Barcades have been popping up a lot in the last few years in America. They are essentially bars with arcade cabinets at the ready for patrons to play while they drink. A video game bar, to contrast, sets up more consoles–classic and modern– for patrons to have a go at while they drink. While visiting Osaka, my wife and I decided to check out two popular video game bars in the Ame Mura neighborhood.
Quick Note: Why Video Game Bars are in Trouble
See, game companies in Japan are starting to crack down on video game bars. By having these games available for people to play, they are in violation of public viewing laws in Japan. Basically, if they haven’t paid the game makers money for lisencing fees, they are in violation of the law. Bars get cease and desist notices and some owners are arrested for non-compliance. It’s a tricky maze to navigate, but businesses take a risk with the games they choose to have open for play.
Game Bar GeeBee (Japanese)
This place doesn’t allow photography or videography of any kind in its shop, so I only have a shot of the exterior. When you walk in, you pay 500 yen per person to play games in the bar for an hour. You have to mind your time, because if you go over, the staff will charge you automatically for another hour without warning (they’re very upfront about this, so you will know pretty clearly). This gets you all you can drink soft drinks and all you can eat curry, interestingly enough. If you want alcohol, you have to pay separately for that. The game area requires you to take off your shoes and sit on some soft rugs with tons of Ikea tables hosting CRTVs, HDTVs, and tons of games from classic Famicom to Switch and PS4. They ask you the console you want to play and they find a spot for you. You grab a controller and drinks from the far side of the room, near the fountain and the counter where you can ask for curry. You also have the option to play card games (you have to bring your own cards, as some patrons did the night we visited) as well as a few board games (they had Japanese Dominion!).
My wife and I played some Mario Party 3 on N64. The problem was that it was all in Japanese, so we bungled our way through a game in a mode neither of us was familiar with. We tasted the curry (it’s very simple with some veggies in it; it’s very salty, though) and drank some Pepsi from the fountain. On the walls are hats and costumes you can wear while playing. I wore a Toad hat durin our game session. It had a very relaxed mood in there, with people playing games, shouting at defeats, and generally having a good time. There were a surprising number of women at the bar. My wife and I were the only foreigners there that day. We stayed for an hour and decided to leave.
PC and Retro Bar Space Station (American)
This was the main video game bar from the Kotaku article I read before heading to Osaka. The owner is also the only bartender and he helps patrons set up games. He’s an American gentleman and his bar is much smaller than GeeBee. He has some older consoles and modern PC games (mostly indie titles) that you can play on a variety of screen in the bar. He has many video game themed drinks and plays video game music through the sound system. He was a friendly guy, offering help when Mario 2 wasn’t working for us on the NES we were trying to play.
This place had no cover charge and the drinks were reasonably priced (all starting at 600 yen). I got a Dr. Mario, which had Dr Pepper, amaretto, and rum. It was not too sweet and easy to drink (couldn’t really taste the rum, though). The vibe was much more American: many foreign clientele, more historical game artifacts and art on the walls, and a sofa for playing with friends. The size did lend to a claustrophobic feeling at times, but if you’re not prepared to be cramped, you probably shouldn’t visit a big city in Japan.
Which is Better?
This is pretty easy: If you want to sit down, mind your own, and play a game, GeeBee is the one you should visit. There wasn’t much socialization at that bar, which makes sense, as Japanese people tend to keep to themselves and their groups most of the time. If you want a place with a greater appreciation for games and their history as well as some social interaction, Space Station is the one for you. It was nice to play the original Smash Brothers while also talking to the owner and exchanging hellos with other patrons.
Osaka has this rich video game bar tradition and these places seem to be everywhere. If you’re visiting Osaka and are feeling the itch to play, you’ll definitely be able to find a place that will satisfy your craving.