Sometimes you wanna’ go, where everybody knows your game
Life seemed a lot easier back in the 80s and 90s, but that’s probably because I was a just a kid back in those days. While my parents watched the news of people smashing through the bricks of the Berlin wall in 1989, the only bricks I was smashing contained hidden 1-ups and fire flowers. I was more concerned with Bomberman than the Unabomber. Video games were an integral part of the Gen-X and Millennial experience. Games were the great democratizing force that created common ground between jocks and nerds, preps and punks. Regardless of race or gender, we could all hum the tune to Tetris and Super Mario.
What is even more exciting is that all over the world, kids were playing those same games. Children in Korea, Argentina and Canada all have the same pixelated cultural icons to relate to. But as we take on new responsibilities like parenthood and careers, we seldom have time for the escapism that video games provide. For the casual gamer, modern games have a steep learning curve and can even have the effect of creating more stress. Sometimes we just want to run back to our room, blow the dust out of the cartridge, and transport ourselves back to 1990. Thanks to a recent trend, that is no longer just a dream.
Retrogaming has become extremely popular in recent years, with classic gaming bars popping up in nearly every major city in Japan. For those salarymen who want to cast off the shackles of their desk job, and slide into a comfortable pool of nostalgia, there are dozens of establishments waiting to provide just such a service. I stepped into Nagoya’s very own retrogaming bar, Critical Hit to check it out, and it is a miracle I ever left. With shelves of classic cartridges for every system I ever had, or wanted to have, perhaps the hardest part was settling on a title. I walked in to find several Japanese businessmen engrossed in their own various romps back to childhood, and the one comment I heard countless times was natsukashii – the equivalent of shouting “that takes me back!” Memory lane is the street that we all want to live on.
Of course the retro-game themed decor (an air conditioner made to look like a giant gameboy, or the ventilation shaft dressed up as a warp pipe) certainly helped in transporting me to a fantasy world. The truly special experience for me had little to do with playing games. It was the instant bond that I watched as Japanese, European and North American gamers shed their nationalities, dissolved the language barriers, and came together like little kids over their love for 8-bit fragging.
But just like video games themselves, perhaps it is better to experience retro gaming bars first hand. Here is a list of places to get your fix of nostalgia in Japan.