The Crushing Desire To Break Routine
Okinawa's the pits if you're American, worse if you're a Marine. You spend almost all your time at Gate 2 Street getting liquored up with other Marines and starting or avoiding fights. That and trying your damndest to avoid stumbling into the buy-me-drinky bars because you'll get completely ridiculed the next day if you do -- but dammit, the girls in there are pros, in the therapist sense because more often than not the guys will spend all night and all their money just talking to them, getting so much needed attention (and so liquored up) that they forget about sex - or can't get hard to save their lives anyway. I've seen them, the single Staff Sergeants, whispering in the corner, and the girls with bright eyes and wide smiles and barely-functional English, nodding and smiling and loving every word. Those girls provide a service - I know where your mind is going - but I wouldn't be surprised if a study showed they do far less prostitution than is assumed.
My first ignorant voyage into a grimy example of the aforementioned resulted in a Jack-and-Coke that cost ten dollars (and which was clearly pure Jack) and a half-nude strip show that was less-than-enthusiastic. The whole place smelled of more desperation than I felt - at the time, at least - and made me uncomfortable. The loud jackass Jarhead drunks that stumbled in and proceeded to mock the Mama-san made me ill, so back outside I went. I would go at least one more time, months later, but only then to rescue a dear friend from the breach (he, in point of fact, had gone in to look for another dear friend and fell victim to the machinations of the therapist-sirens).
Enough about that bad scene.
Gate 2 got old very fast. Drinking, drinking and some karaoke. Now and then an unsuccessful attempt to bridge the communication gap; Got me into a Japanese-only bar once, but if you asked me what the conversation that night had been about I could only answer that it contained many, many gestures and confused headshakes.
No, wait. I remember speaking to the bartender.
Me: "So, what do you think of Americans?"
Bartender: [Nonchalant, ambiguous shrug]
Me: "They're assholes, aren't they?"
Bartender: "Some of them, yes."
Me: "I think they're all fucking assholes."
Bartender: [Laughing slightly] "I think maybe you half-Japanese."
Anyway, so many Marines do the whole get-wasted-at-night thing that they never actually get up in time to find out what to do in daylight. I became determined to find out.
A friend told me of Sega World. It is an arcade. A massive arcade, plunked down as if it were nothing unusual. In the States it would be called Dave & Busters and it would cost you money just to walk in the door.
But not in Okinawa.
The Throbbing, Pulsing, Flashing Hum
Sega World immediately assaults the senses. I am flush with the usual arcade sensory-overload, multiplied by the influence of alien culture. Peripherals of every size, shape and assortment sprout from machines, making joysticks seem oddly out of place where they pop up.
It takes me nearly ten minutes, with the help of a friend, to figure out the change machine.
I play a firefighting game. My friend and me, side by side, holding giant hoses with remarkable force-feedback mechanisms, aiming our nozzles at a giant screen, extinguishing fires and rescuing those trapped by the spreading flames.
There's a DJ-ing game that looks just as complicated as actual DJ equipment. I can't say for certain, because there are so many switches and crossfaders and whatnot that there's no possible way I'd be able to learn even the rudimentary controls without expending a large sum of money.
But what really gets my attention is something I don't get to play.
In the corner there are three giant widescreen televisions. They are displaying different camera views of a soccer game.
Getting closer, I realize that the game is entirely virtual. I mean, for god's sake, I can see the aliasing!
And in front of these screens are at least fifteen men, ranging from, I'd say, mid-30s to late-40s, all in business suits and all fixated on those gargantuan screens. In front of these men are cards. Cards! From time to time I notice that a man here or there will study his cards sternly. There is also, every so often, a subdued cheer that passes quickly.
My brain churns through the deductive process. I'm watching a fantasy-league soccer game (football to every other country on this planet). Except in this case the entire game is completely watchable. Those cards are players that the men are fielding. The stats on those cards are fed into a simulator, which uses them to derive a "live" football match.
I'm caught up in watching the match. The animation is so fluid, so convincing. The camera angles, the crowd roar, it's almost eerie. These are not players. The men watching are not players. But there is an element of play, like rolling marbles to see whose will go farther - the players set initial conditions, but the final result is a matter of the constraints of the system.
Me As Entrepreneur
I wonder why this hasn't been transported to the States? Not that I've heard of, at least.
It seems so brilliant on the face of it. Introduce it in some sports bar. American football, of course. Foster friendly competition. Form leagues. Provide an introduction to digital interaction for those not interested in console Madden but want more control than just watching. Perfect for the off-season. Display the "live" games around the bar - be sure to discourage betting *wink wink*. Beer sponsors. Might even be able to get around EA's lock on the NFL by playing up the non-interactivity.
Have people roll for their own stats. Create themselves as Football Hero. Then put their card up on a networked system as Free Agent. Let them track their card's history as it's traded, view their own statistics. Offer training camps to increase skills. Maintain a database of simulated games to show.
Let people become Managers and Coaches. Sign new players. A truly-casual Massively Multiplayer game, transplanted to an IRL social setting.
And maybe I'll make it happen someday. If pitched right, planned out, introduced with the proper attitude, it could lead to a greater acceptance of, if not quite games, at least digitally-aided play.