- Before Nintendo, PlayStation, or home computer games, there was the neighborhood arcade. Dimly lit and usually situated in a shady part of town, the arcade was a popular hangout for many teenage boys in the late ’70s and ’80s in America. But when the popularity of home computer games took off, the arcades in America went on a decline.
- That does not seem the case in Japan. On this show, Anthony is joined by Brad Crawford whose latest film “100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience” is a historical documentary about the evolution of arcades and the culture surrounding it. It features the birth of arcades to the game centers that still thrive today. Filmed in Japan and including interviews with industry professionals, game programmers, and designers, this film is sure to excite video game aficionados.
A Brief History of Arcades
Anthony became a bit of otaku with Brad Crawford discussing the evolution of arcades and the arcade culture in Japan. Brad had graduated with a degree in Fine Arts and lived in Osaka for three years teaching English. There, he saw the gaming culture was everywhere. Even with the massive growth of Nintendo and PlayStation in Japan, public arcades are all over the place. Meanwhile, as home computers and home consoles started to gain traction in America, its public arcades went on a decline.
There were a lot of factors why arcades disappeared. The place had a negative reputation as a place where bad kids went. The license was required to keep arcades running. These places also never tried to appeal to the older generation, they simply targeted teens.
When consoles came out, a lot of older guys bought these games. As these games released more mature content, these appealed to older men and their inner kid. It also became normal to have friends come over the house to play video games.
Meanwhile, Japanese people don’t usually invite people over to their house, probably due to living in small apartments. Instead, huge 5 to 6 story buildings are built, with each floor having a dedicated game genre. On the 1st floor are the crane games where one can spend a few dollars and win some prize. As one goes up, these games entice players to be more involved. There are music, dance, and rhythm games. There’s the gambling floor for mahjong and card games. There are interactive games that encourage tournaments and produced an entire culture with it. These arcades are usually built near trains and central areas where people walking around, thus one can’t miss them. Despite the number of portable gaming devices available, these arcades appeal to everyone and is a part of a lifestyle. From claw games to shooting games, there’s something for everyone in these Japanese arcades.
Arcades in America may experience some resurgence though, thanks to Japanese arcades that have recently opened in the west. Such is the Arcade UFO in Texas owned by Ryan Harvey which is styled around the Japanese arcade. It’s got massive bars lined with televisions where one can pick up any game: from old school game stuff to Capcom Street Fighters, and more.
Perhaps its prevalence in the country explains why the Japanese dominate in video game tournaments. Every year, competitions are held to find the best virtual fighting player from all over the world. Brad talked about some champions he’s seen in Evolution, a tournament held in Las Vegas every year where approximately 5,000 people compete. One of the most popular players is Daigo Umehara, hailed as The Beast and the world’s best video game fighting champion. Brad recounted how he fought against the odds with other well-known players such as Justin Wong. These tournaments are unsurprisingly dominated by Japanese players.
Filming in the Arcades
Brad shared some of his experiences filming his documentary. Initially going to the arcades with his camera alone, he met a lot of resistance and some tried to prevent its release. Afterward, when the trailer was released, he was contacted by gaming companies such as Taito and Sega. So he went back to Japan with a crew, a translator, and the permission to shoot this time. They were able to access communities and places not normally seen. They talked to the guys from the arcade of the 90s. People are still actively building games or have shifted to consoles. Taito is always on the lookout for the next best thing such as ice chips and building the arcades along with new malls.
So how exactly do you win in these games? Some gamers swear by the manner they grip the controllers. Some people claim to have strategies to win the games, especially the claw games. Others, particularly those who excel in dance games, must have devoted so much time and practice. The Japanese are known to become experts on anything, to the point that some are almost fanatical. Seeing others play the games so well may explain why tournaments draw a great number of viewers.
Aside from the historical take on Japan Arcades, the film contains some game boy remix that will surely catch the interest of video game fans. For more details on Brad’s documentary film, check out the film’s Facebook page for updates on its February release. You can order a pre-order a copy of the film and email Brad for questions at their website 100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience.
Anthony quickly mentions heading back to Canada for a few weeks. He looks forward to giving a full report on what’s it like to go back to his home country since he left in 2007. Thus, he won’t be producing any show during the holiday but he will be back in April.