Collectors Are Stripping Japan’s Rare-Game Paradise Bare
Visitors to Akihabara, Tokyo’s famed home of nerd culture, looking to mine the district’s renowned cache of mint-condition classic videogames might be disappointed. As game collecting continues its meteoric rise in popularity around the world, Akihabara is being scoured clean, and what’s left commands astronomical prices.
A visit to the delightfully named Super Potato (mascot: a potato with a face), one of the district’s most well-stocked and delightfully decorated classic game emporiums, turned up many empty shelves. In particular, the growing popularity of the TurboGrafx-16, known in Japan as the PC Engine, has virtually cleared out that section of the store.
Meanwhile, the store’s locked glass cases, which in better times showcased the most collectible and elusive titles, are filled with games you used to find lining the shelves. I’ve been hunting for copies of all three Mother (EarthBound outside Japan) games for a friend, and arrived in Japan confident of bagging my quarry easily and relatively cheaply. But given the series’ growing popularity, every copy I’ve seen has been locked behind glass, selling for $60-90 each.
And the first game, the original Mother? Given that the publisher recently re-released it on the Wii U’s Virtual Console download service, I figured some players would be letting go of their physical copies. Nope. If anything, the re-release seems to have had the opposite effect, as I cannot find a single complete-in-box copy in all of Tokyo.
The disappearance of games from Tokyo isn’t difficult to understand. The stores in Akihabara historically have been well-stocked because the classic games never really left the city; collectors would buy them, then trade them in when they were done. Over the years, eBay has grown more popular, and far more people around the world are collecting games. The games are leaving the Tokyo ecosystem, heading overseas to foreign buyers.
In general, Akihabara has been shifting away from games anyway; many smaller stores have closed in the last decade, replaced with stores dedicated to anime, manga, and trading cards, or to maid cafes, cat cafes, and other such otaku pursuits. But now the games are drying up, and the singular experience of game shopping in Japan—of walking into a single store to find the entire library of any game console laid out before you—may be on its way out, too.