This word came up quite a while ago when I was discussing Xevious and how huge a hit it was to someone else on another forum. It is part of a handful of critical words that I find in everyday Japanese speech about games that doesn’t seem to show up in English. That makes me wonder and I have long embarked to find out, with no clear answer, whether the concept has any importance among the English-speaking world or if I simply haven’t found the equivalent. Much like the word “tempo” which has a specific Japanese meaning when you are talking about games, that I don’t see used in English.

Its hard to explain “sekaikan.” It can be easily translated, oh sure. “World view,” “viewpoint,” “style” or even “opinion” is more than acceptable. And it is commonly used in those forms and meanings. But as you may very well know, often there can be a subtler nuance to a word that just can’t break through the language of translation and a real grasp of the word can express things that maybe a simpler literal meaning doesn’t get across. In this way, sekaikan has a way of meaning the view points of things from the position of the absolute thing itself that implies a kind of insight into something.

For instance, consider a fist crashing through a weak wall. The person using the fist has a viewpoint, a world view. And the person on the other side of the wall – if there is one – who sees the wall fall apart and the fist crash through, also has a viewpoint and a world view. But instead of considering the viewpoint of one, the other or both through a certain lens of style, a sekaikan is like looking at the action through the action itself, as the fist and the wall crashing, from that point of view and style. The sound of the wall crashing, the veins throbbing in the fist, what the fist looks like, how it feels to strike down the wall, the motion of striking down the wall, all these things are part of the sekaikan of this situation.

And that’s what a lot of people (well Japanese gaming critics) consider Xevious added to the foundations that made it so important. If you notice, games are often mocked these days for offering things like the “alternative RPG,” “F.R.E.E,” “survival RPG,” “Wild West RPG” or “High Flying Action Game” or “Tactical Espionage Action.” This is simply consumerist preying on the Japanese gaming industry’s professed love for this “sekaikan” kind of insight, that you want to some sort of unique action and focus on it so much that you create a kind of viewpoint or world out of it. And its also, I think, the single best reason why RPGs have always been so hot and mainstream here – it is an easily distilled system for doing this.

I find I see games like Planescape: Torment, Gothic, Star Control 2, GTA or even Warcraft through this lens, but as I’ve said, I’m not sure a great deal of emphasis is put on this elsewhere, but I can’t be certain. I really don’t think style or focus is quite the right word, at least I’m 99% positive that those words don’t convey what I’m trying to get across with sekaikan.

In any case, thoughts?


Intriguing, Kitsune. Before I discuss sekaikan any further, however, I want to see if I grasp it adequately enough… so, if you would, tell me if this is close to right:

Sekaikan is the intuited (as opposed to rationalized) aspects of a situation (or in this case, game) which are “truest” in comparison to only the aspects of the situation itself–using your fist through a wall situation, it is the “essence” of not only the action of the fist going through the wall, but also of the fist, the wall, the bricks in the wall, the coiled fingers on the hand, the mortar loosely holding the bricks together, the bones and veins and muscle and skin making up the hand, etc, etc–thus, not only the action, but all participants of the action, and all sub-strata of the participants of the action, ad infinitum. Obviously this defies rationalization–you’d get some wacky fractral that goes on forever–rather, it must be intuited, felt instead of thought. Sekaikan is not only the inclusion of all these elements and their elements and their element’s elements, etc, but also of the exclusion of any perceptor–there is no accepted observer. It is only the action, the causes and the effects, and how they relate in pure, unfiltered form.

Is that anywhere near what sekaikan means? I’d love to discuss the notion with you, but I want to grasp it first.

I think so, you used some words I don’t know, but it sounds right to me. I would keep in mind that the view behind this is that of the person who created it, so in your example, there could be other things focused upon to larger or smaller extents based on exactly whose view is creating this sekaikan and some may not agree about what’s part of one and what isn’t.

I think its particularly true that are they are intuited rather than thought about, but I don’t think that precludes thinking about it either. Are you some kind of math genius, BTW?


Math genius? Hardly. :P

Anyway, now that we’re roughly on the same page…

I think a game built around a sekaikan often does well if the sekaikan is truly novel–Metal Gear’s “Tactical Espionage Action” had simply not been experienced by the market before, thus it was extremely successful. The downside to the inspirational sekaikan is that a game built around a sekaikan tends to suffer over the long term–once the player has full explored (perhaps mastered) the mechanics of the sekaikan, he tends to lose interest quickly–even if the player is only halfway through the game. Thus the problem with sekaikan games is that they tend to be labeled as “gimmicky”–it is often all too obvious that a storyline in a sekaikan game only exists to exercise the sekaikan itself.

Well, that could be true, the only thing is, games are ordered around that element sometimes quite a bit and sometimes only shallowly so. Take FFX for example, its coming from the sekaikan of Spira. Of what it means that Yuna is on a religious pilgrimage: on a straight path to the source, no exploring, because the road is known; with a group of people she already knows; visiting temples along the way. Spheres and banishment into the otherworld figure into the plot and the gameplay. The people play Blitzball to take their minds off Shin. Shin himself is a source of many of the boss battles. Tidus’s unfamiliarity with the world breeds some of the tutorials and explanations, as well as the learning Al Bhed language minigame. And so on. This is behind an awful lot of the game, but not exactly raison d’etre (oooh, I hope I got this one right!) of the game.

Similarly, Dragon Quest, whose sekaikan is much simpler (bloody, difficult, downright grueling hardship and all that comes with it) but is renowned for offering hundreds upon hundreds of hours of gameplay.


Let me ask you this, Kitsune. Do you think the strength of a game’s sekaikan is directly related to its quality as a game itself? ie, could a game with a stronly defined, interesting sekaikan be bad?

Definitely. Wild Arms 2 had a better defined “Wild West” sekaikan, buts it not only worse than the original Wild Arms and the third one, its the worst in the series by far. And then, well, there’s Shenmue…

I’m not going there. :o