Arcades are something of an Indiana Jones-stlye relic to a time before iPhone games and DOTA knockoffs. All those 90’s light-gun games and fighters once perfected the art of inhaling quarters, but now they stand as more of a novelty, a throwback to a social staple of those pizza parties from the first ten years of life. Remember how badly you wanted an arcade cabinet in your bedroom as a kid? How the seizure-inducing screens of cartoon violence and futuristic racecars worked your imagination in a way that only hard drugs can now? If you don’t, no worries. Adult life and bad girlfriends do their best to suffocate those memories.
For some, the introduction to Japanese culture worked like a Trojan horse via some of the best cabinets. Time Crisis? Japan’s rift on a Western action flick. Dance Dance Revolution? Europop was long on the way out, but Konami still somehow made the Japanese dance to it. Since they were putting out the most popular games, bigwig videogame companies looked to capitalize by designing arcades that could reach a variety ages rather than just the kids that were attracted to most of their products. The idea has had time to seep it’s roots and evolve into a working concept of an all-ages arcade, saving the Japanese from the drunken humiliation that American co-workers so often face at Dave and Buster’s*.
Tokyo’s got a few clusters of all-age arcades sprinkled around the city. I met up with a travel friend in Shibuya at a 4-story neon shrine called Club Sega. Remember Sega? They’ve seen better days, but you or one of your friends probably had a Genesis or an ill-fated Dreamcast at one point (let’s face it: no one had a Saturn). Sega has two of these clubs in Tokyo with the other in the Akihabra district (to compete with the giant Taito Arcade), but the Shibuya location makes for an easy tourist stop since it’s a five minute walk from the famous crossing.
The first floor features a variety of elaborate prize games that mostly involved split-second timing and a basic comprehension of Japanese. I have neither. The J-pop and pink lighting was enough to get most adults to turn right around, but those who did come in went straight for the basement. Downstairs did away with the bright neon lights and family friendly environment. The lights are dimmed, there’s beer being served, and the chilled air is thick with cigarette smoke. Here were the hardcore games: the tournament fighters, the fantasy sport stats games, and… oh right, there’s blackjack. That’s the secret to getting an adult into an arcade.
The games don’t run cheap: one play on Tekken Tag Tournament 2 was 200 yen (about $2) and is inhabited by Tekken prodigies who could likely beat a newcomer by hitting the buttons with just their scrotum. The fantasy sport games have a ridiculous learning curve that rivals actual fantasy sports. I sat down for a game of blackjack, which thankfully has a universal translation. The wrinkled men surrounding the table seemed to be compulsive gamblers and didn’t take well to a gaijin scoring the best hits. When I asked my friend (who does speak Japanese) to tell them “I’m pretty fucking good at blackjack”, he suggested that we try a new game.
Darts isn’t for everybody, but Club Sega’s dart machines might be the pinnacle of the game. A camera in the top of the scoreboard can calculate the movement of the thrower, so there’s no trying to bullshit a missed throw. But the board really does want to be your friend and will light up specific targets to guide both players to victory. When both players are terrible, it’s a ton of fun. The pros can switch the game back to whatever cutthroat setting that they please.
After drinking too much, we escalated to the top floor to find a variety of teenage-oriented games amassed below neon green Tron-like decor. Our blackjack winnings ended up in a Taiko Drum Master machine, a game with no arcade presence in the states but is huge in whatever country actually knows what a taiko drum is (so… Japan). The game’s fun comes from smacking the drum with enough force to knock someone unconscious, and looking incredibly stupid while playing it.
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By then we had reached Dave and Buster’s-level embarrassment, but let’s focus more on that bottom floor.
Essentially, the marriage of bar-oriented games to an arcade environment is how to pull adults in. They can recapture that ecstasy of advanced electronics existing solely for pleasure, especially in an age when even the smartphone feels like a chore in your pocket. The idea has materialized in a few forms in the states, mostly in those upscale bowling alleys, but the addition of gambling with an established name in videogames makes the experience feel more mature, as though it grew up too. It’s different then visiting a casino where the inclination is to gamble. For a tourist, an arcade like Club Sega is for recapturing what can’t be found back home anymore.
*Both are still far better than being that one asshole playing Golden Tee at the bar.
Feature image via clubsega.blogspot.com