By Brad Stone
Updated: 1:09 p.m. ET July 26, 2006
Japan's game arcades are far more extravagant and addictive than those in America. Is that a good thing for a country with a youth employment problem?
July 25, 2006 - On a rainy night last week in a Tokyo arcade, a twentysomething teacher who wishes to be known as Momo saved the world from the evil forces of the Principality of Zeon. He was playing a videogame called Mobile Space 0079. It's based on the enduringly popular Japanese anime television series, in which young soldiers wage space combat in giant robot suits. You may have seen "Gundam Wing" during a failed run a few years ago on the Cartoon Network. In Japan, it practically passes for religion, with conventions, extensive toy lines and libraries of manga comic books. Now it's spawned a popular, networked, multiplayer arcade game.
As the Zeon forces gather, Momo arranges a handful of trading cards (specially purchased for the game) on the flat, magnetic surface of his machine. He physically manipulates the cards to control his robot and weapons on the screen. Firing a few missiles, he deftly defeats the Zeon threat, and adds yet another win to a remarkable history of 585 victories. At about $2 a game, Momo estimates he's spent $2,000 in the last six months. But it's worth it. "The more you win, the more experience and credibility you gain among other Gundam fans for being an old hand," he says.
Welcome to the arcades of Tokyo. In Asia and particularly Japan, video game rooms not only live, but thrive. There are 9,500 arcades in the country with more than 445,000 game machines made by Japanese companies like Namco and Capcom, says Masumi Akagi, publisher of Japan's Game Publisher magazine. In the U.S. of course, the story is much different—arcades are a rapidly dying breed with only about 3,000 in operation down from 10,000 a decade ago. Though the popularity of home video systems like the PlayStation contributed to the decline, Akagi says that execs at U.S. companies like Midway and Atari simply couldn't see the future in arcades and "abandoned the coin-operated business."
Hopping from arcade to arcade in the neon-lit Shibuya district was something of a homecoming for me. I grew up on Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Centipede. Though I can't grasp the Japanese way of counting, I still remember the precise way to defeat Bald Bull in the old boxing game Punch Out. Those old-school games are nowhere to be seen in Japan today. The modern arcade is an exotic, sensory-overload, nearly impenetrable to foreigners. It is not just a palace of entertainment, but a collection of obsessive subcultures.
The rest of article is here