game.  For those not in the know, there was the original Persona 3, then, less than a year later in the US, Persona 3 FES which was basically Persona 3 with a bunch of DLC before DLC was a thing that you had to pay for, including a separate playable epilogue that we won’t get into here just yet.  Then, years later, there came Persona 3 Portable, which incorporated all the gameplay updates from Persona 4 into Persona 3, gave you a choice in the gender of your protagonist and with that vastly increased the amount of content, at turning a lot of segments from more directly interactive bits into visual novel scenes in order to fit it all on the PSP disc.  There’s a lot of discussion on which is better.  I roll with the FES version because… well, that’s just the one I have.  As much as the games industry obviously hates me for it with the remakes and rereleases and updates and Hyper Fighting Championship Editions Turbos they’re putting out, I make a practice of not buying games that I already own.  So, sorry, P3P fans.  Just going by what I have available to me.

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Analyzing Games the Aether Way

If you’ve read some of my older posts, you probably know that I just love to put too much thought to many of the games I play.  Explore the themes.  Read into the little features.  Even when the developers didn’t intend that to be there.  Especially when the developers didn’t intend that to be there.  You probably also know that I am an amazing human being, and every living human either desires me or desires to be me.  You wouldn’t think that would be related to my tendencies for over-analysis, but to be honest, I don’t know how I make my magic work, so it very well could be.

Maybe you want to be amazing just like me.  You shouldn’t.  You should want to be amazing in your own way.  But if that way involves analyzing video games and other creative works, maybe I can help you with that.  Let’s take a case study, and go over the sort of unconscious method I use to dig into the plots, the settings, the themes, the meanings, the hidden little features of things in a way that makes experiencing them so much more meaningful to me.

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To play along, I ask that you give Loved by Alex Ocias a go.  It’s a quick little platformer, minimalistic, not really heavy on the mind, but it has a lot of features that we’ll be able to apply the following lessons to.  So please, if you have 10 minutes to spare, give that a quick playthrough before continuing on with the rest of this post.

Anyways, let’s get going.  You want to analyze a game?  Here’s how I do it.

1: Understand Your Filters

We’re all on our own lives here.  Every single one of us has our own backgrounds, morals, beliefs, values, set of experiences, and whatnot.  Your family, your friends, your work, all of them will have their own, different cultures.  Every one of us has our own path through life, and have absorbed so many little unique bits into ourselves that make up a huge chunk of who we are today.  And that impacts the way we view our media.

Assuming most of us here are human adults, our brains don’t experience most things in a vacuum.  Rather, our brains will process stimulus by comparing it to what we’ve experienced in the past and basing it on that.  Our past experience color and change the way we have our current experiences.  We have lens.  Biases.  Filters.

Usually, this is not a bad thing.  These lens can become overpowering, to the point where you’re primed to see something based on almost no indication and you ignore the contrary and deeper points and you end up having big, dumb, easily refuted rants about the deeply offensive targeted political statements of Princess Tutu or something, but most of the time, they’re just a thing to be aware of.  They can be helpful to you, in fact, giving you an interesting and unique way of looking at the media you’re going through.  And these change with time as well, as we all go through life.  Our understanding of the world evolves, and with it, the way we enjoy our fiction.  To make the most use of them, however, you need to know what they are and where they’re coming from.  Knowing what you connect with and why, what’s going to make the most impact on you and how it gets there, is really the prime step in going for a deeper understanding.

So, in the case of Loved, it starts of strong with just its title.  For those of you who aren’t playing along, a) c’mon, seriously? and b) Loved is a simple platformer where the narrator is continuously putting you down and ordering you to do things which are commonly not in your best interest.  Obeying the narrator adds more details to the environment and gives the interactable objects distinct shapes, but leaves the world black and white.  Disobeying adds color to the world, but leaves things as indistinct squares.  There’s only two characters in the game, you and that narrator, and you’re given very little details on either.  Because of the title, you know it involves love of some sort, and it’s clearly an unbalanced sort of love, with the way the narrator treats you, but other than that, the specific impression of the relationship between the two, that all comes from you.  So who were they?  A romantic couple?  Parent and child?  Owner and pet?  The game gives little indication.  Your sense of their relationship is going to come from your filters.

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Unpacking the Activision Blizzard Layoff

Just fair warning, unless you’re really into base-level business analysis, this is probably the most boring post I’ve written in a while.

Activision Blizzard just announced that it had a year of record profits.  Activision Blizzard just announce that they were laying off 8% of their workforce, close to 775 people.

This has a lot of people angry.  After all, that’s near 775 lives that now need to shift gears.  775 careers interrupted.  775 households potentially shaken to the core.  All while the company is facing the end of the most profitable year its had, and is compensating its executive team accordingly.  The contrast there is galling people.  It’s leading to a lot of anger on the interwebs, discussion of unions, attention to executive pay, and calls for CEO Bobby Kotick to be fired.  You see this posed as a proletariat vs. bourgeoisie issue all over the place.  People hate this, and between the news, the social media, just anywhere you want to look online, it’s not hard to see people expressing it.

To me, and I’d imagine to anyone else with any business experience or education, this is all so, so routine.  Nothing going on here that points to any ethical lapse, no abuses of power, nothing that seems to indicate any real wrongdoing.  Hell, a lot of the layoffs you’ll see out there are either misguidedly shortsighted or the results of significant mismanagement, and this one doesn’t even seem to be one of those.  It’s unfortunate, very much so, but this really does seem to be a normal happening of normal business functions, and really not worth all the vitriol it’s drawing.

It’s been a while since I’ve picked up my business pants for one of these posts.  And frankly, the Activision Blizzard layoffs are a function so utterly routine that I wouldn’t find it worth the effort to be typing up a post about it here.  But my opinion of this matter is so drastically different from that of the prevailing internet shouting that, well, here I am zipping them up once more.

So hey, from the business perspective, let’s go ahead and unpack what’s happening here with Activision Blizzard’s layoffs.

Just from the ground level, there’s a difference between firings and layoffs.  And there’s a difference between layoffs and mass layoffs.  We’re talking about mass layoffs here, when a company lets go of large amounts of people all at once.  Most of the time, when you see mass layoffs in the news, it’s the result of a company losing money.  Hiring people is expensive, and personnel costs are usually the biggest expense on a company’s ledger.  So it makes sense that if a company is looking to cut costs, the first place they’d go is cutting people, right?  Not so much.  You see a lot of companies really jumping the gun on them, going for layoffs purely as a cost-savings measure after a short period in the red.  Mass layoffs are horrible.  And they’re not just horrible for the people being laid off.  It’s easy to lose track of the simple fundamental, but a company’s ability to make money is dependent on its people doing things that make money.  If you have less people, you’ll be able to do less things, and therefore make less money.  Layoffs can lead to a short-term increase in financial condition, but typically lead to reduced performance in the long term.  Mass layoffs cost a business capacity.

But what happens when you don’t need that capacity?  That’s the situation I believe Activision is in now.  Sure, they’ve made a lot of money last year.  But let’s take a look at the broader situation. Last year, following Destiny 2’s disappointing performance, the larger company has divested itself of developer Bungie.  They’ve been sunsetting their Guitar Hero properties.  Skylanders seems to no longer be on the radar.  Call of Duty Black Ops IV has failed to achieve quite the presence they expected.  Blizzard has no major new games coming in 2019.  Heroes of the Storm is being scaled back.  Hell, Blizzard was running an incentive for voluntary quits late last year, in a preliminary cost-cutting measure.  Sure, the company posted what was reportedly its biggest profit yet.  But it underwent a lot of trouble to get there, and by appearances, that trouble is going to lead to a very slow 2019 for the company.

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The Higurashi Notes Chapter 2: Watanagashi – The Club

The Club

Once again, we should really take a look at the leading ladies of this work, what they’re up to when all this crap goes down. Because really, chances are, all the people you’re spending most of your time with in a good mystery. Probably going to end up at least slightly important.

Mion

Between her and Shion, the Sonozaki sister take the prime spots of this chapter. Whereas the previous chapter really delved into who and what Rena was, this one shines the spotlight on the two of them. Revolving focus. Start of a pattern. We covered Shion last entry, so let’s take a look deeper into what we’ve got going on with Mion.

Of course, this gets a little more complicated with what we talked about last time, how Shion and Mion have been switching places, but we’ll do our best. And our best is pretty great.

One thing we learn about Mion here is that she kind of has the hots for our Keiichi. Yes, just like Rena did last time. Yes, he’s a visual novel protagonist. Higurashi never shows you what your viewpoint character looks like, so I’ve been inserting my own appearance in there, so it makes perfect sense to me that all the ladies would be looking for a piece of his doomed self, but I understand if the rest of you find that unrealistic.

So anyways, yeah, Mion here’s way into that animu boy. This turns out to be very relevant. When Shion’s getting her claws into Mion, that’s the route she uses. You see her breaking out of her usual characterization in order to benefit Keiichi plenty of times. Maybe the reason everything goes to hell so hard is because of Keiichi.

Yeah, let’s explain that last one. Rena reveals that Keiichi inadvertently offended her without realizing it sometimes earlier in the story. Keiichi thinks it stems from an incident wherein he gave Mion scorn instead of a doll she may have wanted, which is as good a time as any although Mion never confirms what it was. Moreover, Keiichi’s involved in the incident that seems to have spurred the murders/disappearances this time around, in which he, Shion, Tomitake and Takano break into the village’s sacred torture-disembowelment storehouse. More blood is spelled than in any other year previous, yet Keiichi goes almost entirely untouched in the killing spree that follows, until he goes out and finds trouble himself.

Mion seems to be struggling with her identity a bit this chapter, especially as her twin gets added to the mix. She seems to react a bit hesitantly every time Keiichi insists that she can’t be feminine. She also struggles a bit with the duality of her role as just your average Japanese high school girl and her role as the heir to the Sonozaki family. This chapter goes a lot deeper into the history of the village and the interplay between all the families, as well as Mion’s particular upbringing and background. It’s clear that there’s a lot of expectations on her, a lot of responsibility that she never really asked for. Beyond that, there’s her relationship with her sister, which, at the very least, seems quite colored by the family structure set in place before she was even born. So much of her life was already decided for her by virtue of being the firstborn in her family, and although she fulfills all those expectations, I get the feeling that sometimes they’re at odds with what she’s really feeling.

Then again, I could just be assuming things. It’s really hard to tell when you’re not sure when Mion is really Mion.

One piece of that dichotomy that I am sure of, because the game won’t stay quiet about it, is that Mion is struggling with her femininity. She’s always referred to herself as “this old man”, but Watanagashi tops that by having Keiichi, Shion, and Mion herself suggest she should have been born a boy at several occasions, and Keiichi running through the thoughts of ‘if she were a boy I’d do [etc.]’ and the like at several junctures. Even before Keiichi realizes that Shion and Mion are separate people, he assumes that Mion is pretending to be her own twin sister because she couldn’t bear to add the feminine things she’s doing into her own identity. There may be some truth to that though. If you read between the lines, the most likely times Mion is masquerading as Shion are when she wants to be kind and tender to the boy she crushes on who just can’t seem to see her as a woman in the first place.

And yeah, if you take this story at face value, Mion’s behind the murders. It’s clear, particularly in the character discussion following the end of it, that this is at most only part of the truth, but still, she is wrapped up in some pretty nasty business. In her position as the head of the village, she’d likely know what’s going on, and may be actively involved. She could be leading the murderers, particularly if you take her confession this chapter as truth. How much might actually be her and how much might be Mion, it’s hard to say, but given how clear this chapter is on Mion’s position of power in the village, it’s hard to believe she’s entirely uninvolved.

Then again, maybe she’s a victim of it all too. Rika figures out what’s all going on, and talks to Keiichi about it at one point, referring to the different parties as the dogs, the villagers pissed off at the intrusion into their taboo storehouse, and the cats, those being hunted by the dogs. She refers to Mion as a cat.

There’s a lot of times that Mion acts inconsistently with what we know of her. Sometimes, she doesn’t pursue the games to their conclusion. Sometimes, she sets up games that don’t follow the rules. Sometimes, she just straight up sucks at the games. Keiichi even mentions in the end that she’s being to cruel to really be Mion. Which, yeah, Shion and Mion are switching places, that explains a lot of it, but the inconsistencies are so widespread and blatant it makes me wonder if that’s all there are to it.

And it is really, really hard to track Mion’s character when you’re not always sure she’s really her. The game is clear they’re switching places, but not clear on who is who when. That’s a big source of the puzzle I’ve been trying to unravel this time around, at least. Rena mentioned in the last chapter that Mion used to be really bad at the club games. Mayhaps they’ve been switching places much longer than we realize. Continue reading

The Higurashi Notes: Chapter 2 Watanagashi-Overview

It’s time again. We’ve been going too long, without massively overthinking anything. I have no excuse. I just haven’t been feeling myself, really. But it’s time to correct that. It’s time to do what I do best. And apparently what I do best is throw way too many word into loosely organized blog posts for my own intellectual satisfaction that nobody else is going to care about.

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We’re finally getting around to taking our good, long, deep look at the second chapter of Higurashi. Deal’s pretty much the same as last time. Going to be analyzing this work in as much depth as I’m capable of mustering while still amusing myself. Going to have full spoilers for both this chapter and Chapter 1: Onikakushi, but we’ll be spoiler free for any of the later entries. Savvy? Let’s go.

The Bird’s Eye View

Recall, if you will, the end of Onikakushi. If you missed our run on it, here’s a quick spoiler: everyone dies. Keiichi, all his friends, probably a few puppies, it was all horrible and really tragic.

The second chapter, Watanagashi, leads off in a really odd position. We’re back in Keiichi’s shoes. He’s off to go visit all his friends. After all the horrors, the paranoia, the brutal murders of last time, everybody’s happy and having fun together like nothing ever happened. Because, in Watanagashi, nothing ever happened. Maybe.

The story this chapter starts at a point in time maybe a few weeks or so after Onikakushi started, well before everything started going to hell. There was no paranoia, no demons/possessions/insanity, no murders. Keiichi’s already met his friends and been part of their game club for a while, but aside from that, we’re starting completely fresh. We have been teleported back in time to when everything was happy and nobody was planning anybody’s bloody demise.

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Except it’s not just us taking a look at a different point of time. Not just giving us a different perspective of the same events. The record hit a scratch, and needed to be reset, but now it’s taking us through a whole different progression of events. It seems that things were the same as Onikakushi in the background, but once you hit the point at which the novel starts showing you the plot, things start progressing differently. Moreover, it’s somewhat clear that the events of Onikakushi happened, even if nobody involved may remember it. Several times, Keiichi encountered something that would be familiar to all of us from the previous chapter, only to feel some sense of misgiving that he can’t explain.

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Watanagashi introduces one new leading character in Shion, the estranged (maybe) twin sister of Mion, who we know so well from our previous adventures. It takes a bit of a different focus than Onikakushi as well, in that where the first chapter was largely focused on Rena and her background, this chapter puts the spotlight on Mion, Shion, and through them the whole Sonozaki family. It’s also more externally focused, as well. Keiichi may still be our viewpoint character, but here, he’s a lot more of a supportive character for the others, doing the dumb things so that their stories can be told, than he was in the latest chapter.

Watanagashi also does something that I find very interesting. So a lot of the plot of the whole Higurashi series is driven by the mystery behind it. Why are all these people being killed, how is that happening, what is up with all the maybe-supernatural stuff there? Watanagashi has an answer to all that. One of the characters ends up confessing to all of it, you see some of the corpses, and have an explanation for some of the methods in which they died. It’s all done by people, no real supernatural involvement here. Really, if you take this chapter’s explanation for it, it’s all pretty open and shut.

So Watanagashi has an explanation for it all, eh? Then, why is this still one of the “question arcs”? Why are there still like 20 chapters to go after it? Yeah, that explanation only works on face level. As the OOC after party points out, it’s full of holes, and at most only really explains that year’s deaths and murders, not the ones prior to it. It’s never made completely clear within the plot itself, but really, that’s my favorite thing about the way the Higurashi story is told; that it has enough faith in the reader’s ability to figure things out that it doesn’t put a big neon sign on all the things it wants you to notice. It makes the whole story feel deeper, because it does expect you to be connecting those strings of logic, but always gives you all the tools you need to do so. It is really fascinating, though. It gives you an answer, but the way they deliver it, that answer only leads to more questions.

The second of anything in a series has a pretty big responsibility. Sure, it’s the first game, movie, book, whatever that first puts the paint on the canvas, that establish the basics of what that series is going to be, but it’s the second entry that establishes the patterns that determine the series’ overall identity. It’s no wonder that the second entry is often considered the best one. Suikoden 2, Assassin’s Creed 2, Resident Evil 2, Silent Hill 2, with good reason, a series often tends to reach it’s high point of critical acclaim with its second offering. Higurashi’s creators knew the creative position they were in going into Watanagashi, and they made full use of it. Watanagashi is the largest chapter of all the question arcs, and in some aspects, one of the deepest. Now that we’ve got all the introductions out of the way, and knowing that any readers are going to be suspicious and wary going in after their expectations were set last time, Watanagashi has a lot more room to deliver complexity while still setting further expectations and mystery for the future chapters. Just an example, this chapter’s only a few hours longer than the previous ones, but even so, my notes for this ended up running twice as long as my notes for Onikakushi.

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Part of that is just in a lack of an ability to trust. Which is turning into a big theme for this series. Onikakushi saw Keiichi’s friends turning against him, Keiichi himself became an unreliable narrator, and, as I pointed out, the one seemingly reliable source of help was very, very suspect. In Watanagashi, Keiichi at least seems to be much more reliable of a narrator, but aside from that, it’s hard to trust in all the information you receive. Last time, that was because you couldn’t trust the people that was being filtered through, which is still the case here, but there’s an added layer, in that a lot of that information is going to be just plain wrong. A lot of the background info, you’re given a few perspectives that are a bit contradictory, conjecture presented as the closest thing you have for a fact, or with a layer of bias on there. Even coming from sources that you can be reasonably confident don’t have much in the way of ill intent, a lot of the information you’re given in this game is just flat out wrong. You’re given clues that it’s wrong, but it still makes it more of a challenge to dig through the facts you’re presented with.

Overall, the story, the mystery, seems to really open up in this chapter. Which once again, I really have to commend the writers for actually making the story broader while the content would seem to be narrowing it down by giving ‘answers’ to those mysteries. This also seems to be the entry where the Higurashi series really settles into what it is. So here, we’re going to spend way too many words that probably nobody’s going to read exploring it. I’m looking forwards to it.

All up in Nintendo’s Business

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Among both the console manufacturers and video game developers in general, Nintendo stands apart. Not just in terms of their games or consoles themselves, although those are certainly a result of the way Nintendo stays askance. But rather Nintendo is just different in terms of the way the business is run; in its decisions and very culture. Sometimes, this sees them make some greatness, such as when they single-handedly pulled the entire video game industry out of the dark ages. Sometimes, this sees them make some really boneheaded decisions, such as when they decided that online gaming was just a passing fad. For like ten years.

But even with all the ups and downs this causes, it makes them a very interesting company. They intrigue the businessman part of me endlessly. Why do they do the things they do, even when it flies against all established knowledge? The fantasizing about that really appeals to the part of my brain that makes my heart skip a beat at the words “Six Sigma”. And you know, it’s been a while since I’ve done any business analysis. I think I might be jonesing.

So anyways, let’s take a look/wildly theorize at the things that make Nintendo the way they are. Now, as we’re doing this, I want to say that a lot of what I’m going to talk about next, particularly about the culture of Japanese companies, comes from things I learned from people who got their chops in the era where all the businessmen were scared Japan was soon going to dominate the world, so that might color my perspective a bit. Also, some of my classes were, like, really boring, so I may only be half-remembering some things. So, you know, don’t put any money on any of this. With that out of way, let’s dive into the business character of Nintendo.

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The first thing in understanding what makes Nintendo tick is understanding where they’re coming from. I know this is going to blow you minds here, so hold on to the back of your skulls, but, see, Nintendo is a Japanese Corporation. And I don’t know if you realize this, but Japan has a different culture than we do in the rest.

Sorry, I might be going a little fast there. Go ahead, read that paragraph a few times, until you can wrap your head around those bombs I dropped. When you catch up, we’ll be here for you.

Let’s take a look at what that means. No matter where you are, corporations are publicly owned companies. People buy and sell stock in that company outside the control of the company itself. Stocks represent a portion of the ownership of that company with all that entails, including a share of the highest level decision making and a share of the company’s profits, delivered by means of the stock value increasing or by dividends paid out to shareholders.

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