"I think that was one of the nicest aspects. Like, you could travel the world pretty cheaply on your own, but also having other people to share your time there with is how you make memories." (Peter, Episode 43)
I had the great fortune of becoming acquainted with Peter Burroughs during our years in the Mowbray Scholars Program at Michigan State University. Named after Myrtle Craig Mowbray, who became the first Black woman to graduate from MSU in 1907, the Mowbray Scholarship is aimed at selected honors students who demonstrate an interest in and commitment to cross-cultural understanding. As such, most students in the program use the funds to help them study or do research abroad. That's exactly what Peter did when he went to Japan and South Korea to learn about game development.
From a young age Peter had an aptitude for building things and drawing. While in high school, his parents suggested pursuing longer-established fields architecture or graphic design, but Peter opted to become a concept artist when he learned that schools like Michigan State University were offering game development programs. He enrolled in MSU's game design and development program, majoring in media and information and minoring in game development. As a freshman, Peter heard that the College of Communication Arts & Sciences, which housed his major, offered a summer program through which students could go to Japan and South Korea to learn about game development in those countries. But he decided to do the program during the summer after his junior year when he thought it would be the most helpful for him. Peter and a group of about 20 other students kicked off this three-week learning experience in Tokyo.
Since Japanese gaming and tech is largely concentrated in Tokyo, Peter's group spent much of their week there visiting as many companies as they could every day. While the companies they visited couldn't always show what they were working on due to non-disclosure agreements, Peter and his fellows were still exposed to a wealth of information through tours, discussion panels, an Q&A sessions. When not visiting companies or historical and cultural sites around the city, Peter spent his free time running (exploring his surroundings and exercising at the same time), swimming, and indulging in whatever Japanese food that appealed to him.
The group's second week was focused on learning more about Japan itself. With Osaka as their home base, Peter recalls taking in famous attractions like Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavilion) in Kyoto, as well as the deer and the floating Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima. At one point, his cohort even hiked a mountain to see temples that were nestled in a forest. Witnessing such ancient architecture and elevated landscapes was awe-inspiring for Peter, who was used to the relatively flat land of his native Ohio. This change in scenery, coupled with observing the particular ways in which Japan merges the urban and the natural in its cities, endeared Peter to the island nation even more.
The last week of the program saw Peter's group in Seoul, South Korea. While Japanese game and tech companies seemed to be doing more content creation, the industry in Seoul seemed to be more oriented toward content consumption. As such, esports (video game competitions) are incredibly popular there. Impressively fast internet speeds and establishments like PC bangs (where people can play games in together in one place) added even more to the social aspect of gaming that Peter observed in Seoul. And if that wasn't enough, Peter even got a front-row seat to an esports tournament thanks to a classmate who scored tickets for the both of them during their last day in Korea.
Creating new worlds
Peter had previously visited Kuala Lumpur a couple times to visit his relatives, so the Japan/South Korea program wasn't his first time traveling internationally. It was, however, the longest time he had spent abroad up until that point, and he took advantage of this opportunity to both become more knowledgeable and enjoy himself. He somewhat credits his artistic talent to the fact that he comes from a safe and familiar place like Ohio; the slower pace made him want to use his imagination and creative abilities to look outward toward the world, or even create new worlds. But being in Japan and South Korea added an extra layer of inspiration, both in an artistic sense and a business sense. Having visited game companies in Michigan and California, and aware of how how difficult it can be to stay closely informed about what's happening in the industry outside of the States, Peter was delighted to learn about what makes Japanese and Korean games different, and what it's like collaborating with foreign companies from a Japanese or Korean company's perspective.
Peter graduated in 2017 and is now a freelance concept artist. He enjoys working on various media projects that include but aren't limited to games. Based in Bowling Green, he recently spent some time in France this summer, and he has his heart set on going to New Zealand one day, "because it's awesome". Peter can be found on his website (kairosmith.com), on Instagram (@kairosmith), or on Twitter (@kairosmith).
Be sure to listen to this episode, "Sorta Like a Good Dream (JAPAN/SOUTH KOREA)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
Technology and Culture: Communication and Games in Japan (MSU program)
Technology and Culture: Communication and Games in Korea (MSU program)
Dr. Constantinos Coursaris (MSU media & information professor)
Dr. Bess German (MSU Honors College assistant dean)
Lizzo interview (from Another Round podcast)