Creative Nonfiction

Button Mashing in Tokyo

25 February 2016

This place smells like cigarettes. Like plum wine and Nintendo 64 cartridges. It’s dark. Musty. A few Game Boy screens emit little pockets of white light. Next to me, someone picks at chicken popcorn.

I look up.

Video game controllers dangle from the wall as if venerated in a trophy room. Buttons, joysticks and cables from the Sega Mega Drive, Atari 2600 and Dreamcast all hang relieved from duty. Then there are these strange objects. These deformed figures that look like they’re the result of technological inbreeding.

There’s a purple claw with a bloodshot eye replacing the start button. A Mario figurine with a bloated waistline for keeping memory sticks. Inexplicable blue discharge that I’m told is Sonic the Hedgehog.

I’m at a gaming bar in Akihabara, a district of Tokyo known for its neon lights that flicker and burn in perpetuity. Japan may be the land of the rising sun but Akihabara is indifferent. It’s in these streets that the separation between sunlight and streetlight; natural and artificial; man and machine becomes confusing.

Battery ­powered cats evade store owners. A mechanical cyclist rides along the roof of a convenience store. Elevators and escalators engage in unsettling discourse. A robot raves outside a pharmacy. Schoolgirls beckon you into cafes wearing panda paws. Vending machines blink at you from every street corner.

I buy myself a hot coffee and a few sticky drinks and crash down the streets like I’ve just been inserted into a pinball machine. Long legs, candy, sex; advertising, breasts, businessmen; lights, eyeballs, paranoia.

I stagger into a sex shop feeling nauseous and aroused. I’m not sure if I’m going to vomit or ejaculate. I just stand there helpless and immobile staring at a dildo labelled ‘Man O’ War Solid Dong’ and listening to Michael Jackson’s ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’ while men and women moan from TV screens.

Respite finally comes in a place called Super Potato – a retro gaming bar. I start playing the 1987 beat ‘em up classic Double Dragon with a packet of Lucky Strikes and a bottle of coke. I’m smiling, nodding, smoking and drinking the bottle of coke beneath an artificial canopy thinking this is it. The gaming Mecca I flew 5000 miles to experience.

Storyline: some thugs beat up my girl and sling her over their shoulders.

My mission: Get her back.

Tools: Crowbar.

I nailed Double Dragon on the Game Boy as a kid. Most of the time I was in the backseat of Dad’s Ford Fairlane. There was no backlight on the original Game Boy so when the sun went down I had to use passing street lights on the highway for support. Those slithers of light moving through the car were enough for me to beat up gangsters all the way up and down the east coast of Australia.

Now I’m swaggering along the same virtual streets as a 26­-year ­old thinking I can smoke a cigarette in one hand and rescue my honey with the other.


Some dude in leather with huge thighs and a black whip is forcing me to insert more coins to continue.

I open my wallet and take a look around.

There’s a young Japanese kid entering a dome to become a mech warrior. There’s a group of girls laughing as they change their avatar’s outfit. There’s a wide-
eyed teen connecting neon lights on a screen. There’s a schoolboy leaning over a claw machine to calculate how to win a prize for his girlfriend. Then there’s an old man who has brought in a faded blanket to bet on digital greyhounds.

I turn back to Double Dragon. I’m wearing a cut­off denim shirt and sunglasses. My curly blonde hair sits neatly on my 12­bit shoulders. I pick up the crowbar and once again punch, kick, knee and head­butt my way through a hoard of delinquents beneath a great blue pixelated sky where the sun never bothers to rise nor set.

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