American gamer chronicles Japan's vibrant arcade culture in book

Jan 20, 2009 By Victor Godinez

The death of the video game arcade has not, alas, been greatly exaggerated. For gamers older than 30, memories of plugging endless quarters into Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat and After Burner cabinets are just that: memories. In most of the world, arcades with stand-up cabinets and pinball machines have been replaced by high-powered home consoles.

In Japan, though, the arcade survives and even thrives.

That's the topic of a new book by Brian Ashcraft, who now resides in Osaka writing about video games and technology for gaming blog Kotaku, Wired magazine and other outlets.

The Dallas native has penned perhaps the first coffee table book for gamers: "Arcade Mania: The Turbo-Charged World of Japan's Game Centers."

The slender, colorful volume is breezy and enthusiastic, peppered with photos and screenshots and historical sidebars, obviously the work of both a hard-core gamer and a dedicated researcher.Each chapter of "Arcade Mania" chronicles a different arcade genre, everything from fighting games to virtual mahjong to photo sticker booths ("an analog Facebook" for Japanese girls) to shooters and more. The mini-profiles of arcade-goers from celebrity professional gamers to faceless middle-aged men in suits to rambunctious kids are delightful and quirky.

It's an essential work for anyone curious about the technological and cultural evolution of arcade games in Japan.

Ashcraft spoke about the book via e-mail. Here are some excerpts:

Q. How does a good old boy from Dallas end up living in Japan and writing about video games for a living?

A. Growing up, I'd always been interested in Japan and video games. As a kid, I had a bunch of game consoles: an Atari 2600, an Odyssey, a NES, a Super NES, a Master System, Sega Genesis and a TurboGrafx 16. Of course, as with most people my age, I grew up in arcades, stuffing quarters in game cabinets and asking parents for more said quarters.

After I graduated from Cornell, I decided to go to Japan. Besides my interest in things like video games, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I felt very comfortable. The initial plan was to stay three months. That's turned into seven-plus years. This year I got my permanent residence visa, and now that I am married with two kids, I think I'll be here for the long haul.

I spent a lot of time in arcades when I first arrived in Japan. I still do. I love the vibe. I love that arcades are a place where people with a similar interest in gaming congregate. I love that I can sit down and play a game for 100 yen. If I like it, I can continue. If I don't, well, then I don't.

For the equivalent of five or 10 bucks, you can have a great night of gaming at an arcade.

Q. What inspired you to write "Arcade Mania"?

A. As someone who mourns the decline of arcades in America, coming to Japan was like being in arcade heaven. Heck, it is arcade heaven.

In big cities like Osaka or Tokyo, arcades are found near large train stations. So it's very easy and convenient for Japanese folks to go to arcades, or game centers as they're called in Japanese. Arcades are very much integrated into the Japanese urban landscape.

And even if you are not interested in going head-to-head against another player, there is the spectacle aspect where players practice a game like, say, "Dance Dance Revolution" and go to the arcade to, in a sense, display their skills. Some players often practice in their neighborhood game center and get amazingly good before daring to play and show off at famous arcades in Tokyo.

Q. Was it tough to get inside of the culture of Japanese arcades?

A. Japanese arcades are, in a way, an extension of Japanese society. Inside them, you'll find all sorts of people from businessmen to schoolgirls and everything in between. Since arcades are an extension of society, Japanese manners extend into arcades. Things that are considered polite and respectful in Japanese society at large carry over into arcades. It's a matter of being aware of social norms and then examining them in an arcade setting.

So, for example, if you go to a book store and buy a book, the book is wrapped in a brown book cover so you can discreetly read it on the train or wherever. That's the same logic behind the unspoken rule that you do not look over the arcade cabinet to see your out-of-view competitor on the other side.

Living in Japan for a while and raising a family here no doubt has helped to break down those cultural barriers.

Japanese culture is certainly different from American culture. But people are people. And gamers are gamers. I wanted to examine those differences and hopefully point out the commonalities.

___

(c) 2009, The Dallas Morning News.
Visit The Dallas Morning News on the World Wide Web at www.dallasnews.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Explore further: Freight train industry to miss safety deadline

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Video games target Japan's silver generation

Mar 06, 2014

At a nursing home in suburban Tokyo, 88-year-old Saburo Sakamoto darts his fingers energetically to catch characters that appear on a touch screen in front of him.

Winners and losers at this week's E3

Jun 15, 2013

Since the first battles over "Pong" machines in local arcades four decades ago, video gamers have loved good competition. And this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo—the industry's largest annual gathering—presented ...

Cube Slam: Google's video game plays up WebRTC, WebGL

Jun 14, 2013

(Phys.org) —Google has a new game called Cube Slam where you get to slam a cube into another player's screen target. If you hit the cube against the other player's screen three times, terrific, the screen ...

Philadelphia gets ready to play 'Pong' on building (Update)

Apr 04, 2013

Philadelphia is getting ready for a supersized game of "Pong"—on the side of a skyscraper. The classic Atari video game will be re-created later this month on the facade of the 29-story Cira Centre, where hundreds of embedded ...

Pioneering videogame firm Atari gets lifeline

Feb 05, 2013

Atari, the pioneering video game company mired in bankruptcy proceedings in both France and the US, said on Tuesday it had found a last minute buyer after the latest leading shareholder gave up on turning ...

Nintendo's Mario endures even as games come and go

Nov 18, 2009

(AP) -- You might call him the Mickey Mouse of video games. He's reminiscent of a doughnut, round and sweet and comforting. He's also a vessel, devoid of a real personality so you can live vicariously through ...

Recommended for you

Freight train industry to miss safety deadline

18 hours ago

The U.S. freight railroad industry says only one-fifth of its track will be equipped with mandatory safety technology to prevent most collisions and derailments by the deadline set by Congress.

Gaza cops trade bullets for laser-tech in training

Apr 14, 2014

Security forces in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip are using technology to practice shooting on laser simulators, saving money spent on ammunition in the cash-strapped Palestinian territory.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Tiny power plants hold promise for nuclear energy

Small underground nuclear power plants that could be cheaper to build than their behemoth counterparts may herald the future for an energy industry under intense scrutiny since the Fukushima disaster, the ...

Hand out money with my mobile? I think I'm ready

A service is soon to launch in the UK that will enable us to transfer money to other people using just their name and mobile number. Paym is being hailed as a revolution in banking because you can pay peopl ...