Tokyo Game Centre #23: UFO Catchers

Whatever contest is held to determine the title of Wikipedia pages was won in this case by the “claw crane” alliance, a coalition of the “claw game” and “crane game” parties, neatly demonstrating the asininity of compromise. Anyway, in Japan they’re called UFO catchers, pronounced “yoofo catcher”, which is an appealing sort of a name.

I’m sure I’ve never seen a game centre without UFO catchers. I mentioned in another post that they normally go on the entrance floor and in sight of the door. Presumably they attract impulse-playing passersby, whereas tight rows of beaten-up Sega City cabs will be burrowed for by the faithful, whether at the door or hidden beneath three floors of smokey basement.

And where there are UFO catchers, there are loads and loads of UFO catchers. The game centre pictured (a Kowloon-walled-city-themed arcade in Kawasaki) had a deep warehouse packed with the things, with prizes ranging from ice creams (in the bubble-topped Konami freezer unit in the foreground), to games consoles, via wall clocks (behind the ice creams).


Surely there’s no place for UFO catchers in a discussion about videogames

WarioWare Inc claw game UFO catcher.png

In this Tokyo Game Centre series, I keep bumping up against the question, “Does this count as a videogame?” Surely— as surely as it gets — UFO catchers are on the “obviously not” side of the question. But why?

If UFO catchers had, instead of a one-off go at grabbing a prize you can keep, several goes to collect multiple items and only for points then they would be a lot more like a videogame. The mechanics seem inherently gamey — you have a four-way joystick, something to control, a fire button. Yes, it would still be mechanical, but so was Speed Basketball, and I was strongly inclined to count that as a videogame.

All these is-it-or-isn’t-it-a-videogame examples seem to be building up to an inevitable discussion post at some point in the future, but for now I’m just coping with the idea that the category of videogames is broad and varied and has blurry edges.

So what counts as a videogame? I don’t know. But here’s a more pressing question: When talking about videogames, what’s allowed into the discussion? Anything that informs the discussion, I propose — UFO catchers welcome.



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Photographer and writer covering Tokyo arcade life – the videogames, the metropolis and the people