Gaming Alone In Tokyo

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Arcade culture is still thriving in Japan, especially if you're keen on playing solo. Andrea Frazzetta/LUZ

Tokyo’s game centers—called gei-cen for short—are the city’s high-octane metropolitan amusement parks. Filled with bright lights and a cacophony of electronic sounds, they can be found throughout Tokyo and all across the country. People game alone, or with friends, and young couples earn each other’s love as they progress through the levels.  

While gaming in the U.S. and other countries has moved from arcades to living rooms, in Japan the old and the new coexist. The colored, flashing lights of the gei-cen illuminate a fantasy world filled with myriad gaming options, from simple mechanical arms to complex card-based role-playing. Japanese slot machines, called pachinkos—where a small ball must land in the right spot to deliver the jackpot—date back 70 years.

Tokyo is home to 9 million people, and family size has gotten smaller in the last few decades; in 2012 the average household size in Tokyo was fewer than two people. “Tokyo is a lonelier place than ever,” an editorial in The Japan Times lamented at the time. It’s a city where solitude is common and respected: People eat alone, drink alone—even sing karaoke alone. Playing games at home might be cheaper, but game centers let Tokyo’s solitary denizens can be alone together. 

11-18-13_Tokyo_Gamers_02 In the Ikebukuro district. Andrea Frazzetta/LUZ

11-18-13_Tokyo_Gamers_03 The entrance of a game center in the Shibuya district. Andrea Frazzetta/LUZ

11-18-13_Tokyo_Gamers_04 A boy tries out a new game during the annual Tokyo Game Show this September. Andrea Frazzetta/LUZ

11-18-13_Tokyo_Gamers_05 In Akihabara, a part of Tokyo also referred to as “Electric Town,” people try their luck at pachinko. Andrea Frazzetta/LUZ

11-18-13_Tokyo_Gamers_06 A game center in the Shibuya district. Andrea Frazzetta/LUZ

11-18-13_Tokyo_Gamers_07 The goal of this game, which combines elements of role-playing with a slot machine, is to celebrate the perfect wedding. Andrea Frazzetta/LUZ

11-18-13_Tokyo_Gamers_08 Two people take in the view at Joypolis, an amusement arcade on the artificial island of Odaiba in Tokyo Bay. Andrea Frazzetta/LUZ

11-18-13_Tokyo_Gamers_09 Japan’s capital seen from the the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Andrea Frazzetta/LUZ

11-18-13_Tokyo_Gamers_10 Inside a popular game center in the Akihabara district. Andrea Frazzetta/LUZ

11-18-13_Tokyo_Gamers_11 Men eat ramen in the Ikebukuro district, park of the larger Toshima district, one of Tokyo’s busiest regions. Andrea Frazzetta/LUZ

11-18-13_Tokyo_Gamers_12 A game center in Shinjuku. Andrea Frazzetta/LUZ

11-18-13_Tokyo_Gamers_13 The steps of Hanazono Jinja, a Shinto shrine in the Shinjulu district. Andrea Frazzetta/LUZ

11-18-13_Tokyo_Gamers_14 A Tokyo game center. Andrea Frazzetta/LUZ

11-18-13_Tokyo_Gamers_15 Many “salarymen,” or white-collar workers, find entertainment in the Ikebukuro district at the end of a work day. Andrea Frazzetta/LUZ

11-18-13_Tokyo_Gamers_16 In an Ikebukuro game center. Andrea Frazzetta/LUZ

11-18-13_Tokyo_Gamers_17 A fortune teller sits in the entrance of a small shop among the alleys of the Asakusa district. Andrea Frazzetta/LUZ

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