Big gaming publications in the West give its readers the impression that the Japanese aren't very interested in developing games for the personal computer, and only care about making them on standardized hardware like video game consoles and arcade machines. They may occasionally talk about the Korean gaming scene since Blizzard Entertainment's Starcraft has become a national pastime over there, and the country's phenomenon with Ragnarok Online and Lineage has established itself as a major hub for MMORPG development. Other than this however, game publications never talk about whatever happens for PC gamers on the Eastern side of the world.
Of course, there is a thriving community of Japanese PC gamers out there. Although fans of Western PC games exist in this country, their numbers are small; the majority of the market consists of erotic visual novels (or eroge, short for "erotic game")- games which have mostly static backgrounds and images, have a ton of text to read, and require very little input from the player. So itfs rather understandable that these major publications ignore the Japanese PC gaming scene altogether, but in the process, they also ignore a subsection of gamers different from these two archetypes mentioned. The people I'm referring to play and create doujin games.
So let's start this off by taking a look at what the characters for this word means:
The first kanji of this compound (dou) means "same," while the second kanji (jin) means "person." Together, it means "a group of people with similar interests."
Kanji for "shi"
Katakana for "game"
Traditionally, a third kanji is placed right after the second (shi), which means "document," and transforms the compound to mean a "fan-produced or self-published comic." However, since this website is about video games, we'd replace the last kanji with the English word "game" or "soft(ware)" instead to get "doujin soft" or "doujin game."
Simply put, this word is the Japanese equivalent of homebrew or independent software.
Now there's usually a negative connotation associated with the word doujin, and I'd be lying if I'd say the reasons that back up those claims are completely unfounded. While it's true that both doujinshi and doujin games have either fan-made parodies of existing intellectual properties or use original works (which may not be as original as it seems since they tend to use a style that's rather similar to a popular artist) which throw its characters into promiscuous sexual activities, there are an equal amount of doujin creations that actually have some substance to them.
Once you're able to overcome this major obstacle (or if you're lucky enough to fine one that's completely clean on your first try), you'll stumble upon a community that continues to build upon concepts that have been abandoned by the majority of the commercial gaming industry. Many of these doujin titles use those elements as the basis for their game's engine and occasionally you'll run into one that is so well-polished (and possibly having creative game mechanics at the same time!) that it could almost be mistaken for a commercial title. Some of them are spiritual successors to games that never received an official sequel, while others use characters from various anime. Many doujin games in particular use characters from popular visual novels like To Heart and Kanon, as well as the more recent Fate Stay/Night.
Sometimes a doujin circle (or group) would become so popular that their influence would eventually bleed over into the commercial world. A perfect example of this would be Melty Blood, a fighting game born from the collaboration between the doujin circles TYPE-MOON (who would become a professional entity as a result of its massive popularity after the release of their first game) and French-Bread. The latter circle essentially took all of the characters from the former circle's hentai visual novel Tsukihime, omitted everything that made the game suited only for adults (like sex scenes) added several animation frames comparable to the quality of Capcom's Street Fighter III and SNK's Garou: Mark of the Wolves, and constantly updated the game until it was sort of polished enough to be considered by a commercial publisher a worthy game to try and sell, which was then shortly introduced into Arcadia Magazine's annual tournament in Japan due to its overwhelming popularity.
Other incredibly popular doujin games include the Touhou series, a long line of games created by Team Shangai Alice, although the circle entirely consists of single guy by the name ZUN. Most of the games in this series are a variation of the danmaku style arcade games published by Cave, featuring tons of female characters and excellent old school style music. Also of note is EasyGameStation, who publishes a variety of titles with relatively high production values. There's also Tasogare/Twilight Frontier (called Tasofro for short), who first appeared on the radar with their subsequent releases of Eternal Fighter Zero, and has since then collaborated with Team Shangai Alice to make two very interesting fighting games within the Touhou universe as well as working with doujin circle 07th Expansion (whose game has exprienced success similar to TYPE-MOON's first game and has since then also garnered lots of commercial support) to toss its characters from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni into Capcom's Mobile Suit Gundam: Federation vs. Zeon engine.
Since doujin games by their definition are not commercial products, you're not going to find them in stores unless it specializes in selling them. Traditionally, however, doujin circles only release their creations during special conventions. The biggest of these is called Comic Market (or comiket for short), which is held twice a year for three days (one in the middle of August, and the another on the last days of December) and are indicated by a number (the even numbers are for the summer, and the odd numbers are for the winter).
This event is held at the Tokyo International Exhibition Center, but you'll probably never hear the building called by that name since most people will probably have no clue as to what you're talking about because they're more familiar with the title "Tokyo Big Sight."
Thousands of attendees and doujin circles alike attend these events, and the numbers keep rising with each successive convention; in 2007's summer comiket they've somehow managed to cram slightly over half a million people in there. Comiket is open to anyone from around the world, and unless you're planning to set up a table there to sell your own doujin creations, there is no admission fee other than paying the costs of arriving there, although it is recommended that you do purchase the catalog.
The Toranoana retail store in Akihabara, Tokyo
Obtaining doujin games can be a difficult task, as it's rather costly to visit Japan just to buy these games. Most of the Western audience has discovered doujin games through file sharing networks and torrents - although this pirating may be seen as justifiable considering how difficult certain games are to obtain, it's still pirating and therefore not morally kosher. For anyone in Japan, you'd need to check out a shop like Toranoana or Messe Sanoh, which are stores that stock tons of anime based products, including doujin soft.
Just beware that these stores are usually filled to the brim with porn regardless of which section you browse, so it's not some place you'd want to show to your mother.
Although these places have mail order websites in addition to retail locations, none of the main ones ship outside of Japan. The only two websites that actually ship doujin titles overseas are Himeya [NOTE: Himeya closed in 2010] Paletweb. Himeya has a small markup and requires you to pay expensive shipping costs, while Paletweb is a bit cheaper on both grounds but sometimes lacks a few titles that Himeya carries. In addition, Hendane! makes regular appearances in the dealers room of many anime conventions - their tables are about as close as you can get to a Japanese anime store like Toranoana, as they stock tons of doujin goods, including games. Naturally their prices are marked up, but not to absurd prices, considering how bloated the prices are at most tables for other goods.
If you don't feel like spending money just yet for these games, there's also a lot of free ones available on the Internet such as Studio Pixel's Doukutsu Monogatari / Cave Story, which has been translated into English. ABA Games creates some interesting shmups and the site also has a program there to create your own bullet patterns.
Considering that major magazines such as PC Gamer have now shrunk to the thickness of CD jewel slim cases, I'm surprised they're not that desperate yet to cover anything about what goes on over there since the Japanese doujin gaming scene alone would be more than enough to add a few extra pages in order to attract readers who would be interested in these kinds of games. Maybe it's because they'd rather get fragged in real life by a rocket launcher instead of being associated with that kind of group and having to deal with games that are unable to push their bleeding-edge hardware to its absolute limits.