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Realistic Games Bring Real Fun to All

June 24, 1998

This real-life train conductor might have difficulty remembering whether he is at work or just playing a game. (Kuroyakko)

Games that enable players to grab hold of a handle and feel like they really are train conductors are now booming among middle-aged men. The realistic feel has apparently hooked adults, and simulation games abound. There is a bass-fishing game, where players can enjoy the tug on the line when the fish bites; a water-skiing game, where players weave their way through waves while shifting their center of gravity on the control platform; and more. Shedding their image as dark and dingy places, game arcades have become "playgrounds" for adults on their way home from the office.

Drive a Train, Catch a Fish
After eight at night, one arcade in a business district in the heart of Tokyo is teeming with businessmen on their way home from work. One of the most popular games offers driving simulation, where players become train conductors on the Japan Railway Yamanote Line or other well-known train lines. Developed by Taito Corp., the giant game-machine manufacturer, this simple game requires only that players run their train according to a strict schedule and that they stop the train at the proper location on the station platforms. But the game is replete with real-life sensations: The players feel the vibrations in their feet and under their seats, they hear the sounds of the railroad crossings and on-board announcements, and they are jolted to a stop by emergency systems if they go too fast. "Hasn't everyone had a time when they wished they were a train conductor?" says one man enthusiastically. What seems to be attracting adults is the sense of reality that was achieved by incorporating actual video footage in the graphics on the game screen.

The bass-fishing game gives players a controller shaped like a fishing pole and a limited amount of time to hook and reel in a big bass. The newest in computer graphics technology is employed to make the fish in the water appear real. When a fish is hooked, the player feels the telltale tug on the pole. A horse-race game has players straddle a horse-shaped controller, rocking it strongly to the front and back to increase its speed. The "whip" button is pressed for a sudden burst of speed. There is a jet-ski game, where the player holds on to handlebars, shifting his or her center of gravity to steer the jet ski through big waves and buoys. Collaboration with Yamaha Motor Co., a manufacturer of real jet skis, made possible an authentic-looking controller. And then there is the human-powered flying-machine game, whereby players operate the handles and pedals of the bicycle-like flying apparatus and fly around a course. Increases and decreases in speed can be sensed by the wind blowing past the player's face.

High-Tech Arcades Attract Adults
The forerunner of all these hits was the motorcycle-racing game developed by Sega Enterprises, Ltd. in 1985. Until then, motorcycle games had used only handlebars for controls. The popularity of this new game came from having players sit atop a complete motorcycle-shaped controller. The bike is steered by the player shifting his or her weight from side to side. This game spurred a stream of similar games that feature moving or vibrating driver's seats and other additions. The popularity of these games waned after a few years, however, as their size required too much arcade space and their violent actions resulted in frequent breakdowns.

The fire was relit in 1995, when the alpine-skiing game developed by Namco Ltd. made its debut, creating a second boom in the popularity of simulation games. The player skis against the clock, operating the skis atop a controller by shifting his or her weight to the left or right, just like on real skis. In an industry where selling 1,000 units of a game meant a hit, 10,000 units of this game were sold. This megahit paved the way for snowboarding, water-skiing, horse-racing, and many other kinds of simulation games.

The most recent boom in this form of amusement occurred against a backdrop of advances in computer technology, which have enabled more realistic images and movement. As a result, arcades, conventionally thought of as play spots for middle- and high-school students, saw an increase in adult enthusiasts. Taking a peek into these establishments today, one can easily spot businessmen, groups of women, and, especially on weekends, couples. Arcades are making their atmospheres brighter and cleaner, setting up bars, and offering as prizes a variety of daily necessities, including perfume and cigarette lighters, all in an attempt to establish themselves as playgrounds for adults.

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Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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