Editor’s Note: James isn’t the only one who misses arcades. In fact, I have many fond memories of visitng arcades as a wee youth. Get this: I had my big sis’s friend’s brother take me to a local arcade to teach me how to play Street Fighter II (no joke!). How silly does that sound now? Actually, I can’t believe I just admitted that. Ahem, anyway — arcades are awesome. -Michael


ArcadeI do. After spending the last week in Japan (and a good deal of that time in arcades in Shibuya, Shinjuku and Akihabara), I know two things, one: those crane games totally cheat, and two: I miss good, old-fashioned arcades where people played amazing games that were miles better than anything you could play at home.

All the Sega arcades and Taito game stations were a nice reminder of my youth when I could go to pizza parlors and play Street Fighter II, or go to the 7-11 to sip on a Slurpee while dismembering limbs in Mortal Kombat 3. Or even the local Wonderland, where I could pay the admission, get the tokens, and spend an hour playing 5 cent games on a kid’s birthday.

Today, no one wants to do that. No one wants to go to an arcade when they have 50-inch TVs and Xbox 360s in their living rooms. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m old, but I miss the almost ironic social atmosphere of nerd-filled arcades, where you quartered-up and lost in one go to a guy who mastered Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting instead of calculus.

 

I get why no one wants to go arcades nowadays. The home stuff caught up. It’s nice to sit on your couch and it’s infinitely cheaper to pay for the game once (albeit more expensive, obviously) rather than pumping in change every time you lose. But there’s something great about being in an arcade, surrounded by gamers. It’s not so lonely. Sure, you’ve got Xbox Live and voice chat, but it’s not the same. There used to be a time before broadband when we had to go places to see people and play games together. As much as I lament over this lost time, there are those who cry over lost split-screen multiplayer for much the same reason.

Arcades in Japan aren’t even what they once were, but they still exist. Maybe it’s partly because of the culture there: small spaces, large population, and no one has home theater rooms like they do in America. Plus, people still get out to play games.

Light-gun arcadeHell, I saw light-gun shooters there I’d never heard of, including a Half-Life 2 arcade machine. Amazing. But I love firing a fake plastic gun at some aliens. And I love shredding to some GuitarFreaks while an audience watches. But that’s the thing. In America, you can make your living room into the arcade with social games like Rock Band; you can experience a little bit of this every night.

Still, it’s not the same. While in Tokyo, I played my share of Street Fighter IV and Tekken 6 and it brought back memories, but it still wasn’t the same. The price was much higher and the selection wasn’t as good. Not like the days where you could find a decade’s worth of titles in one room. No, Japan’s arcades still exist, but they’re not as diverse as they once were.

I’m old. I know it. And arcades are mostly a thing of the past and that’s sad. It’s an important part of gaming culture and history and it needs to be remembered, if for nothing more than to remember greasy pizza hands, joysticks, and quarters.