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Video Games: A Cultural History - #5 Fear Of The Other In 'Bad Dudes Vs Dragon Ninja'

by Tim Clare

In Bad Dudes Vs Dragon Ninja, a couple of strapping young Caucasian brawlers are called on to fight for justice and the American way when President Ronnie gets kidnapped by dastardly Japanese ninjas.

During the post-war occupation, American culture flooded Japan, sparking huge demand for blue jeans, rock n' roll, and chronic obesity. In the latter half of the twentieth century, the Japanese economy surged, boosted at first by America's reliance on Japan as a munitions factory during the Korean War, then by the transition of the resultant surfeit of heavy industry to automobile production. This created the increasingly prosperous - and thus better-educated - workforce that would eventually feed Japan's tech boom, by which point the economic tide had well and truly turned.

American homes were filled with South East Asian built appliances, but it was video games, with their sounds, images and narratives, that carried the bulk of the cultural freight. Part of the reason for the hysteria surrounding 'the effect of video games on our children' was their sense of palpable otherness. These flashing, bleeping, money-guzzling cabinets were the foot soldiers of an invasion, no less a threat to America's fiscal sovereignty than the Black Ships of the West had been to Japan's. Anxious parents publicly wrung their hands, opportunistic psychologists raised their profiles by offering doomy prognostications on breakfast television, preachers condemned games as the latest in a long line of Devil-conduits for the young, and twatty journalists (like David Sheff, who - after coining it massively by scoring John Lennon's final interview - jumped on the bandwagon with his refreshingly unhysterical exploration into Nintendo: Game Over: How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars, and Enslaved Your Children) knocked out easy fearmongering screeds on why video games would spawn a generation of blue-fleshed asthmatic imbeciles. (Well, okay - maybe there was a grain of truth in that.)

Invaders are at once terrifying and fascinating, and, during the eighties, Japanese martial arts perfectly encapsulated this heady meld of power and danger.

Bad Dudes Vs Dragon Ninja plays out this unconscious social anxiety in the most literal way possible. Ninjas kidnap the President of the United States, and only good ol' American grit and rugged individualism can save him. It draws from the same Big Playbook O' Racial Essentialism as Rocky IV and Rambo III, both of which seize on contemporary anti-Soviet angst, the former by pitting Rocky's plucky unadorned pioneer against Dolph Lundgren's soulless scientifically-enhanced Socialist Mega-Pugilist, the latter by portraying Afghanistan as an innocent realm of bucolic kite-flyers and holy warriors who are only too happy to unite with their brother Americans to drive out the godless, oil-thirsty Soviets.

Naturally, old fashioned fisticuffs save the day and, after confronting the Dragon Ninja leader aboard his helicopter, you rescue President Ronnie. In the Japanese version, he has a statue built in your honour, but the USA release dispenses with all that fancy-pants pagentry in favour of time-honoured simple American values. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!