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.

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