In Defense of Arcades: A Response to WIRED

They say Covid Is "Pulling the Plug" on Arcades -- Here's Why We Disagree.

Recently WIRED published a doom and gloom article regarding the state of Japan’s arcade scene titled, Covid Is Pulling the Plug on Beloved Japanese Arcades.”

From the title alone, I assume you probably know what the article from WIRED is getting at.

Oliver Payne - Game Art: "Arcade Field Recording" (2011)

Last week, writer John Learned quite blatantly states that “Covid will Kill” Japan’s arcade culture.

In this case, I’m not here to speculate or make predictions about what will happen to Japan’s arcade scene. Even Learned himself admits that no one really knows for sure. But one thing I am sure of; negative op-eds that focus on the “struggling” arcade scene; don’t really help the cause, especially when you consider the fact that the recent pandemic has stressed arcades just like any other retail or commercial space. Note: In their article, the word “Struggle” is mentioned 4 times. “ Keeping Alive” is mentioned 6 times. and “State of Emergency” is mentioned 4 times.

Due to the nature of the article, I would assume that it likely makes the fighting game scene sound niche, profoundly mysterious, and inaccessible to any non-japanese, non-fighting game fan that reads something entitled "Covid is Pulling the Plug on Arcades…Lockdowns could leave them KO’d for Good”.

I do acknowledge that the writer is probably an enthusiastic fighting game fan. So am I. I also want to be clear: I appreciate him bringing attention to some of the arcades that needed some financial assistance. Because of this information, I and others have pitched in with some donations.  

But still, when reading this piece, I couldn’t help but feel like the story being presented was another generic “arcades are dying” story. A story that has been regurgitated for the past few decades (not to mention the past few years).

As the author remarks, arcades transformed to barcades in the west, even though gaming journalists counted arcades out for years. These stories are quite common, and they don’t actively help uplift the morale of the arcade scene within Japan or english-speaking countries. (I’m assuming that citizens of english-speaking countries will be the majority that actually read the article).

If Japan, the center of arcade culture, is “struggling” so much, then what hope is there for the arcade cultures in various sections around the world? In my own words, I would summarize the WIRED op-ed as basically saying, “donate money to a struggling scene, but no one knows for sure what will happen to this small community.” It isn’t very encouraging nor does it provide solutions on how to actually preserve or evolve the scene.

The arcade scene and culture is dependent on our ability to contextualize it and talk about it with the intention to evolve it beyond its present obstacles.

As journalists, we have a profound responsibility to use our words as vehicles and positively shape the future of arcades. (Especially if the decades-old chatter has been used to wither away at the arcade scene in the west.)

“They say your attitude determines your lattitude”

@Sugary Noe

What should be acknowledged instead? :

..Time changes all industries, all technologies, and all cultures. Why would anyone assume that arcades would look exactly the same forever?

Arcades aren’t “dead” or “dying”— as long as the spirit and passion for arcades exist, some form of the practice will live on.

We need to be encouraging the mindset of longevity in global arcade scenes, not a sense of impending doom. 

Countless collectors are building their own centers around the world. Numerous builders and architects are creating their own new contemporary version of these beloved arcades. 

Why not focus on all the positive that is happening despite all the setbacks? Thankfully, the article does somewhat link to the donations page. But more than money, the Arcade and fighting game scene should be more selective in which scenes they say are “dying.” The arcade scene is not simply the machines that live within the commercial spaces of Japan— it’s the people, the passionate artists, organizers,  and players that discover who they are through these games. These Arcadists have been consistent and persistent in banning together to make arcade gaming a reality all over the world despite all the naysayers— we’ve had our successes, and we’ve had our failures, but what industry doesn't?


Fans band together to help save Mikado, one of the purest shrines to old-school gaming left in Japan…Even in the modern video game era, where home console specs have reached dizzying heights, there’s still something special about the sense of community that comes from visiting an arcade.. - Sora News24

The gaming industry is going through a significant transformative stage. And it’s probably safe to say that almost every industry has been affected by the dramatic changes the world has experienced this past year. Of course, this would affect arcades in some way, but why point out the obvious and gift-wrap it in sadness? 

Support Japan’s Arcades. Donate. And support your local arcade. Here’s a list I made of active (and some inactive) Arcades around the world. It’s not complete. I’m still adding to it. If I should add your arcade, and you have a Twitter, let me know.

Understand that every industry will change through time and face formidable challenges, but we have to be ready to adapt and change with it.

I see a long life for arcades and the games we play. A hundred years from now, the scene may look nothing like it does now— but as long as people have the passion and desire to push buttons…

..we’ll be here. 


Help these Arcades!

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Closing remarks: I totally respect the author and his passion for fighting games, just providing some friendly criticism on the article's tone. Please check out more of John’s work where he annotates Street Fighter: 3rd Strike — it’s pretty cool!

About the Art: "In Oliver Payne's collages stickers of Japanese Bullet Hell Games are arranged on torn out pages of an ancient Greek sculpture catalogue. Payne transforms the violent imagery of these videogames into psychedelic explosions of color. Greek statues serve as a background and a reminder of the fantasy worlds produced in Japanese arcade games, which often picture rural Europe. Sounds of an arcade field recording give a notion of manic playfulness towards the exhibited works.
The arcade has traditionally represented an idea of a “third space” for teens. Too young to go to bars, adolescents have so few places to hang. I like places like that — skate spots, graffiti halls of fame, arcades. Slightly sketchy places for teens to kick it. The arcade industry is on the way out and they really wont be around for much longer. I think places like these are important to document. An aural representation of them makes the most sense to me as the “noises” they create have these completely inimitable and unique quality. Nothing but an arcade sounds like an arcade — a completely deafening cacophony of bleeps, bangs, teenage yells and deposited tokens. It’s a noise that I can hear many bands aspiring to capture — but always falling short of the mark. Perhaps due to the fact that they don’t spend hours playing in arcades. Another motivating factor for the recordings is that it poses the question: Why are arcade on the decline? Why have they they been shutting at an alarming rate? The lazy answer is that home consoles such as the PS3 and the XBOX360 are so good that they have brought arcade quality to the home. But arcades are still in full force in Japan. So why can the west no longer profit from dedicated gaming rooms? Oliver Payne" (Studiolo)