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Numismatics in Videogames – Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Numismatics remains ever-present in pop culture

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek …..
Several years ago, we took a look at the depiction of money in video games, with a focus on how virtual coins and currencies are used as major gameplay elements. It was our contention that it’s a good thing for the hobby even if it does take place in a digital space because it demonstrates how the relationship people have with money in the modern world continues to penetrate into popular culture.

And we weren’t alone in our observations. Following the publication of our piece, there were interesting pieces published by Coin World and the American Numismatic Society (ANS) that further elaborated on how videogame stories continue to use realistic representations of coins and paper money.

So today, we wanted to add to the discussion of numismatics in videogames by drawing your attention to a recently released videogame that has a surprisingly detailed depiction of coins and currency. Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the latest iteration of Sega’s story-driven mafia action franchise, features multiple sequences where players interact with realistic depictions of Japanese coins and currency.

Screen Capture from Yakuza Like a Dragon. (c) 2020 Sega.
Screen Capture from Yakuza Like a Dragon. © 2020 Sega.

The story revolves around a young yakuza named Ichiban, whose loyalty to his clan and its patriarch lands him in prison for 18 years, taking a murder rap for a crime committed by a senior yakuza in hopes of avoiding an all-out clan war. As the story progresses, it becomes clear to the player (and Ichiban) that his loyalties were grossly misplaced.

In this screenshot, Ichiban takes stock of his final 290 Yen (denominated in two 100-Yen coins, one 50-Yen coin, and four 10-Yen pieces), before spending it all on one last bowl of beef noodles before turning himself in to the police.

The game further asserts the value of Japanese coinage in a gameplay loop that takes place after Ichiban is released from prison. After discovering that his clan will not take him back, an indigent Ichiban is forced to search for loose change under myriad vending machines that appear throughout the city. This coin hunt proves to be Ichiban’s primary means of survival until he can begin to put the pieces of his life back together.

Screen Capture from Yakuza Like a Dragon. (c) 2020 Sega.
Screen Capture from Yakuza Like a Dragon. © 2020 Sega.

Paper money is also depicted in numismatically significant ways in Yakuza: Like a Dragon. In a flashback, a young actor is adorned with a necklace made out of 1957 Series C 10,000 Yen banknotes featuring the likeness of revered seventh-century political and spiritual figure Taishi Shōtoku. The use of these notes shows that the team responsible for the art direction in the game had more than a superficial understanding of Japanese money.

Screen Capture from Yakuza Like a Dragon. (c) 2020 Sega.
Screen Capture from Yakuza Like a Dragon. © 2020 Sega.

This becomes even clearer as the game’s story progresses to the turn of the century and the game designers once again focus on presenting the player with realistic portrayals of money. This time they render an updated 10,000 Yen note, which features the likeness of Fukuzawa Yukichi, a Meiji-era reformer and one of the fathers of modern Japan. This iteration of the 10,000 Yen note was issued in 1986.

As a game steeped in Japanese cultural references, the inclusion of realistic depictions of money is not surprising, just as was the case with Rockstar Game’s 2018 action-adventure game set in the closing years of the Old West, Red Dead Redemption 2, which had its share of call-outs to period money. Or as was the case with Ubisoft’s 2017 action game Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which actually has a side-mission that allows players to loot the Athens Mint.

To the developers of these games, the inclusion of money in games is fundamental to the stories that they are trying to tell. For numismatics, this is a great thing.

There is no one azimuth that points a potential collector to our exciting hobby. For some, the journey starts with a simple gift from a relative. For others, it may be an unusual or obsolete coin found in change. As video game developers harness increasingly sophisticated computing power to create virtual worlds, do not be surprised to see more and more games that touch upon numismatic topics.

And who knows, maybe that next generation of collectors gets the idea that coins and paper money are cool because they saw them first depicted in a video game.

*Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a game designed to be played by players aged 17 and older.

Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker
Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker
Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker have been contributing authors on CoinWeek since 2012. They also wrote the monthly "Market Whimsy" column and various feature articles for The Numismatist and the book 100 Greatest Modern World Coins (2020) for Whitman Publishing.

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