Arcade Mania

When I was in high school in America in the early 1980s, video games were still a novelty. Arcades full of coin-operated machines had suddenly become a standard feature at shopping centers, but hardly anyone I knew played video games at home. However, in my “computer science” class at school, I got hooked on a very simple geometric game called Qix. I was recently pleased to discover that you can now play it on the for free at the website Arcade Boss. I’m not hypnotized by it like I once was, but it’s still fun for a few minutes.

Nowadays, home video game systems are common in the United States – not to mention portable handheld game platforms – while arcades have largely disappeared. In Japan, however, arcades still survive despite the popularity of home and portable games.

Perhaps game arcades in Japan might serve a social function similar to that of love hotels. They facilitate activities that can be most fully enjoyed outside the small living space that you may be sharing with parents, kids, in-laws or siblings. They are somewhat private but non-home spaces where you can let you hair down.

The 2008 book “Arcade Mania,” by Brian Ashcraft and Jean Snow, documents the Japanese arcade phenomenon. I reviewed it when it came out, and here is an excerpt:

Arcade Mania is a breezy little book packed with color images and peppered with quotes from game designers and champion players. It sheds light on the surprisingly diverse world of Japanese arcades with chapters divided by game genre, including crane games (such as UFO Catcher), photo-sticker games (Print Club), music-based games (Dance Dance Revolution), trading-card games (Mushiking), vintage games (Elevator Action) and more.

It contains a lot of fascinating tidbits of history, such as how “Martin Bromley, Irving Bromberg, and James Humpert had founded the company Standard Games in Hawaii in 1940 to provide entertainment for military servicemen stationed overseas, and…sensed an opportunity in postwar American-occupied Japan. It was in 1951 that the company moved to Tokyo, complete with name change. Standard Games became Service Games of Japan (SErvice GAmes = Sega, geddit?) and the following year began importing pinball machines into Japan.”

Pinball machines may be a thing of the past, but Sega is still going strong.

The book plumbs the depths of otakudom, reporting on a battery-powered vibrating device that hard-core gamers can wear on their fingers. Pulsing at 30 times a second, it pushes a game’s “shoot” button faster than any human finger could. (What did you think it was for?)

A very odd omission in this wide-ranging book is any mention of gambling for money in the brief discussion of pachinko. The practice is technically illegal, of course, but it is not exactly rare…

That last point is my only beef with this book. What it does contain is very interesting. Buy it here.

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