Finally get past the second episode of Game of Thrones to see what my family, friends, and coworkers are all talking about? Nah, Game Center CX episode 67 please.
I seriously can’t get enough of this show. I’ve put about as much time into it as I may have put into a single JRPG when I was a kid - grinding through episodes like I would levels.
I think the reason I like it so much is because it showcases such a different perspective of video games from my isolated western vision. Especially in Arino’s regular arcade trip segments, where a mom & pop corner store might nonchalantly have a Metal Slug cabinet sitting out front and it is considered just a standard part of the quaint scenery. That kind of accoutrement for a neighborhood is really in the service and care of its local children, whereas in the west there is instead an emphasis on children making their own fun while out of their homes. Though that may just be my experience before home consoles truly took over the living room.
Besides the fun of watching Arino truly work for his goal (he puts in 14 hour+ days with little help, sometimes just to beat a single game), there is a clear respect for the medium in the format and writing of the show. Writer Masayuki Kibe is occasionally featured on the show and is obviously the soul of the low budget production, dispensing history lessons here and there, usually through the show’s excellent narration. He is potentially the only true video game aficionado on the staff, but as long as he is in charge of the structure the show takes, I am fine with that.
There are also insights into much more than Japanese gaming culture, such as what they find funny and how painfully awkward I surmise their everyday lives must be, camera-or-no. I am endlessly fascinated at the way Arino speaks and is spoken to and how insults and embarrassment seem to facilitate the comedy of his interactions with fellow staff on camera. This is especially evident when AD Nakayama joins the crew. He is painfully shy and that is made very clear to Arino and the viewer in the same moment. Arino’s job is to make light of the situation, so insulting jokes ensue. But it begs the question, why hire a socially awkward person to be on camera at all? This is yet another fascinating decision that you would never see a producer in America give the go ahead to.
Another reason I can’t stop watching are the wide variety of Japanese games that are covered and their many details, some of which are showcased in such minute detail that it’s almost as if you are suffering through the wild designs yourself as you watch Arino play. Individual gameplay moments are repeatedly elaborated on as he struggles to surmount them, which not only allows you to witness the awesome mood and concentration transitions of a person bent over hard by a set of digital rules, but it also gives you the opportunity to truly examine a game’s design decisions from a distance. That is, without the influence of anger or frustration heaped on you.
For example, Castlevania III’s falling block level segment, which Arino has a notoriously difficult time toppling. It is brutal and arduous, and tugs at my curiosity so very much. Game Center CX is an experiment. As in, “what if someone were to play these games how they were meant to be played?” and tests the boundaries of level and control designs that seem almost sadistic. Arino, someone who seems like a typical Japanese comedian who happened to like games just enough to score this hosting role, is just the laughter sprinkles on this heaping mound of sweet old video game analysis sundae.
I wish Game Center CX had enough of a following in the states to warrant a legit release of some kind, especially a Netflix streaming type of deal. There is a DVD collection of some of the best episodes of the show in the states but it suffers from narration that features ham-fisted American pronunciation of Japanese words with absurdly bombastic inflection, removal of entire non-challenge segments (the arcade trips), and is being promoted under the entirely different title of Retro Game Master, which all do a disservice to the potential the show could have presented on its own through a broader format. Some of the best episodes also have been licensed to Kotaku to present, which in turn takes away the ability for online subbers of the series to legally share their work.
The desire for the authentic presentation of the original show harkens back to the difference in attitude towards video games in Japan and the States, at least from what I’ve gathered from watching over 100 episodes of GCCX: the former has such reverence for the form that it blends into their everyday lives like media of any other kind and the latter resists it until video games are pushed into isolated corners of public space where it can be labeled and identified safely and separately. Or confined to the bedrooms of segregated nerds across the country who now rely on the internet to feed their thirst for game appreciation and examination.