The Gritty, Underground Network Bringing Japan’s Arcades to the US

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Last October, Philo Arrington precariously balances a dream on the cargo bed of his 2002 Ford Ranger pickup. It was a stupid dream, but it wasn’t worth dying on a dolly behind a beige warehouse.

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Arrington was hung over Dolly, a gold chain hanging over a tight gray tee. Between his arms was a video game arcade machine tilted at a 45-degree angle; Its title, MUSECA, could be seen over his shoulder. The machine had come a long way, from an arcade in Tokyo to an anonymous warehouse in Osaka and then, after a long wait on a container ship outside Long Beach, California, to Arrington’s warehouse in San Pedro. The Arrington easily mounts the 6-foot-high cabinet toward the pickup’s hatch. Lay a thin, blue blanket 3 feet down on the concrete. A phone was being recorded nearby.

Scuttling, repositioning, crouching, grunting, Arrington pushed the machine’s weight centimeter by centimeter, second after second. Suddenly, Dolly’s wheels slid off the edge. His entire body spread forward and the arcade cabinet fell to the ground with a fracture. Gamers expressed their concerns in a video uploaded by Arrington to Twitter. “This is the scariest thing I’ve seen on the Internet,” said one. Another frankly said, “I don’t think my ass has ever gotten more stressed.”


Seeing the video from across the country in Brooklyn, I cried. That was my machine.

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Phil Arrington

Photo: Julian Berman

Arrington chose his moment to explain himself, and it was days later, live on Twitch, sitting in a red bucket, scooping out the dusty residue from a half-empty bag of Flamin’ Hot Doritos. His tone was not stingy. He said that he intentionally cut the video at the most dramatic moment, he said. The machine was, in fact, intact. Arrington stood up, revealing athletic short-shorts, and made his way to the side, tossing a bag of Hot Doritos muca Cabinet

muca There was a glowing anime beacon. A neon red coil shot through its base like a spine, supporting the console of five pastel-lit buttons, each the size of an adult hand. For a louder beat rhythm, a player needs to press and spin these buttons at the right time—that is, if the game works. The cabinet was, thankfully, booted into a menu screen. “When you get something like this, you have to take care of it. It’s not like a Cadillac of the ’60s or ’70s, where people are making parts for it,” Arrington said. He pressed start. The display went blank. “Oh crap,” he said. But then baby-voice pop music started playing from the speaker. “No problem.”

These days, muca is an extraordinary finding, Arrington said. Like the other machines the Arrington helped import, it was sold and played primarily in arcades in Japan. on top of it, of museka The publisher, Konami, discontinued the game a few years ago. The machines were recalled from all over Japan, and their parts were replaced in an entirely new game called Bishi Bashi, Not much muca The cabinets survived, earning them a special prize for devoted fans of Japan’s storied arcade scene.

The country’s self-styled delightful palaces have attracted millions of domestic and foreign otaku For decades, they were lured with the promise of competition and survived for the price of just one 100-yen coin. of tato corporation space Invaders The industry debuted in 1978, and in subsequent years, Japan’s arcade scene blossomed, giving rise to classics such as donkey Kong, Opposite, And Street Fighter II, Tens of thousands of arcades sprang up, filled with crane games full of wide-eyed Pokémon plushies; Smooth Racing Sim; shimmering fantasy role-playing or strategy game; Scuffed-up fighting games; And of course, Konami’s . full-body highs of rhythmic sports such as dance dance revolution or muca,

some titles, such as DDR, officially licensed or released overseas, where they have become cultural touchstones. But Konami, Taito, and other arcade game makers designed their best stuff specifically for Japan, on unknown arcade hardware that was there to stay. “They don’t want these machines to be sold outside of Japan,” says Serkan Toto, CEO of Japanese consulting company Serkan Games. Many machines, including muca, set on their title screen that they are meant to be played in Japan only. In recent years, publishers such as Konami have implemented this by ensuring their arcade games function only when networked with a proprietary protocol from their proprietary servers.

A big reason is the cost of logistics and licensing—music, distribution, and payments. It’s also a business calculation, Toto says. “Arcade machines are no longer stand-alone – they have to be connected to a server, which maintains them, controls them, and operates them much more complex. They are designed to provide that knowledge and maintenance services to companies outside Japan. Don’t want the hassle.” More recently, Japanese arcade chain Round1 has established locations across the US; But outside of that, the typical American has almost no access to the thousands of authentic arcade machines that glorify Japan as the holy land of gaming.

Today, however, Japan’s arcades are in trouble. Competition from home gaming consoles and tax hikes that drive up the cost of single play are causing game centers to shut down at an alarming rate. Number of arcades between 2006 and 2016 deflated 24,000 to 14,000. Covid accelerated this trend, emptying the arcades of regulars and tourists alike. Between October 1 and November 24, 2021, 20 arcades closed in Japan.

When arcades shut down, their video games face a fate of one in three, of which only two are approved by a Japanese trade association of game makers. The first is getting junk in landfills. The other is being destroyed and sold in pieces, and then trashed in a landfill. (Arrington calls this the “mafia treatment”.) Finally, third: a Japanese distributor swoops in and buys all the machines in a dying arcade. Some are sent to small arcades around Japan. Others, on the down-low, have soured to enterprising Westerners like Arrington, a self-described “muscle man” for gray-market entrepreneurs who import thousands of cabinets from Japan each year.

Over the past five years, as Japanese arcade machines have become more available than ever, Western demand for Japanese machines has exploded. To support that demand, an underground network of gamers has risen to the challenge of emptying these cabinets from Japan, hauling them around the world, and hacking their code so that fans like me are finally, after all these years. be able to play

Likes very much of bad thoughts, my passion muca Started at Long Island Mall.

That mall was one of the lucky few that had an American Round 1 arcade, and in a far corner, I found muca Blasting Bass and Beaconing in Japanese. For three two-minute sessions, its flashing lights and spiny buttons captured the attention of my entire body and swept me away from reality and plunged me into a vortex of bliss. It would be great, I thought, to plunge into that bliss vortex without driving to Long Island. And so funny, I thought, if I have my own muca Machine.

In no world was this a fair idea: I live in a Brooklyn apartment with a 16-pound cat and an older adult boyfriend. Of course it would be prohibitively expensive. And there would be no way to be sure that the machine I bought is actually working, or that if it breaks, I can fix it. After months of affair, more months separated from Long Island muca The machine, I finally accepted this most absurd whims, allowed myself, perhaps in a state of lockdown-induced frenzy, to fall into a state of obsession to find it, or to find people who could .

I started by emailing niche arcade forums and arcade distributors in Japan. everyone who bothered to answer said muca died and went. Until last summer, I resorted to tweeting. “Yeah. I’ve only seen 2 for sale last year, and the other one was £4000!! ,” wrote a UK collector named MechaCrash in a direct message. Then, a few days later: “I got a tip from someone.” Mecha Crash sent me to Arrington, aka Boss Salad, who had heard that this other guy, who goes to Cone, was importing muca The cabinet in a container ship somewhere between Japan and Long Beach. He said Arrington would deal with Cone and I would get that at a reasonable price.


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