A mosquito can become a video game hero in Japan

By Jessica Xieyang Qiao
Medill Reports

A lone mosquito patrols the Yamada family to stock up on blood for the coming winter. You are Mister Mosquito, an uninvited guest who pesters the hapless Yamada family. They want you dead. You want to bite. The battle is on.

Quirky as it sounds, Mister Mosquito is a Japanese video game released by ZOOM Inc. in 2001. Unlike U.S. video games that depict  post-apocalyptic journeys or commando attacks, Mister Mosquito allows you to experience the hardship of a mosquito’s life.

“In Japanese video games, there are craftsmanship and culture that you don’t see in other countries,” said John Davis, co-founder of BitSummit, an annual Kyoto indie game festival. “Japan never shies away from having anime, strong female protagonists or other types of subjects in games. There has never been a cookie-cutter approach to game semantics.” Continue reading A mosquito can become a video game hero in Japan

Puerto Rico Association of University Professors rallies against proposed budget cuts

By Ankur Singh
Medill Reports

Puerto Rico remains in the midst of a massive fiscal crisis with over $72 billion in debt. To address this crisis, in 2016 the United States Congress created a Fiscal Oversight Board that was not elected through the passage of the PROMESA ACT in order to manage and reduce Puerto Rico’s debt.

The seven-member board was appointed by former President Barack Obama and includes many people from the finance and banking industries.

The board has proposed a series of austerity measures to cut funding for many of the island’s institutions. In particular, the University of Puerto Rico, with its eleven campuses across the island, has been hit particularly hard. Continue reading Puerto Rico Association of University Professors rallies against proposed budget cuts

Rent control campaign builds momentum in Rogers Park

By Becky Dernbach
Medill Reports

Sandra imagined getting older as a peaceful time to retire and travel. She didn’t expect to be fighting to stay in her Rogers Park apartment as the rising rent takes up more and more of her fixed income on Social Security every year.

“I didn’t see my old age like this,” said Sandra, 73. “I’m just amazed they can raise the rent any amount they want.”

Sandra pays more than half her income in rent, and says she has seen it increase exponentially every year. This year her landlord presented her with an increase of more than $100, which Sandra is fighting to reduce.

On election day Nov. 6, the Jane Addams Senior Caucus and the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America made phone calls and talked to voters outside polling places in Rogers Park about lifting the state ban on rent control. The non-binding referendum — “Shall the State of Illinois lift the ban on rent control?” — received over 66 percent of the vote in the 49th Ward, where Rogers Park is located. It was on the ballot in three wards in Chicago that also include Logan Square and Uptown.

Continue reading Rent control campaign builds momentum in Rogers Park

A thousand marchers bring eating disorder awareness and support to Chicago

By Colleen Zewe
Medill Reports

Despite the brisk October weather, Sami Mikret and her family spent Sunday morning marching along Diversey Harbor to celebrate her completion of eating disorder treatment and show others that recovery is possible.

They weren’t alone. More than 1,000 people participated in Chicago’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Walk, making it the largest NEDA walk Chicago has ever hosted.

Since 2009, NEDA walks have aimed to fund eating disorder research, education, prevention and advocacy initiatives.  Chicago’s 2018 walk raised more than $47,000, and NEDA plans walks in 90 total cities each year.

According to NEDA, 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, orthorexia, which is an obsession with healthy eating, and other specified feeding or eating disorders, a diagnosis given to those who do not fit other diagnoses but still struggle with eating. Continue reading A thousand marchers bring eating disorder awareness and support to Chicago

Pilsen residents demand rent controls at Town Hall meeting

Nathan Ouellette
Medill Reports

Demands for rent control and affordable housing took center stage, Monday, in the St. Pius V Church basement, as residents of Pilsen and Little Village rose one by one to voice concerns at Pilsen’s Community Town Hall on Rent Control and Property Taxes.

The Town Hall, conducted both in Spanish and English, focused on lifting the statewide ban on rent controls as residents fight to stay in their homes.  The presence of State Senator and gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss (D-9) and State Representative Theresa Mah (D-2), co-sponsors of SB2310, Repeals the Rent Control Preemptive Act bill, gave community members the opportunity to meet with their elected officials. 

Continue reading Pilsen residents demand rent controls at Town Hall meeting

America’s First Nations compete at World Championship Hoop Dancing Contest

Nathan Ouellette
Medill Reports

PHOENIX, Ariz. – A chorus of voices and the echo of drums engulfed the sunbathed amphitheater at the Heard Museum this month as dancers from American Indian and Canadian First Nations gathered for the 28th Annual World Championship Hoop Dancing Contest.

The dances emerged from tribal healing ceremonies. Now, hoop dancing has grown from its traditional roots into a broader and more public celebration.  Individual dancers manipulate colorful hoops with their bodies – often transforming as few as four to as many as 50 hoops into designs coordinated with intricate footwork set to the rhythm of drums and voices. Judges calculate scores based on precision, timing, showmanship, creativity and speed.

Continue reading America’s First Nations compete at World Championship Hoop Dancing Contest

Tokyo’s pachinko parlors look to next generation of players

By Mindy Tan

Pachinko, a uniquely Japanese form of gambling, is a popular sport in Japan. But interest in the game has been waning, particularly amongst younger players. Parlor operators are trying to revive interest by rolling out luxurious, air-conditioned parlors with uniformed staff, and the industry endeavors to introduce new games on a regular basis. Some parlor operators also offer non-smoking premises, widely considered a radical shift in this industry.

Pachinko & Slot Cyber
Pachinko parlors dot the streetscapes of Japan, with their bright lights, loud bells and whistles, and constant flow of traffic. The game is a popular pastime, and one of the few forms of gambling that is tolerated in Japan. It was not until December 2016 that legislators passed a law that legalizes casino gambling in the country.
Entrance to Pachinko Shop
Players spent ¥23.3 trillion (roughly $205 billion at today’s exchange rate) on pachinko and related slot machines in 2015, according to a Bloomberg report. This is equivalent to about 4 percent of Japan’s GDP.
Steel balls
At Pachinko Maruhan, one of the parlors in Shinjuku, a district in Tokyo, players purchase small steel balls which costs between ¥1 and ¥5. These balls are fed into the machine and players control the speed by which balls are shot into the field by gripping a knob on the lower right hand corner of the machine.
Pachinko Machine
The goal of the game is to shoot more balls into a central funnel. When three matching symbols appear on the screen, you win! Thousands of steel balls are spit out into a well at the base of the machine which are collected by players.
Big Win
Players exchange their winnings for prizes which can range from soft toys to electronics. It is, up to this point, entirely legal. But players often go to small establishments, usually near the main building, to exchange these prizes for cash.
Couple playing pachinko
Pachinko is still a popular pastime, but interest in the game is waning. The number of players has been trending downward after peaking in 1995, as casual players leave the market. The percentage of men under 20 playing pachinko and pachislot, a derivative of pachinko, fell from 11.4 percent to 1.7 percent from 2009 to 2015, according to market data from Sega Sammy Group. The percentage of men in their 20s was 6.8 percent in 2015, down from 24.5 percent in 2009.
Man playing pachinko
To counteract this, pachinko and pachislot machine manufacturers have been making industry-wide efforts to introduce voluntary regulations to curb functions that encourage excessive gambling. They are also forming partnerships to establish industry-wide platforms to increase cost efficiency through the joint purchasing of components.
Photo at top: One of the many Pachinko parlors in Tokyo, Japan. (Mindy Tan/MEDILL)

Japanese novelty food you wish you could get in Chicago

By Shen Lu

Continue reading Japanese novelty food you wish you could get in Chicago

Vulfpeck’s Theo Katzman breezes through Evanston’s SPACE ahead of second album

By Grant Rindner

Ahead of the January release of his second album, Heartbreak Hits, singer and funk-rock free spirit Theo Katzman took the stage at Evanston’s SPACE this month.  Katzman plays guitar and drums in the successful band Vulfpeck and was joined onstage by bassist Joe Dart of Vulfpeck and independent singer-pianist Joey Dosik and Evanston native Julian Allen on the drums.

Even without the full Vulfpeck family, they kept the crowd rockin’ with Katzman’s songs. Clad in aviators and a denim jacket, he deftly juggled lead vocal duty while switching between the guitar and drums. He ripped through a handful of tracks from his upcoming record, including “My Heart is Dead” and “Plain Jane Heroin,” While Dosik also played selections from his recent Game Winner EP.

Katzman cut his teeth and honed his licks at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, where Vulfpeck  formed. The band’s sound bears more of a jazz and soul influence than Katzman’s solo work, but both share a rich musicality and powerful arrangements – heavy in horns, rich in piano chords and infectious with fretwork.

In addition to producing two albums and four EPs since 2011, the band made headlines with Sleepify, a completely silent album that Vulfpeck fans streamed while they slept. They used the reported $20,000 worth of royalties to finance an admission-free tour in late 2014.

You can pre-order Katzman’s upcoming record on Kickstarter and buy Vulfpeck’s The Beautiful Game, which was released on October 17, via Bandcamp.

Photo at top: Theo Katzman playing a rollicking solo set at Evanston SPACE. (Grant Rindner/MEDILL)

Living a full life in spite of being blind

By Iacopo Luzi

Maureen Reid, 44, lost her vision when she was 27 because of  type 1 diabetes.

Today she works as a job placement counselor at the Chicago Lighthouse, a non-profit organization that assists visually impaired people all over the country.

She agreed to be followed by Medill Reports during the month of May. This photo essay shows how Reid lives a full life.

Photo on top: Maureen together with her dog Gaston on the CTA (Iacopo Luzi/MedillReports)