Utopia If Only

Sega consoles were the best to look forward to – because Sega was always ahead of its time. Discs, 3D graphics, online multiplayer. Sega did them all too soon. And they did this: Sega World.

In the 90s, Sega decided arcades weren’t just for gamers. Sega Worlds were a dream of bowling-karaoke-funfair game centres for everyone.

Sega just loved games too much. Couldn’t imagine *not* loving them. Hence everyone in the world must love games – they just might not have realised.

“If you build it, they will come.” But they didn’t.

So Sega Worlds turned to Segas; the non-games attractions faded away. Natural selection preserved fuming nerd-dens and extincted wholesome leisure centres.

They were ahead of their time again. These days, everyone in the 18-34 whale demos are game-literature non-gamers ready to drop a coin. They’re the imagined 90s customers of Sega World. Problem is arcades have reverted to type: complicated, full of nerds and enstenched in smoke.

Before it got dinosaur-meteored by reality, the Sega World dream was fun, fresh and family-friendly – a wide-open bucket for parent dollar. Just the timing was off.

With the 2020 Olympics beckoning and Japanese youth finally wondering whether inhaling smoke in knowing self-destruction is their true calling, the big chains are starting to clean up. The teentacular dancegame floors have policed themselves, thanks to the natural incongruity of physical exertion and poison. An easy step then to narrow smoking areas and clean up acts.

Families, daytrippers, Olympic tourists: come on in! Kiddy ride-ons, crane games… No bowling these days but maybe it’ll come back – now with Tokyo-trendy darts!

One day Sega’s skipping fancies and those of the world in general will fall into step. Sonic fans will be able to stand on a loop, tap their feet, smile smug and tell us told-you-so. For them, it’s always been Sega World.

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