In the long years without videolamer updates, I passed time staring at walls, counting the seconds until death would release me from my meaningless existence, and watching TV. I also did a little bit of traveling. Whenever possible, I coerced, tricked, or bamboozled my girlfriend/fiance/wife/ex-wife into doing something at least video game adjacent on these trips. And so I present you with my research and recommendations for places to visit that were likely closed years ago due to the pernicious whims of capitalism. With pictures!
Galloping Ghost Arcade: Illinois
A family vacation to South Bend put me within (multiple hour) striking distance of this arcade I had read good things about. Knowing fellow videolamer contributor and all-round site admin Chris was from this region of Earth, I asked if he would like to meet and play some games. I think he drove for 4 hours to reach the Galloping Ghost, so hopefully I paid for breakfast. Depending on when you read your internet, this arcade has the most or close to the most game cabinets in North America, including a few prototypes that are either unique or exceptionally rare. They charge a fixed fee up front I recall as reasonable and then you stay as long as you’d like, though likely they’d ask you to leave when they close for the night. We enjoyed a few rounds of Rampart, a game I had always ignored when renting Genesis carts from Palmer Video, and The Cliffhanger: Edward Randy who hangs cliffs much better than Stallone in both the movie and Sega CD game. If for some reason you find yourself within 4 hours of Chris’ house, I recommend the Galloping Ghost over the standard Indiana attractions of commercial duck production, hardwood veneer, wood office furniture, and wood kitchen cabinet manufacturing.
Musee Mecanique: San Francisco, California
This museum of old, often mechanical (if my French is correct) games has been a fixture of Fisherman’s Wharf for 20 years. As an aside, about 6 years ago the Idle Thumbs guys mocked people for visiting the tourist areas in San Francisco. I’d like to defend both seeing cliched destinations and wandering off the beaten path. Leave some room in your vacation schedules to hit the big spots and also see some lesser traveled areas. Getting a wider breadth of experiences is better than actively avoiding popular spots because you’re some god damned hipster already from the Bay area who is too busy making VR games and shop interfaces to record podcasts or finish work on a second unique adventure game.
Anyway, I first heard about the Musee Mecanique from an episode of Game Center CX. Surprisingly, the owner has never seen his interview with Arino because he says he does so many it’s not that big a deal to him. I aspire to be interviewed at all so this guy’s operating on another level of success entirely.
Generally speaking, the older and less impressive the attraction, the more interesting it was. One that Arino featured also enthralled us – you put a quarter in and some wind blows over a diorama – excellent in its nothingness. In conclusion, this place doesn’t even have a Tekken 3 cabinet so I score it a 6 out of 10,000.
Classic Game Exchange: Rohnert Park, California
This is much like other independent game stores, but I like the area around Santa Rosa (go see the lawn sculptures in Sebastopol). Inside I found some guys hanging out who seemed to work there or be friends with the guy behind the counter. I overcame the mild social obstacle that is other humans and spoke to the cashier a bit. It turned out that he had previously worked at Visual Concepts, which was once a Sega subsidiary.
Knowing too much about nothing, I asked him if they ever started work on a Floigan Bros. Episode 2. He was amused and said he keeps in touch with people from the studio who were there in the Dreamcast days and it’s apparently something they still talk about making. A new Weaponlord would also be nice. I bought Tactics Ogre GBA because I felt guilty stopping by, getting a cool Sega story, and just leaving empty handed. Plus, the copy I got from Goozex years earlier was counterfeit and “lost” in the mail when I sent it to their headquarters for inspection.
Den-Den Town: Nipponbashi, Naniwa, Osaka
On my first visit here in 2007 I was guided by videolamer’s own Tyson. He hosted me in Japan, showed me around, and did not murder me. He also showed me Trainman on his laptop, which was either good or just being in Japan and watching a movie was good, hard to tell (though I suspect the latter). My first time in Nipponbashi (Den-Den Town) I bought an R4 for my DS, brought it home and then, in a fit of guilt, threw it away. Returning during my latest trip to Japan was not as riveting as my first visit, but it’s certainly a place to check out and I didn’t buy then discard any expensive electronics.
Den-Den Town is a bit like a smaller, less commercial Akihabara, complete with a Super Potato (which I enjoy wandering through – see rant on popular tourist spots above). My girlfriend was nice enough to not point out the many creepy anime things riddling the game stores; unfortunately I no longer find that crap as hilarious as I did when I was dumber.
Star Club – East Shinjuku, Shinjuku, Tokyo
This place was called Muteki Mario when I first visited in 2011. Returning 5 years later, they had renamed it to the Star Club, no doubt because Nintendo threatened to crush them. Shiki, who speaks English, was my bartender both times. She invited us to come back in 2017 (I think) to celebrate their 10th anniversary. I did not make it, but will try to figure out how to get a family there for the 20th anniversary.
We met Pat, videolamer editor and actual human friend in human life, in Tokyo and he joined us on the Star Club excursion. One of the gimmicks of the bar, besides a lot of video game toys and crap all over the place, is a Wii stocked with Virtual Console games. Pat played a few rounds of Puyo Puyo before noticing Super Dodge Ball for NES, or Nekketsu Koukou Dodgeball Bu for the Famicom, to be more accurate. He played through the whole game while loudly boasting of his ability to the other patrons.
One of those other patrons was a 20 something American who was fun to talk to. He had planned a trip to Japan with a friend who canceled at the last minute. This guy decided to go anyway and was drinking his worries away. We thought he was cooler than the Canadian at the Fire Ramen restaurant in Kyoto who mockingly broke the news to us that Trump won the election. This stood-up bar patron also seemed impressed by Pat’s video prowess, so that earned him extra points. I didn’t get the guy’s number, but the odds are he is still alive doing things somewhere. If you ever stop by the Star Club, tell Shiki you know Jay, and she will have no idea who you are talking about.
Akihabara – Akihabara, Chiyoda, Tokyo, Kanto
Saying Den-Den town is only ok after you’ve been there a few times sounds kind of douchey. But saying it about Akihabara, well that just makes you sound like someone who knows what’s up. This place has seen actual decline separate from a single person’s subjective diminishing reaction to spectacle (known as the E3 Effect). In 2007 there were simply more retro game stores, and according to old people who visited even earlier the place was already in steep decline by then. Every year that passes leaves the remaining stores more barren, picked over by vultures like me, all while prices climb. I am still mad I didn’t buy every PC Engine CD game I could when I came here 15 years ago. Stupid hindsight. At least I bought that Duo R that eStarland refuses to recap because electricity apparently works differently in Japan.
Traders is still a good place to shop and I recall Pat buying a few games there while my girlfriend watched a demo reel of Uncharted 3 or 7 or XIV, and we found and patronized a store called Friends, which I believe was a Jeremy Parish recommendation from one of his 249 podcasts and video series. It was above a massage parlor (or something) with some suggestive images of mostly nude women on the outside, which was a surprise. Maybe I bought the Japanese version of the Wii Metal Slug Collection? I don’t know, you tell me. The best part of my 2016 visit was finding a good ramen place, which does not exist in Akihabara according to the hipster contrarians of the Insert Credit Show. It’s hard to imagine there is a ton of great vegetarian ramen in the country, honestly.
Dobuita Street – Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, Kanto, Honshu, Japan
Pat and I finally made our Shenmue pilgrimage to Yokosuka, which is an area in the original Dreamcast game. Honestly, it was underwhelming but still neat to see Dobuita Street and some vistas that looked Shenmue inspired. Weird for them to build a town based on a game, complete with a US Naval base. After having been here, though, I can without a doubt now say that any true fan of the Shenmue series has flown to Japan, made their way here, taken a picture of the Dobuita Street manhole cover using my portable camera, and then written this article about it. This may explain Shenmue 3’s sales. After finding things reminiscent of Ryo’s historic journey, we found a pretty good Indian restaurant near the train station.
And there you have it: two states, two countries, two cities in Japan, and many mediocre pictures later I have returned to my desk, travel only a dream of a post-pandemic world. What will the post-apocalyptic future hold for video game related travels? Skee Ball in Singapore? SG-1000 collecting in France? Virtual reality bars in Bermuda? The future is wide-open, except for now when it isn’t and possibly also the future when it won’t be.