The Amazing Japanese Arcade: Part 2

In my first post on the Japanese Arcade I outlined the basic idea behind my project and my original experience with Japanese arcades. This was in direct contrast to my experiences of arcades throughout New South Wales, and the rapidly diminishing number of them here in Australia.

Since then I’ve looked into my assumptions, but gone further and done some research into the rise of the arcade in Japan, as well as the culture they were born out of. I’m curious to see if my assumptions of what an arcade provides and why they’re so popular have any merit. Basically, Japanese arcades are huge and still a major activity for a large subset of the Japanese populace. As I knew they were a big thing before visiting, I wasn’t assuming they’d be as empty or as far apart as here, but was not quite prepared for what I ended up discovering. There’s a lot more to understanding what I experienced than simply what I noted, and that’s where my research began.

One of the most pressing notions to come out of my experience was why are arcades such a big thing? My main assumption was that this was firstly due to the tech and innovation of Japan, alongside the development home of traditional arcade developers, continued effort to actually make new titles for the arcade. The second part of this is that the whole lifestyle of games and the like as entertainment for all ages seems much more accepted and rooted in the culture, signified by pop culture-centric districts like Akihabara existing in the first place.

“The Japanese video game industry is at the crossing of electronics, computer, amusement and content industries in Japan,” writes Martin Picard in his 2013 paper ‘The Foundation of Geemu: A Brief History of Early Japanese video games‘. The economic development of Japan post World War II and the leisure boom are two main reasons why the games industry took off there at all. Mass consumption and export to the west quickly influenced externally developed games, while a drive to consume Japanese created media in Japan drove the industry and technology along.

The arcades themselves however are a merging of two industries – the new tech drive and the traditional and long running amusement/festival culture. While American business were just getting to grips with what the arcade and games could allow, the Japanese industry were able to quickly follow suit, with Taito and Sega heading up this drive. Much like China has done with social media, “the Japanese video game industry began not only in a context of importation, but also of strong competition and through a model of “cloning’,” ensuring their products success and recognition in the arcade market.

While it’s fun to think that Space Invaders’ introduction into Japanese arcades cause a shortage of 100 yen coins (and requiring the government to triple production), a popular myth that’s been debunked, it’s emblematic of the hold arcades and this particular game had on the populace. People couldn’t stop putting their coins into arcade machines to beat people’s scores and enjoy themselves, something that still occurs today on a slightly smaller scale. The only competition I can remember having at arcades is with a younger brother, or with a few friends at a bar with arcade machines. Never something to the scale of Space Invaders in Japan.

If you compare this to the decline of the western arcade since the 1990’s, it’s clear there’s something special about arcades in Japan and the culture surrounding them. While it’s tough to find much on the history of arcades within Australia, they follow the trajectory of that of the American arcade. The rise of the internet, home consoles and networked multiplayer effectively killed off the draw of arcades in western countries. Once again, the culture and infrastructure of Japan are the reason the arcades are a multi-billion dollar industry in the Japanese game market.

Factors like a highly functional and cost effective public transport system, the sheer number and ease of access to arcades makes them hangout places akin to the western mall. They’re an easy place to gather, enjoy time and socialise with friends and competition, without requiring extra effort on the part of the visitor. It also helps that at this point they’re so ingrained in the Japanese culture, being so many places, that they’ve survived their trial of time. They’re certainly not a national passtime, but at this point it’s safe to say the arcade is a staple of Japanese life in the cities.

One resource I found recently during the course of my research that is almost invaluable to my project is a video by Super BunnyHop, an American Youtuber that does a similar thing to what I am to achieve in context to his experience of the American arcade. Not only this, it does a great job of packaging interesting insights into the culture and history in with observations, without every getting too impersonal.

This is the style of video I hope to create for my digital artefact on Japanese arcades, however with the focus more on an ethnographic perspective than simply ‘reviewing’ the Japanese arcade experience like what’s done in this example. It’s here where I’ll combine my assumptions and research in the light of an Australian arcade like City Amusements.

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