Arcades are dead. And rightfully so: American arcades never bothered to change with the times (despite a brief dalliance with the public spectacle of games like Dance Dance Revolution).
Not so in Japan, where arcades continue to evolve in surprising ways, in the stereotypical "bigger, crazier" Japanese method, as well as the more pedestrian. Case in point: Yuka Nakajima, queen of "Crane Games", those funny claw machines that are commonly ignored in department store vestibules in the States but big business in Japan. Nakajima is so adept at "UFO Catchers" (the Japanese moniker for all claw machines) that she has an entire room filled with the stuffed bears she has won and is the star of video tutorials included in the games themselves.
I learned about Nakajima in the new book Arcade Mania: The Turbo-charged World of Japan's Game Centers by Brian "The Sweetest Man in Games Journalism" Ashcraft and Jean "Pretty Sweet Himself" Snow. Ash is a pal, so I was a bit worried when I first got my copy; how interesting could a book about arcades be? Turns out I had nothing to fret about. There's a whole new set of human experience happening inside Japan's game centers and it's just as varied and weird and surprising as you could hope it would be.
I too often have an expectation, a caricature, in mind about Japan and its culture that occludes my perception of the people living and playing there. That's natural, of course, and perhaps even welcome: it makes a reading a book that supplants many of my preconceptions so effectively even more exciting.
Arcade Mania: The Turbo-charged World of Japan's Game Centers [Amazon]