Just Out of Reach

As a child I played Space Harrier on my friend’s Atari ST. It was beyond me. There was always another stage I believed in with unseen colours. Some magic just out of sight.

The joystick was tall plastic with shallow texture and a sharp seam, floppy mechanism and mush trigger. Suckers on the bottom cut my left hand while I worked dragons and cacti with my right.

I played Space Harrier on a sit-in cabinet in Kawasaki. A body-chopping retro seatbelt rattled a plastic clasp on the uncontoured plywood seat of an 80s starship. Centre-leg joystick shouted sordid exhibitionism – or near-suicidal naivety – so obviously was it a phallus.

I played Space Harrier at Hey in Akihabara. Blue lights. Each cabinet so loud it drowns out all the others. The joystick was General Issue candy hardware: tough as hell and flawlessly precise. Amateurs will be exposed.

So this series of controllers always stops my hands short of the game I imagined as a kid. I can never quite get hold of it.

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