Golden oldies: retro videogame fans flock to Tokyo’s vibrant Akihabara
Tossed aside as outdated junk by some, old videogames such as Donkey Kong and Pac-Man are now getting a new lease of life in Tokyo’s vibrant Akihabara district, as growing numbers of die-hard fans seek out vintage classics to relive their youth.
Inside Super Potato, a famed retro videogame store, devotees browse aisles packed with everything from Legend of Zelda figurines to immaculately packaged old Sega Mega Drives, while Super Mario toys dangle from the ceiling overhead.
“It was our generation, it was our thing,” said Matt, 35, over the constant ping and buzz of videogame theme tunes emanating from the screens lining the walls.
“At that age, when computer games were first coming out, there was nothing else like it,” the Briton told AFP, adding that buying retro games was one of the main reasons he came to Japan on holiday.
Vintage games have been hitting headlines this year: huge parties were held to celebrate the birthdays of Pac-Man and Super Mario, while videogame- themed film “Pixels” has grossed more than US$200 million worldwide.
Big business has been swift to cash in on the trend, with Microsoft and Sony among those releasing products to appeal to older players.
As the home of Nintendo and Sega, Japan has long been a paradise for gamers and now Tokyo is becoming a global hub for collectors of specialist old titles.
Mandarake, a retro games shop nestled among the crowded, neonlit streets of Akihabara district, has seen foreign customer numbers soar in the past five years according to staff member Kota Atarashi.
“A large number of our customers are aged between 30 and 50, and they come to buy games either for the sake of nostalgia or to build up a collection they started when they were younger,” he said.
“Old games are more addictive and offer a real sense of achievement when a player finishes. I think that’s one of the reasons for their success.”
Vintage editions still make up only a tiny part of the world videogames market — estimated to be worth more than US$90 billion and growing fast — but avid collectors will pay huge sums for specialist items.
Prices for rare classics have soared, with one example of the Nintendo World Championships cartridge selling for around US$100,000 last year, according to its eBay listing.
Their value depends on rarity, condition and popularity. Experts say fans particularly like games that are part of a series, such as The Legend of Zelda and Japanese role-playing games like Final Fantasy and DragonQuest.
For some, they are an artform — even New York’s Museum of Modern Art started collecting older video games in 2012 and plans to acquire dozens of titles in the coming years.
Patrick, a 27-year-old graphic designer from Australia, said he has built up a collection of around 1,000 games.
“To me games are an underappreciated art form,” he told AFP inside the Super Potato shop. “With a lot of the old games you have to use your imagination, which I think is really cool.”
For others, they bring back memories of the excitement of playing for the first time.
“I remember playing my brother’s ZX Spectrum and not even really knowing what it was,” said Matt, who was around 10 when videogames started becoming popular.