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Howdy. I'm Justin Hall, a freelance writer living in Oakland California. I spent much of the last two years living in Japan, researching the social impact of new technologies and electronic entertainment. Now I write articles, contribute to Chanpon, Game Girl Advance and TheFeature.

Thanks for stopping by this old web site.

My memories of


Thus spake:
> on vacation from sight
> on Greetings from the CGDC
> on odd
> on Purist Water Play
> on Paul Robeson Returns
> RandomRetard on a photo with legs
> Hedzsi on Media Pirates of the Caribbean
> on My Credit Card Bills Grow
> on Oakland
> on Love and Theft
> on GX Alumni Network
> on extraordinary feeling
> on The Limits of Our Power
> Don Wrege on mo bile
> on Scott's Easy Wit
> on Yours is Yone-Chan
> on GGA Three
> justin on ka me ra
> on Five Percent on Two

waka waka! by Robin


Photo by: Robin Hunicke

I saw this girl at the Tokyo Game Show wearing these totally rad glasses. I asked if she was a game designer; she said she was just talent, a model, a booth babe sort of. But she looked like a young artist! Quirkily arrayed. I encouraged her to take her funky wardrobe and make some software. Then my disappointment was offset when she offered to let me wear her glasses after I heaped praise on them. And Robin snapped this photo!

October 2004

face front archives

I write for Game Girl Advance quite often - here's a list of my last few posts there:


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July 26, 2003

vacation from sight

Reaching up into my suitcase on a high shelf, I can't see my hands groping for the zipper. I closed my eyes and found what I was looking for, a stack of business cards.

Closing my eyes temporarily augments my other senses. It would be fun to spend a few days like that - seeing only darkness, instead relishing sound and smell, touch and taste. Spend a few days blindfolded - and still use the bathroom, feed myself, and spend the hours of a day in stimulation or perhaps quiet. How would I arrange that?

Posted by Justin at 05:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Greetings from the CGDC

I study the cultural lessons encoded in video games. So the Christian Game Developers' Conference seemed a natural. Except the people here aren't studying cultural lessons encoded in video games, they're encoding video games with lessons.

This is perfect for my study, but it puts me in the position of being an outsider. As far as I've been told, I'm the only working journalist here this year. I'm studying them. I have my head up, watching and thinking while they are head bowed, saying prayer before the lectures, before the meal, before the group discussions.

Most people don't mind being studied, if it means more attention for the best of what they're up to. Here, these folks are mostly fervent believers - His Honor Lord Jesus Christ infuses their language, their desires, their sense of purpose in life.

I was looking over photographs and text from the Bonden ceremony in rural Japan, one of the most thrilling religio-traditional ceremonies I've ever attended. There I was clearly an outsider, but I was given a chance to particiate. Most people at the Christian Game Developers's Conference are assumed to be a part of the cause. They have no reason to assume that I'm not participating or sympathetic. I have no antipathy here, but yesterday I felt like I was in the midst of a party where everyone is dancing to a shared tune, they've read the same book, and I'm illiterate and standing still. I've grown used to travelling to far-flung locales and conferences with Jane - my constant companion and conversation partner. So pardon my blubbering!

Today I'm working to be honest, telling folks that I'm studying ideological formation through games. America's Army teaches people to respect U.S. military values. Monopoly teaches kids to respect capitalism and to use finance to enslave their kin. People's eyebrows raise with that example. It's been entertaining so far - stimulating people and giving them a sense of my conversational parameters.

Posted by Justin at 09:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 25, 2003


I have been contacted by email and by phone by companies selling prescription drugs over the internet. They've offered to pay me if I will link to their sites from this site, presumedly raising their search rank in Google. One company offered me $7 a month per link. If I truly believed in the old DuPont motto, better living through chemistry, wouldn't I be happy to promote open citizen access to drugs? I suppose if I favored this electronic marketplace Libertarian circumvention of drug regulations. I get a lot of Ch3Ap V1agra email; it makes the business of selling prescription drugs over the internet seem ugly, designed more to take advantage of human insecurity and superstition, and less about promoting thoughtful health and emotional choices.

Posted by Justin at 07:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 24, 2003

Purist Water Play

Our bathroom is leaking left and right; old pipes and cracked titles. We're told it's best to start from scratch. So I've been bathroom shopping.

I found the anti-sink. It shocked me. I wrote about it: "Zine: Purist Water Play" for a 'zine collection of articles on the theme of "play" that Jane put together.

Posted by Justin at 11:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Paul Robeson Returns

Houseguest Lulu's sitting next to me playing Adom, while I work on GameGirlAdvance. Paul Robeson is playing in the background - I take a few moments to read her highlights from a timeline of his life.

In March, Robeson becomes the first American banned from TV when NBC stops his appearance on "Today with Mrs. Roosevelt." Under the new Internal Security Act, which allows the detention of subversives during national security crises, Robeson is asked to give up his passport after he denounces the Korean War. He refuses. State Department officials tell him he can keep his passport if he swears he is not a Communist; again he refuses, filing a suit against the State Department demanding the return of his passport.
From "1950-1956 The political outcast"

Fire up your file-sharing and download some Paul Robeson today. What spirit! What a voice!

Posted by Justin at 01:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

a photo with legs

I moved to Japan in September 2001 and set up shop as a roving freelance writer. Howard Rheingold came to town in October, to explore some advanced mobile phone culture in Japan. I travelled with him, using my gakusei Japanese and rudimentary Tokyo-familiarity to help him around town.

I had a chance to sit in on some fascinating meetings with technologists in Japan. And I took photos along the way, of Howard and his travels.

One night, on the way to "Mo-Mo Paradise" an all-you-can-eat Shabu-Shabu place, we were crossing one of the wide streets of Shinjuku walled with electric light. It was a perfect digital urban dream - neon signs and flashing banners advertised cameras and restaurants and bars. I snapped a photograph of Rheingold. Later I tweaked the curves in Photoshop, and posted it to the web.

Howard ended up using that for his author photo in his book SmartMobs. And a few magazines and web sites internationally have used that photo to frame articles about Howard, staring curiously into the glimmering electrosphere. I've made some money selling photos of Japan; things that magazines, television shows and newspapers find by searching the web: mostly love hotels and capsule hotels. But no photo has been so popular as this one.

A few months ago, someone representing a musical act contacted me - they wanted to use this Shinjuku by night photo for the backdrop on their upcoming tour. "We'll cut the man out, of course," they said. How strange! If you see REM perform live in the next few months, keep your eye out for the content on the left:


No word from them on this photo though.

Posted by Justin at 11:41 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 23, 2003

Media Pirates of the Caribbean

*swings down on a rope*
Avast ye 'puterlubber! I'll be taking them files from ye hard drive -
*looks up from the keyboard in horror and shock*
These files? But you haven't paid for them!
*a wide grin breaks, there are a few teeth black and missing*
Heh heh - shut yer hole and I'll leave ye a copy.
*leaning back from the smell, admiring the clothes and rope-swinging technique*
You just take any file you want?

After my second time seeing Pirates of the Caribbean, and weighing all the fondness that my friends have for these theives of yore, I'm not sure that the term "piracy" has the dread connotations some copyright holders would wish it to have.

*Reaching back for the rope to swing out of the cubicle, singing*
Yo-ho, yo-ho, free software for me.

Posted by Justin at 11:26 AM | Comments (48) | TrackBack

July 21, 2003

My Credit Card Bills Grow

Yes, I would be delighted to contribute an extended sidebar to that upcoming book on game design. What can you pay?
Unfortunately, this is academic press, so we can't afford to pay anything.
But this is the sort of contribution that could lead to other business. People are contributing because it is a good project, and a good chance to get noticed.

Posted by Justin at 05:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 20, 2003


Tonight, around 11:45pm in line at the Lamb Brothers' Liquor Store closest one block from my house, in line in front of me the woman with curlers in her hair was buying a phone card - ten dollars for one hour to talk to Uganda. I was buying two six packs for myself and Jane and our houseguest for the week, friend Lulu from Austin. Uganda woman left the parking lot driven by a man in a new silver Volkswagon station wagon. I fell asleep snoring on the couch as Jane and Lulu talked about breastmilk.

Posted by Justin at 01:35 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 18, 2003

Love and Theft

Bob Dylan is arguably the most famous living English language bard. For decades he has drawn from the Bible, myth and literature to fill his songs with memorable characters and striking situations. Now it looks like he might have lifted extensively from a book by a Japanese author for songs on a recent album.

Continue Reading Love and Theft

Posted by Justin at 03:05 PM

July 17, 2003

GX Alumni Network

I worked at Gamers.com between 1999 and 2001, helping to build a giant database covering every game ever made. It was a great chance for me to learn about the game industry, to experience working game journalism in a dynamic team setting, and to help spend other people's money as fast as possible before the Internet buzz wore off.

Gamers.com hit the thin outside edge of the internet bubble just as it went pop. Covered in soapy water, the ex-gamers exployees went their separate ways. Our hardcore PC gaming sister site FiringSquad continues on. The PC games reviews team scattered here and there - one of them now works forensics in a crime lab. The boys who covered console video games went back to Ziff-Davis, to Electronic Gaming Monthly, to Xbox Nation, GameSpot or maybe to GameSpy, largely back into the same business. The site programmers formed a separate company, Lithium, and they make site technology still. The men in paper gaming, or "unplugged gaming", as we called it, most of them now lend a hand at Ogre Cave, and various jobs in the role-playing game news industry. There actually is a role-playing game news industry!

A few stragglers stayed on, to see if Gamers.com might make a viable business in another form. One of those people was Joel, my old boss, the person who used to do a little bit of everything. I had lunch with him back in June. Slowly, over fat fresh sandwiches, it became clear that he has stayed in touch with someone from nearly every part the company. And not only because Joel is a friendly guy, but also because a social network of old co-workers were now independent businesspeople who were helping each other start a half-dozen small ventures in the wake of Gamers.com Arena1337, a California cybercafe consulting business. A web hosting service. System administrators. Web site builders. Graphic designers. And Joel's new site, AnswerBag.com - a sort of expertise aggregation, hand-built on time bought with layoff checks..

Posted by Justin at 02:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 16, 2003

extraordinary feeling

Window rolled down and music low air was making more noise than my stereo I felt it behind me then around me - extraordinarily alive, I felt. Maybe it was the pressure from a week with three deadlines and unanswered phone calls. Maybe it was Alan the nice young man almost selling me his old machine. But I pulled back and left him with six crisp bills still in my wallet. The sun was shining as I tried to find his back alley "bring cash" computer locale. Could I defend myself from an attempted robbery? With words.

So much suspicion surrounding ordinary events, it adds a charge. Scenario planning. But it was not the money or fear that girded my ribs and made me breathe deep and feel my eyes forced open. It was something else, nestled in context and excited to write.

Posted by Justin at 11:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 12, 2003

The Limits of Our Power

Our first night back from Japan, Jane slept for 15 hours. I went up to the bedroom a few times to attempt to rouse her. After some of my pestering, she spoke measuredly, with her eyes still closed:

can you make the sun rise?
can you make the stars fill the skies?
you can not make jane wake up.

Posted by Justin at 08:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 08, 2003

mo bile

Japan's airport once again looms large in my mind - we'll be arriving in plenty of time to stand between the hot gates and the cold noodles. Goodbye, good food. On our way in, a white masked white jacketed man stood with his hands behind his back facing a steady stream of incoming international travellers. Before him stood a camera, attached to a laptop. Don't worry, you are being shot and scanned and filtered for temperature. As we passed I whirled around to see his monitor: gray forms, a human parade, no one in the red.

Jane and I are leaving Japan today. We came with a camera and spent most of our time taping interviews and footage of video game players and game developers. Now she sleeps, since 9pm, I slept with her but since 3am I have been online. Our circumstances are fantastic; I leave them behind and log in to justify my expense and existence. Tap tap tap - hello world!

Gen Kanai wrote to invite us to cover a Tokyo conference on publishing to the web from mobile phones - moblogging. My editors at TheFeature confirmed the assignment, and Gen followed up with an invitation to moderate a panel. Is that a conflict of interest? Participating in a conference you're covering? I didn't include that information in my article. My journalist beat is technology aided human expression. When I visit conferences on those topics, I am occasionally among the more studied persons in the room. In two or three weekends, I hope to attend the Christian Computer Game Developer's Conference; I've been developing a talk in my head on "Ideological Persuasion and Electronic Entertainment," if they will accept talks from people who don't have any particular lord and personal savior.

My coverage of a conference dedicated to a topic that was first given a name in November of last year: Rehearsing the Future: Report from the First International Moblogging Conference for TheFeature.com.

Larry with Wireless Watch Japan has published a video roundup of the conference that I haven't watched since I only have 33,000 synapses pulsing connected to the global brain, instead of the millions I'm used to. Carsten says I'm in it, probably saying nice things quickly.

Also, posted today, some musings on the state of mobile phone entertainment, for Wireless Gaming Review: No Candle to Console, thanks to kind insistence and reminders from Matthew Bellows, an eager young publisher.

Nice to be in Japan, but with work and worry large in my mind I don't hesitate to return to my desk. I'm always having good conversation, but I haven't had time to crunch and contextualize all that was said around my head. So I was holding the camera as Jane kept her wits about her in my third tongue - she asked questions and maybe translated here and there. I did my best to keep up with media analysis in Japanese and to anticipate the questions that would have me smacking my leg later wishing I'd bothered Masaya-san with the conception of Japanese melody W. David Marx had shared with Jane and I in English was it just two nights before?

Posted by Justin at 01:17 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 05, 2003

Scott's Easy Wit

I've written before about A.O. Scott, the NYTimes film critic - I enjoy his voice and focus. His Terminator 3 review is a Scottian tour-de-force - irony, reference and nested commentary. Here's a ready example: "I won't give away the ending. But even if I did, it wouldn't be the end of the world."

Posted by Justin at 01:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 04, 2003

Yours is Yone-Chan

Thanks to Souris and Silvio, via Wayne met at E3 warm introduction and immediate generosity, their references and contacts in Tokyo have yeilded already one long night of deeper than intended questions and unpredicted locales and even defying the curfew at our hotel. Before the quaint family charm of a Japanese-style inn Ryokan seemed charming and unique. Comfortable even, and particular to this island. The propritors talk to you and make breakfast for you and even dial your room to ask Jane to come downstairs to translate for Trista from Pittsburg via Taiwan. She just moved here yesterday before after three years of learning chinese and working as an editor. She met us with no friends, phone numbers, job or plan beyond class tomorrow at 1.40pm. So we began inundating her with the basics - the FCCJ, Caroline Pover, and eventually ordering food from vending machines. She regailed us in turn with stories from Taipei, where American food is precious. Her jaw dropped at the sight of a Denny's.

It was later that night that fun compounded. Trista was only the second to last guest to join our small party of Tokion veterans, kids our age restarting the famed cross-cultural magazine chronicling and establishing street style between NYC and Tokyo. Marx and Sakamoto talked of fashion and politics. I sat with the boy, he was young and loquatious, eager and studied. Spoke Japanese like he'd been drinking from the neon gutters here. But then I found he was well read and studied - I heard his Bathing Ape breakdown, how the most famous street fashion brand of postmodern Japan manipulated its way through media and real estate to claim a kingdom already in decline. He has much more to say; I hope he'll write honestly about a world enveloped in unlikely threatening shadows.

Later, joined by Miyuki we all sat circled around an elder of Japanese counterculture - Yasumasa Yonehara. A trucker style baseball brim hat reading "Leche" in pink script on camo print sat perched four inches above his baldish head.

His work is photographing young women - not the polished women of old men's fantasies, he says, but the modern attitudinal ladies. With their eyes glazed by imbibements and their flesh revealed with their clothes peeled to the side. They lay splayed and stranded in a polaroid. It was challenging, smut it seemed to me, art jack off material what did it matter?

My ambiguity was heightened by his gleeful and hearty shared insight on gender and fashion politics in Japan. How older men chase younger ladies from trend to trend, across neighborhoods in southwestern Tokyo. And the Rolling Stones generation owns television. So the kids turn elsewhere for their culture. I said, ahah, what about the TV show Parky Party? Jane and I loved that intercourse of interviewer and fashionista kids from the glee streets of clean punk style. He replied steadily, I am a supervisor on that show. And so it unfolded that he was working on magazines with and without bare breasts and white panties, magazines promoting street fashion and youth culture. And he had just helped produce a new form of all-female underground theatre, like Takarazuka but something else.

Ethically muddled I was confused and admired this man. I couldn't decide if he was a gender-violent exploiting smut peddler masquerading as a teacher and activist. Or a man without my morals sharing beauty as he saw it. I decided to admire his complexity and avoid his hunger. It was his appetite for sex, for beauty, for media that made him so hard to understand. But a relentless smile and nudge nudge wink wink kept me off balance and wanting to smile back.

His office was adorned with so many spread legged young ladies. My wife knows, he smiled, my daughter knows. She's eleven, he told me. She knows what I do. And what if someone wants to photograph her? I asked. It's her choice, he spread his hands out.

There we sat, Jane videotaping, me next to Yone-chan, arm outstreached to catch his words. Through smoke and beer, all of us, ten or more years his junior, gathered around in a circle listening to him describe the formation of culture for business or belief. July 2.

Posted by Justin at 05:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 03, 2003

GGA Three

Three recent articles on Game Girl Advance:

The Choice to Cheat
Xbox Live has strict technological control over its users. Is that more effective than control through social norms?
Gaming's Lester Bangs
Lester Bangs worked to transmit the joyous feeling of fantastic music through prose. Who is doing the same for videogames?
Growing Galaxies
Star Wars, a flailing franchise, may have been reborn by letting fans have limited but entertaining access to play within its mythos. This is my review of the first three days after launch of Star Wars Galaxies, which should be the most popular online multiplayer game in North America in one year's time.
Posted by Justin at 05:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 01, 2003

ka me ra

I have worked a Nikon CoolPix 880 into the ground. The buttons have lost their color, the black plastic rubbed shiny and smooth. And then just last month, after two years of being slung into a thin canvas bag and hurled around my car and my countries, the screen started to flicker. With a digital camera, the screen is your lens on the world - when it goes black, your camera is blind.

Maybe my camera was retiring itself since another camera had just arrived; acting upon years of pent-up desire I purchased a video camera. Ryan advised me ("I've bought 3 of them") to a Sony PC101, a mini digital video camera that is about as big as my fist. Completely handheld, nice picture, pocket-sized, powerful enough.

So now I'm shooting video! Jane and I wander into "VidKid" in Meguro - hey let's go in there she says and there's a fashion expo in progress; nothing you can buy, but the designer is on hand for a short interview on diversity in Japan and California.

We've been comissioned by a crazy Frenchman whose email name reads "cyberjerome" to contribute to an Arte documentary on issues in video games. So we'll be interviewing players and designers here in Tokyo, and filming a sort of game diary as we go. I just interviewed Jane playing NeverWinter Nights on the bed here in our temporary lodgings. She was half-naked from the heat; hidden from the camera by her unfolded laptop screen. Fun to grab these moving moments on magnetic media.

Of course I miss the snapshot quality of my old digital still camera. I see so many scenes I want just to capture, still, unmoving. There's so much less editing and thought involved. Just a moment - some citizen of Tokyo surrounds a large traffic light box with potted plants. A window full of stuffed animals sitting in athletic shoes.

The video camera begs all sorts of questions, and spending. I need a wide-angle lens, I think - to see more on screen. I need a better microphone, for noisy interiors. I need a ton more blank videotapes. All my friends who do video edit their video on Macintoshes. So either I'm going to need some new friends, or another computer. Finally, I want to find a way to stick some brief video moments up on the web without blowing my web hosting bills through the roof.
gen jane and justin by joi
I'm glad to have finally taken the moving picture plunge with my first video camera; it feels like the slow opening in a new chapter of personal documentation and world reflection. Shooting video demands editing too, so I will learn something of televisual packaging.

Joi snapped a mobile phone photo of Jane Gen and I. There's so many little lenses in the world today; mobile phone cameras are really exciting to watch as they upend stability and privacy in places of media control and sanctity. People are picturing each other and distributing those pictures at an ever-faster rate.

I brought Jerry Mander's "Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television" with me to Tokyo, where the televisual lords over grey urban slabs strung together with tangled black wires.

Posted by Justin at 11:54 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Five Percent on Two

Always this rush to conclusions - who am I? Why am I here? To what group do I belong?

I was alone, in light rain for the first night of July. It was not as hot in Tokyo as I had been promised. Not the enforced languidity of an urban rainforest still populated by wool-suited workers and marvelling tourists. The woman working at Buffalo Exchange agreed with Jane that I shouldn't get polyester blend pants, because in the oppressive Tokyo heat and humidity, she said, I'd end up with "swamp butt." Instead there was just a creeping warmth; when I sat still long enough I felt my muscles clenching and drops popping out my forehead, spine and neck.

Arriving and moving around has had me pumped up. I'm not bouncing around because I'm weighed down by bags, and I've been here before. I did the math along a flourescent lit street, coming back from the expertly tuned tiny casual pork cutlet restaurant - I've spent about 5% of my time on the earth living in Japan. I didn't order the house special, as I had intended when I slid open the door; they handed me an English menu and I confused myself. Pork with ginger sounded nice, and it was, stir-fried thin sliced onions and green peppers. But it was not the meat coated with egg and batter quivering in hot oil, made by the old chef owner with fancy eyeglasses. And maybe I am better for it.

I'm still looking for new ways to understand and describe the world around me. I come back here and it's familiar, yes. I can piece together words and moods and attitudes. I hear the lite jazz version of "Champs Elysee" on the restaurant speaker and it sounds like "Sakura." This place matches patterns in my mind. And one is still the inscrutable restaurant. I haven't learned enough of the Japanese characters to understand all that an awning offers. So I see a place that serves food, I know, because its lights are on late. And the signs all point to dining and gathering. There's a glass door to the restaurant, but the door has been frosted over in the middle - the key part. There are some little wooden chairlegs peeking out at the floor level. And above the frosted glass, you can see the top of a bar area, with some hanging lanterns. But what's in the middle? Happy patrons eating squid? A room full of noodle-slurpers? An assortment of Japanese catchall served by a tired barmaid to two old men arguing about a baseball game being broadcast from a tiny TV?

I could unravel that mystery by stepping inside. And I have delved into restaurants without promise or precedence. But without any understanding of the cuisine or the crowd, seeing only at an awning and some frosted glass, my hand stays in my pocket.

This would be cause for flagellation, that I should explore further. Except that I did end up eating wonderful food. In the company of myself, my voice running long into the night, as Jane sleeps, the first victim of jetlag on this journey.

Posted by Justin at 05:10 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Justin's Links, by Justin Hall.