Category Archives: game center

The End of Arcadia – Prologue

I found difficult to find the proper resources that would have enabled me to reconstruct the appropriation of the space of game centres by players from a historical perspective in the context of my doctoral dissertation. Few audiovisual materials documenting the practices of gamers in arcades exist, and only a fraction of them adopts an honest perspective instead of reaffirming the videogames-are-a-bad-influence discourse so prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s. This was one of the important factors that led me to focus my efforts on the analysis of contemporary practices and behaviour which I could more easily observe and record.

Back then, it had not occurred to me that I could find such information in novels.

Arcade culture has changed rapidly in Japan since the 1990s, and many players who found comfort in these types of spaces now look back on the past with nostalgia. While game centres still exist, there is a distinct sense that part of their culture, which was directly tied to the games of the time and their affordances, has now been mostly lost with the arrival of networked machines. The author and editor Ōtsuka Gichi took upon himself to document much of that culture. In the process, he created valuable resources (albeit slightly romanticized) in the form of two novels that both chronicle the game centre scene from different insider angles: the Virtua Fighter subculture in Tokyo Head 1993-1994 and the ethos of the “scoreler” in The End of Arcadia.

Needless to say, there is no sign of either of these works outside of Japan, but evidence suggest that they were positively received by its public. Tokyo Head was adapted as a Broadway-style musical in 2015. Both titles now command the impressive price tag of 15,000 yen on Amazon, turning them into collector items. The End of Arcadia is particularly interesting to me as it carries the metaphor of arcades as a form of utopia, an ideal world outside of reality, which ressonates with my understanding of their social function as sites of escapism away from social norms and pressure.

Knowledge of these works are important for anyone looking to study arcade gaming culture in Japan. In the spirit of dialogue, I translated the prologue of The End of Arcadia to provide a sample its tone and overall direction. Enjoy!


Arcadia. Utopia. Origin of the word “arcade”.

This was a time when game centres were still seen as the hotbeds of delinquency. All of us were acquaintances from the arcade located near the university. We killed time there together. All day long, we threw ourselves at the latest video games, shared tips and info, and eventually chased high scores. The four of us all came from different walks of life and our personalities were completely different, but, somehow, we all got along. At some point, we started to use the same high score tag, which turned into the name of our game club, which was derived from the given name of our appointed representative member. Amongst the countless videogame circles based in one of the country’s many game centres, ours had somewhat of a reputation of being an elite “scoreler” club.


Dissertation Update: The Last Few Miles

I realized recently that I haven’t been mentioning my thesis on this blog for a quite a while. While this platform’s original purpose in 2015 was to keep contact with the outside world during the writing process, little was said about the thesis that I have been putting together over the last four years except for a few posts where I shared some of the discoveries I made at Ritsumeikan during my field trip in 2016. I am happy to report that it has been submitted to the Modern Languages and Cultural Studies department of the University of Alberta for external review, and that a defence date will be decided upon in the coming weeks.

The whole project is longer than I had anticipated, while not covering the entirety of the points that I wanted to raise, or the phenomenon that I wanted to account for. Some difficult choices had to be made to remove what I thought were important aspects of game centers, but ones that did not fit in with the general direction of the thesis. More research will be needed before these ideas can be shared, but I am looking forward for the opportunity to expand the scope of the original thesis in the future to match my original vision.

I will report on the defence date as a later time, but for now I just wanted to share a short excerpt of the introduction that I think describes the whole project with a decent degree of eloquence.

The objective of this dissertation is to provide an understanding of public video game playing from a holistic perspective, one that accounts for the materiality of the machine, the affordances of the software, and the space as the context of the play activity. At its core, this project considers video games primarily as the purveyor of a play activity and as a practice, and thus it aims to interrogate how these practices play out in the context of Japanese video game arcades while considering in equal part the influence of its texts, material conditions, and spatial context.

From Playing in Public: Situated Play at the Intersection of Software, Cabinet and Space in Japanese Game Centres, page 6.



Image: Yelp




Youtube Channel: “Games Inspired by Space Invaders”


I have been conducting research on old Japanese arcade games for the last few years now, and I came to realize some time ago that there is not many accessible resources for footage of old arcade games from the 1970s and early 1980s. The architecture of these games, combined to the difficulties associated to keep the hardware up and running, typically make them difficult observe in person. Besides tiny pictures published in a few obscure Japanese mooks that are now out of print, it remains difficult to obtain footage of old games of the period that mostly fall in the shadow of epoch-making games like Western Gun or Space Invaders. While one can easily find original footage of a game of Space Invaders, footage of a game like Astro Fighter remains much more elusive. Both for satisfy my personal curiosity and to provide some sort of easy-to-access resource for reference purposes when teaching about arcade games from that period,  I started a little Youtube channel called “Games inspired by Space Invaders” back in 2017. I just though now about formally introducing it…

The plan for that channel is to make available footage of a corpus of games immediately released after Space Invaders in 1978 and that take design inspiration from Tomohiro Nishikado’s famous title. Historically speaking, the wild success of the game took the industry by storm at the end of the 1970s and inspired many companies to adapt some of the mechanics that made the game so exciting, or to simply copy the game entirely. In all of the games featured on the channel, one can identify specific design tropes such as the advancing invaders, the iconic shooting mechanics, and other fictional elements. Maybe the juxtaposing the games through platform that Youtube provides will help formulate a narrative of the impact that Space Invaders exerted over the arcade industry during its early years. Keeping this possibility in mind, the channel will stay updated as often as possible to reflect my latest discoveries of titles of interest.



Ofuro+ramen+game center=?

The Asahi Journal publicized this week the opening of the first location of a new ramen restaurant chain called Nintama Ramen that aims to merge together three of Japan’s best gifts to the world: public baths, game centres, and ramen noodles. The establishment, demonstrating the constant transformation of the style of game centre operations in the country, is situated at one of the trucker stops of national highway 51 nearby Tokyo. It is primarily targeting a clientele of travellers and weary drivers looking for a short rejuvenating break on a long-distance trip. While arcade games have always been part of the broader leisure strategy employed by hotels and hot spring resorts to attract and retain customers, this seems to be a first example of a venue that combines these three seemingly disconnect services in this fashion.

An Evening at Mikado

I visited many game centers since my arrival to Tokyo, but there is one in particular that deserves a dedicated post on this blog. That game center is Mikado, home to a thriving fighting game community as well as some unusual arcade games.


Hiroyasu Katô, whom I featured in another blog post, was kind enough to introduce me to this unique venue along with a few other interesting game centers in the Nakado area of Tokyo. We both wrote notes and took many photographs to document these spaces as much as possible for future current and future projects. When we arrived at Mikado, we were fortunate enough to make full use of Prof. Katô’s personal network of fighting game experts; he had many acquaintances on-site that were in a position to introduce us to the overall social fabric of the place.


Mikado is a retro-style game center specializing in titles that emerged during the 1990s fighting game boom. Top players from all over Tokyo gather here to learn, exchange and participate in the daily tournaments held in the venue, all commentated by the owner himself. The sense of community is strong; fans schedule weekly meeting around the machines to share techniques for specific fighting games (events called taisenkai), and fan-produced strategy guides for obscure games can be found amongst the various piles of flyers lying around. The staff is constantly working on the machines wether it is to change the setting of a cabinet or to fix a circuit board with soldering iron. All of that is being done at arm’s length of players and the tournament show-floor; while customers are usually kept at bay from all maintenance activities in most of the large-scale game centers, here, repairs are conducted in plain view. Tournaments matches are projected onto giant screens facing the main staircase to facilitate spectatorship as the venue becomes more crowded and walking around turns into a challenge in itself.



But Mikado is more than just a hub for fighting game aficionados, it also curates a collection of unusual games that, despite their debatable ludic qualities, somehow carved a new place for themselves into this venue. Prof. Katô introduced me to an arcade version of the dating simulator Tokimeki Memorial in which players go on dates with various characters of the series. Interaction is limited; in key moments of the game, the user must quickly answer a tricky question from his date partner. The game features a pulse sensor onto which the player’s left hand need to rest. The “right” answers to all questions in the game change based on the correlation between the sensor’s reading and the “tone” of the reply’s line. Try to cover up a nervous state of mind with a detached reply, and its game over. Apparently, Mikado hosted tournaments of this game in the past; I can imagine very well how a game that is so perfectly unsuited to public performance could generate hilarious situations when the crowd gets involved.


The other game that one again demonstrates the specific culture shared by Mikado gamers is a strange 1988 baseball game titled Moero!! Puro yakyû hômuran kyosen. Everything about that game screams kusoge (shitty game). It is basically a home run competition game that looks like something  straight out of the Atari 2600 era. The player must hit continuous home run in order to continue. Fail twice in a row, and it’s game over. The game has acquired a reputation for being the fastest arcade game to give users a Game Over screen. A typical game session lasts about 30 seconds, but, as I experienced, that system never fails to provide a big laugh. Mine lasted almost as long as the time I spent playing. Insert 100 yen, and then, sugu owaru (immediately over). Mikado gamers certainly have a great sense of humour and somewhat seem to enjoy being the laughingstock of that joke of a video game. I doubt that gamers in 1988 took the joke that well though. In a way, that game was salvaged from the great library of the forgotten video games of the 1980s to be repurposed as one of the multiple pillards of Mikado’s local gaming culture. According to a conversation with another of Prof. Katô acquaintances, Moero!! stands as that infamous “ridiculously unforgiving game” that everybody familiar with the venue needs to try at least once. There are even special buttons awarded to players who hit twenty home runs.


These are just a few of the elements that set Mikado apart from other game centers. It reminds us that the experience of playing video game leans on so much more than on simply what appears on screen. Playing in public, specifically, exposes that experience to the influence of local factors that are sometimes very unique.

Le chaînon manquant entre Star Wars et Space Invaders

Eh oui, un autre billet à propos de Star Wars sur ce blogue.

Depuis que j’étudie l’histoire des jeux d’arcades au Japon, j’ai toujours eu un doute par rapport aux liens étroits établit entre la notoriété de Star Wars et la folie Space Invaders de 1978, malgré les nombreux témoignages abondant en ce sens. Il reste que le concept d’influence en est un qui est difficile à démontrer de façon formelle, et considérant la flopée de films dérivés du concept “d’aventures intersidérales” produit dans les années 1970 aussi bien aux État-Unis qu’au Japon, il est difficile de pointer Star Wars du doigt de façon spécifique.

Cependant, je suis tombé sur ces quelques pages en feuilletant d’anciens numéros de Game Machine.

Scan 1

Scan 2


Plus de place au doute maintenant.

Le fait que ces publicités pour des jeux dérivés de Space Invaders utilisent de flagrantes copies de certaines icônes du film de Georges Lucas pour communiquer avec le lecteur suggère que l’univers fictif de Star Wars eu une certaine importance au niveau de la mise en marché du jeu vidéo en 1979 (moment de la parution de ces publicités). Star Wars fut présenté dans les cinéma japonais en Juin 1978 pour la première fois, ce qui coincide avec la sortie de Space Invader… en Juin 1978 également. Leur sortie simultanée est probablement la raison pour laquelle ces deux oeuvres furent étroitement liés de 1978 à 1979, année où le Space Invader boom n’était plus qu’un souvenir. Il est donc plausible que les fabricants de jeux furent tentés de reprendre directement les codes visuels de Star Wars afin de vendre leur version de Space Invader.

Fuji Enterprises’ Kamikaze

While going through old issues of Game Machine, I stumbled on an add that picked my interest. The add in question was published in February of 1976 and dedicates a full page to a game called Kamikaze set up in an upright game cabinet, a standard a time when most video games were still either imported or consisted of blatant copies of Atari’s products.

Here comes Fuji Enterprises, publishing a game that is presumably about crashing your Mitsubishi A60 (also called Rei-shiki) against various naval vessels. The cabinet itself is a recreation of a cockpit, complete with a control stick and some pseudo-flight instruments. Most cabinets of this type during the 1974-1978 period where racing games, which makes this specific game quite unique in its design and (somewhat dark) subject matter.

Scan 1

There is very little information about this game or its reception at the time; the only thing I was able to find is this advertisement. Game Machine never ended up writing about the game itself. If you know something about that game, please share it with us.

Public Talk at RCGS on March 11

I will be giving a talk about my thesis project during the last week of my stay at Ritsumeikan on March 11. This presentation will be part of the ongoing conference series that RCGS hosts regularly to showcase new research in game studies. I will present a summary of my research objectives as well as some case studies of arcade video games that require an understanding of interactive games as the synergy of software, cabinet and space.

This will be my very first official public talk in Japanese and, needless to say, this is making me very nervous. I will spend the next week brushing my vocabulary up so that won’t have to rely on English too much.

Wish me luck!

Will Japan’s Elderly Population Save Game Centers?

Last week, I attended a small student conference at Kansai Daigaku organized by a research group entitled Pluralistic Gaming Research (tagenka suru gêmu bunka kenkyûkai). The highlight of the day was a presentation by Prof. Katô Hiroyasu, a sociologist and communication scholar who wrote extensively about socialization patterns in game centers. Since his work constitutes a big part of the backbone of my thesis, I was looking forward to meet him in person and find out about what is going on in game center research in 2016. I took a few notes about his talk.

Katô covered the emergence and evolution of the media discourse surrounding Japan’s elderly population spending some of their free time in game centers. He started by demonstrating that the connection between elderly and video games has been present in the press since the late 1990s when therapists realized that video game held great potential to be used within rehabilitation programs. In 1997, game centers specifically targeting the elderly demographic started to appear, and while they were financially sustainable for a while, by the year 2000, the majority would close down. However, the topic would appear throughout the years until now and monopolize a lot of media attention.

While it is true game centers are sometimes frequented by elderly people who predominantly like to play coin pusher machines, Katô suggests that, in fact, this proportion is infinitely smaller than what mass media often suggests. Citing a 2012 survey, Katô states that, while there is interest in spending time in game centers, it seems that only about 0.2% bother to go. Other more traditional spaces like supermarket, cafés, malls and social community centers are still much more attractive to this demographic.

These spaces are much more accommodating for many reasons (easier access, drink service, etc.), but with medal games’ continuous drop in popularity in recent years and the increase of market share that networked games (a general term that points at all arcade machines connected to the internet) continue to acquire every year, it is easy to see why game centers are not such a popular option for elderly. Their presence in this space is one that needs to be negotiated. They need to co-exist with plethora other machines that appeal to different demographics, and at different times. The audio-visual frenzy that rythm games and UFO catchers provide clashes with the monotonous and laid back atmosphere of medal game sections in most game centers. Without the proper spacial structure, the fantasy of arcades’s economic revival through customers over 60 years old is an illusion.


Kyoto’s Plaza Capcom, late at night

While parts of this discourse also reach us through thought news outlets such as The Japan Times, it is important to bear in mind that this whole situation is more of a project than a reality.