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  • Approved for CNN

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    Posted September 14, 2012 by
    Tokyo, Japan
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Nerd pilgrimages

    Akihabara, the Otaku Paradise


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Gaming since he was 9-years-old, matlepirate says seeing Tokyo's Akihabara, gave him a deeper connection to the gaming world and that he is still trying to digest the experience. "It comforted me in the thought that games can be taken seriously and that there was nothing wrong with adults playing video games. I was amazed by the way everything was done for the geeks," he says. "When I saw Akihabara on TV for the first time when I was a kid, I felt like this place was from the future or from another planet! But living it in real life is totally different from seeing it on a screen."
    - Anika3, CNN iReport producer

    The first time I heard of Akihabara was on a weekly TV program showing the latest video games out there. I was 9 and I woke up at 7.55am every Sunday morning just to catch the show. I didn’t miss one during the 2 years it was on air or maybe once because of my parents forcing me to go to church for Easter. Anyway, that day they featured a short reportage about Akihabara, the “Electric City” and paradise for manga fans, anime freaks and hardcore gamers. Forget Disney World or the arcade of my hometown where I would spend all my pocket money, a dollar bill after the other! This one was different, bigger, better. It was it, the place to be, Eden!


    They had it all! Gigantic screens all over the place, arcade rooms bigger than supermarkets, video games characters walking the streets, flashing lights and colorful neon… all the people there were strangely dressed, some with blue or rose hair and they were all playing games! I couldn’t believe my eyes and went straight for the old map of the world hanging on a wall in my room. Japan. Wow it looked far, on the other side of the world almost and with a big sea to cross. Not the kind of summer holiday camping I was used to. Too bad, forget it.


    It’s only about 20 years, a dozen of cyber-punk novels and 4 generations of video game consoles later that I got the chance to land in Tokyo. Having relocated in Asia for work I couldn’t miss the chance. The first thing I came across once I passed the customs was the Tokyo metro map. A spaghetti bowl of lines and Japanese kanjis but there it was, near the middle: Akihabara, the place I dreamt of during all these years. Goose bumps.


    I rush to the platform, change trains a couple of times and finally get there. Akihabara metro station. I take the escalator, full of excitation. All the images of the place that I have seen before rush to my mind. My excitation peaks as some vintage video game music gets louder and louder as I get closer to the exit and here I am. Hundreds of people rushing everywhere, neon, screens, cosplayers, loud music from a dozen of different stores and numerous shops selling mangas, anime merchandizing and all. I feel like in a human beehive. I reach for the nearest building: a porno manga store with accessories. Not really what I came here for. Next door, a red flashing building with the name of a famous video-game company attracts my attention. The sign on the door tells me what it is about: 7 floors of video games, arranged by style. Sports games on the first floor, shooters on the 2nd and so on and so on.


    Hundreds of machines and twice as many people are rubbing against each others. The place is packed, damp and smoky. I change some cash and start playing. Many of the games will never make it to the West. Some are using collectible cards that you can only buy in specific stores. Some are combining dance, synchronized moves and buttons to push in rhythm. I jump from one to the other, play against fanatics who know all the moves by heart, attack monsters from the sea from a moving jet ski, stop masses of zombies from devastating a town, run an army to conquer a far-away planet and many more for hours.


    I suddenly notice that my pocket feels light. “Insert coin” is flashing on the screen in front of me. I am exhausted. There is no window and no clock around. I ask for the time, people look at me weirdly. I try body language but nobody wears a watch anymore. I peek on a smartphone screen. It has been 12 hours since I entered. I crawl out, it’s already night but all the neon lights and the screens are casting an artificial daylight over the streets. Girls dressed like French-maids are calling me into some sort of café for an omelet bearing a ketchup smiley but I’ll keep this for tomorrow. As for now, I need some rest. I’m going to spend the night in a capsule hotel with just enough space to sit between the ceiling-mounted LCD screen and a tatami. I won’t turn the TV on. I have had enough eye-stimuli for the day. Tonight, I need some serious rest. Tomorrow will be a long day. I’ve spotted a couple of other game centers. I close my eyes. Game is over... for now.

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