Gaming Arcades: How Japan Preserved a Culture of Social Gaming
by：Leanard Paul J. Francia
Remember gaming arcades? Those places we used to go to, to enjoy a different atmosphere than we usually would than playing games at home. A place to show off the skill an individual had polished in a specific game, or just to enjoy an environment where a tacit agreement to respectfully share the same space and game-it-out to your hearts content was possible. Well, chances are those types of places now only serve to remind you of the nostalgic moments of the frustration you would feel when you couldn’t beat a level in Pacman or when the joy you’d be exhilarated by when you finally gathered enough tickets to exchange for the toy you’ve been setting your sights on.
I mean, who would blame you? No one would fault you if you believed that arcades are a thing of the past. With the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on us and the restrictions it forced us to make, arcades world-wide have truly been suffering. However, a vast majority of arcades has long been on the trend of closing since before the pandemic started. In Japan alone the difference between the number of working game arcades has had a drop of approximately 6.43 units in the thousands from the fiscal year 2010 and 2019. With the biggest drop of 1.12 thousands of operating game arcades closing between the fiscal year 2011 and 2012. With the advancements we’ve made in technology, one could conveniently enjoy digital games at the comfort of their fingertips.
However, that doesn’t mean that the arcading culture has died down in Japan either. At the same time that arcades were closing down across the country, the operating revenue of the market underwent several changes. Going down to 422.2 billion yen from 495.8 billion yen in the years 2010 to 2014 and then slowly rising back up to 540.9 billion Japanese yen by the year 2019. While in most places of the world, Arcades would be considered a declining form of entertainment, in Japan it is very much alive and a part of their culture.
There are many ways that Japan has been able to preserve this part of their culture, one of which is by using the power of “place” in video gaming culture. This place could refer to both the physical location of the arcades as well as the spot it holds inside the hearts of the people who love it. Japan itself is a very busy society, with both working adults and studying youth often going home late. Using this fact, various big name arcades are located near commute stations, and places of heavy foot traffic. One example is the famous Taito Station gaming arcade recognizable by their space invader character. The game center can be found in a few of the major areas around Tokyo and is a landmark for the area.
Japanese arcades also cater to a wide demographic, ensuring that every costumer is able to enjoy their visit. Multiple big name arcade stores such as the now closed Sega, housed their arcades in multiple floors, with each floor containing a different selection of video games. There are the classic shmup and at ‘em games, bullet hell, rhythm games, purikura, and no doubt some more interesting genre for those with different tastes. The rhythm games section in particular garner quite the attention. With the low level of skill needed to play easier levels and an extremely high requirement for reflex, reaction time, and dexterity needed at the expert level, Japanese rhythm games can be enjoyed by virtually anyone. Not to mention that there are an insane variety of them ranging from the classic DDR machines, full body tracking, an interesting washing machine looking one, and more that I have yet to see.
In short, Japanese arcades are both a wonderful way to experience the retro style video game scene of the past, and a place to share the passion that we have for video games in the same space as others. Although the game arcade scene might decline once again, it is hard to imagine it ever disappearing at least in Japan with how so many people hold the novelty of it close to their hearts.
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