Japanese arcades and game culture.

1 October, 2007 (09:47) | Games | By: Olivier

Just from looking around, it is fairly clear that Japan has a thriving gaming culture.

I am not just talking about local specialties like Shogi or Pachinko but of a broader understanding and acceptance of gaming as a normal part of life. It is ingrained deeper than anywhere else I’ve been. Mario and other gaming icons are all over the place and it’s nothing special to see TV ads for the latest Final Fantasy in the subway. Everywhere, people are playing on DS or mobiles. I would even argue that cosplay isn’t too far from LARPing as a form of gaming.

But to me, the most striking example of this culture is illustrated at arcades.

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Do you even have any arcades in your country? There are very few left in France and those that remain offer nothing but a tiny selection of popular games. Contrast that with Japan: arcades are multi-storey buildings, easily found and they stock not only the latest and greatest from Namco, Sega and such, but also entire sections dedicated to the best of old school gaming. Racks and racks of Street Fighter 2, Bomberman , R-type, etc, etc… And people will play these old games just like they play the fancy card battle games or the latest Initial D Arcade Stage 4.

It may seem to be an insignificant detail but it really isn’t. It shows that – unlike most of their western counterparts – Japanese gamers understand that the fundamental aspect of video games resides not in their production values – it’s not about graphics – but in their gameplay. Some of these oldies happen to have unparalleled gameplay and the locals recognize that. So much so that they are willing to pay to keep playing them when they could just as easily use MAME.

Another fascinating difference about Japanese arcades is how diverse the clientèle can be. It’s not at all surprising to see a couple in their forty playing right next to a trendy twenty-something straight out of Shibuya. It seems that in Japan, game arcades – and games in general – are not the exclusive domain of nerdy hardcore gamers: they are for just about everyone.

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