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Filed under: Straight from the Source (Interview)

Straight from the Source: Matt Bloch [Part 2]

PushDustIn: So, what brings you joy running Space Station?

Matt: Just about every aspect of it, even the mundane tasks like the restocking of supplies and the maintenance of the machines.  I enjoy meeting game fans from around the world who come to Japan on vacation.  I take particular satisfaction in the interior design of the place, adding to the decor over time.  The bar is over five years old now and I think I’ve done almost everything I wanted within this space. It is a small space, but I still find ways to add more layers of polish to it. Like the bathroom for example. For the longest time, I wasn’t sure what to add to the bathroom in terms of decor, but I found something. I printed out screenshots of toilets from different video games and glued them to the wall tiles.  The bar provides me with a creative outlet. When I rented this space it was what they call a ‘skeleton’ in Japan — not a stick of furniture in here. So I had an opportunity to design everything in here. For example, the bar counter is actually in the shape of what is known as the “Famicom Pulse”.13480319_10102741094057515_94628833_n

PushDustIn: Oh, I didn’t realize that!

Matt: 14 of the early Famicom cassettes had this design. I showed the design to my carpenter after drawing it up on the computer, and he built the counter to those specifications. It doesn’t matter to me if people don’t recognize it, no one really sees recognizes it as they aren’t looking at it from top down. It makes for a cool counter design in its own right. And when people do notice it, and they go “wow!” I get a lot of pleasure from people noticing that and many of the small touches that can be found around the bar.  I enjoy seeing the reactions of people when they come in to Space Station for the first time. This bar is small enough that you can see and take in almost everything in one look. That impact is important to me. I’m very proud of the lighting. After all, this bar’s aesthetics are modeled after an 80’s arcade. Space Station was the name of my local arcade growing up.. So designing this place, taking on the same name; I wanted it to be dark and neon lit.

Another thing that brings me joy running Space Station is being able to recommend games to people. People come in here sometimes to play a certain game, but I let them know if they would like some recommendations I can offer some. Limbo and Ibb & Obb are two of the indie games that I recommend to people, two great puzzle platformers that just about anyone can enjoy.  I can’t really count the ways I enjoy running Space Station.

PushDustIn: You have both the Japanese and US versions of the consoles. So for a lot of foreigners, it might be their first experience with a Japanese console and for Japanese it might be their first experience with an overseas version.

Matt:  Yes, that’s true.  That was one of the key things I wanted to have set up in this bar from the very beginning.  I wanted the Japanese version and U.S version of the same console to be side by side.  If I had more space in the bar I’d likely have a U.S. upright arcade cabinet next to a Japanese sit down cabinet.   

PushDustIn: Do you get new customers weekly?

Matt: I’d say every day there are new faces thanks to it being the Internet age. It’s so easy for business, especially in tourist areas, to be promoted with sites like TripAdvisor. Having a web presence is important.

PushDustIn: And you only run a Facebook page. You don’t have any official web presence outside of that, right?

Matt: That’s right. And with the Facebook page I hardly update it. I don’t really do social media. The bar has a web presence because bloggers and video game websites have done coverage on Space Station over the years.

PushDustIn: What are your thoughts on the other video games bar in Japan? Have you been to them?13487406_10102741093997635_1285343621_n

Matt:I’ve been to all of them that I know about. There has been a video game bar explosion in the last few months in Osaka. There has been six new video game bars that opened between March and May.

PushDustIn: Oh wow!

Matt: …Six new video game bars. I think that brings the total number of video game bars in this city to 14.

PushDustIn: So, essentially doubled.

Matt: Yes. I don’t know how it came to be this way, but I would say Osaka City is more densely populated with video game bars than anywhere else in the world. I think there’s more than 14 game bars in Tokyo, but they are so spread out across the city. In Osaka you could walk from one game bar to most of the others.  There are two clusters of nightlife areas in Osaka — the north and south. You could walk to all the ones in the south, and then take a short train ride to go to the ones in the north. In Tokyo you would need to go all over the place if you wanted to do a video game bar pub crawl.

So yeah, a video game bar explosion. Mine is still the only one that is owned and operated by a foreigner in Osaka. It used to be the only one in the whole country but awhile back, Alex Fraioli, a video game journalist, opened Critical Hit in Nagoya. So now there are two foreign-run video game bars in Japan.

I attribute the recent explosion to at least two factors. Since Street Fighter 5 doesn’t have an arcade version, these video games bars that have sprung up recently have an array of Street Fighter 5 machines set up.  Then there is Splatoon which requires one Wii U console per player. So there will also be an array of those found at more recently created game bars.  

PushDustIn: I think a lot of people are just catching on video games as a lifestyle. Back in the day, it seemed like video games were only for nerds but nowadays video games have become more mainstreamed. For example, my students talking to me about Splatoon.

Matt: Well, Japan has always been more accepting. There are still some Japanese who consider it purely an otaku pursuit, but those people are in the minority. It seems that a majority of Japanese can come here to Space Station and find something nostalgic for them.

That being said, video game bars in the US are also on the rise and they take a slightly different form because they usually have more space. These “geek bars” are happening throughout the US and are started by 30-somethings or 40-somethings who grew up in an era where it was a nerdy pursuit almost exclusively. But then there’s the 20-somethings who grew up in the N64/Playstation1 era when it was a little more accepted as mainstream.

PushDustIn: I think Pokémon went mainstream when I was 11 — and it was everywhere.

Matt: And there’s no shame in a 20-something to be talking about Pokémon. As an adult they don’t conceal their Pokémon background. Maybe there are some groups of friends where someone feels the need to hide it, but I don’t think it’s common.

PushDustIn: So where do you see Space Station going from here?

Matt: I’m not sure to be honest.

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