730 Days of English Gaming


Pork cutlets and cardboard are the first two things that come to mind when I think back, almost two years ago to the day, when I returned to England having spent the previous four years living in Tokyo, Japan. The pork cutlets (tonkatsu) were my carefully selected last meal on the eve of my long flight home, enjoyed in one of my favourite eateries in my favourite part of town: Akihabara. I still remember the taxi ride home and peering through the back window as the neon signs of my old haunts disappeared into the distance. It was at that moment that I realised a part of my life was coming to end, and I wondered how long it would be before I would see those familiar sights again (only nine months as it turned out - I'm an impatient bastard).

The less delicious, but equally as important cardboard is of the boxes that contained all my extra bits and bobs that I was hauling around Narita airport on the morning of the 12th January 2010. I rushed from counter to counter completing a list of tasks as long as my arm, while I sweated profusely through the extra layers of clothes I'd thrown on to save on precious luggage space. We had shipped four large boxes in advance, over half of which were filled with my ever growing video game collection, but I was still lugging far more than I had intended, including my PS3 and a host of games that I couldn't bear to part with earlier in the month.

Video games were on my mind when I left Japan and they were still there when I finally collapsed on a sofa some fifteen hours later, back in old Blighty. As views of the runway and Mt Fuji disappeared behind the clouds, my thoughts turned to my PS3 stowed in the overhead locker and whether it would survive the journey, as well as the games I’d packed in my main luggage which I was convinced would go astray in the black hole that is Heathrow's baggage claim. Back at the homestead, once we were done with the teary-eyed, awkward hugs I went straight to my boxes and sliced them open so as to check that everything was intact. Fortunately, my collection made it through unscathed, along with the bulk of my games and consoles that arrived a few days later in their over-sized crates.

As you can probably gather, video games have been an important part of my transition from carefree expat to Englishman returned. My years in Tokyo turned an occasional past time into a passion. However, arriving back in the country that I had left as a naive graduate, I was unsure if it would endure and if I would find the time and motivation to keep writing. Exactly two years later, and my appetite for video games is as voracious as ever and I am more dedicated to blogging than at any time before.

I can't even imagine having to move all this lot again

The first three months back in England were an absolute blur, as I attempted to seek out a job and plan a wedding. However, I still found time for gaming as I finally had a HDTV to call my own (an early wedding present), which I put to good use with Assassin’s Creed 2, Mass Effect 2, Final Fantasy XIII, Heavy Rain and plenty of other lookers. I even tried to share my interest with my parents, who were good enough to put us up while we were sorting out a place of our own, though my attempts came to naught. I managed to explode my Wii seconds after my family had shown an interest in playing it, having forgotten to attach the step-down converter - Japanese and English voltages are very different! I also gave my mother a rather embarrassing impression of modern gaming: each time she put her head round the door I was either fucking a witch in Dragon Age Origins or dancing around my turntable in DJ Hero. That’s my boy, all grown up.

My attempts to get a job in the gaming industry were rather short lived, as I quickly came to the realization that it wasn’t compatible with our circumstances i.e. no bugger would pay me to do anything game related! As the realities of a deeply depressed job market began to sink in, I started to look to EBAY for solace and gorged on an escapist diet of retro games and consoles. This minor addiction would eventually pass after my soon-to-be-wife threatened to smother me in my sleep.

Newly married, gainfully employed and now in our own apartment, I wasted no time in claiming a corner of the living room for my gigantic IKEA shelves that would house my ever expanding game collection. With a welcoming armchair, a quality HDTV and speaker set up, and my day-to-day consoles all at arm’s reach, gaming has remained a part of my life even as other more important things have started to demand more of my time. My wife and I have even come to share gaming in ways that we didn’t before, as of an evening the PS3 rarely gets a breather as we pass the controller for sessions of Skyrim.

With the convenience of Akihabara now all but a memory, I have stopped buying retro games, though I do purchase far more current gen titles than ever before. I have come to love the nature of British, online video game retail and the "wait a month for the inevitable price drop" mentality that it has created. My money stretches further than ever before, as the heaving shelves behind me will attest.

This is what happened when I was supposed to be applying for a vacancy in IT recruitment

The biggest change in my gaming habits over the last two years is that I rarely touch my portables. Back in Tokyo, I wouldn't leave the house without my PSP or DS, often times bringing both. My work involved a lot of commuting and once I’d secured a seat on the train I would delve straight into my bag and pull out something to play. These days my portables only see the light of day at home, as long commutes are a thing of the past and as hard as I try, I just can’t get the hang of steering and playing Tactics Ogre at the same time. The PSP and 3DS must now compete with home consoles for my attention, which is a battle that they very rarely win.

Two years of being back in England and there is still a part of me that very much misses Japan, and perhaps dwells too much on my life of old. I haven’t exactly been a stranger to Tokyo over the last two years, having been back twice to visit family, friends and attend Tokyo game Show, but it is a strange experience going back, as we recommence our old lives for just a fortnight. We are very happy here in England, but we still agonize over the decision on where to settle in the long term, a decision that we still don’t feel ready to make.

So much has happened over the course of the last two years that I have pretty much lost all concept of time; I’m not sure if two years feels like an age or a blur. There has been a great deal of change over the last 730 days, almost all of it positive, and I have come to take comfort in the continuity of gaming. By-and-large my gaming habits have remained the same, merely shifting slightly to suit my circumstances, and while I may be thousands of miles away from the place that reinvigorated my passion for it, the distance has certainly not dampened my enthusiasm for gaming.

Right, I think it’s time to go. My wife is passing me the controller.

Comments

  1. Gaming really does provide a sense of continuity. I'd have no frame of reference for most of my life without them. What year did I first move to LA? I have no idea. But I was playing SimCity and T&E Soft golf games on the SNES. When did I meet my first real girlfriend? Again, no clue. We met at a Rolling Thunder machine in a movie theater. I asked her out because I was impressed that she actually stayed for my whole game and cared what was happening in it. First time I ever pretended to be gay to get an annoying girl to leave me alone? Cosmic Avenger was paused on my Colecovision! I'd be utterly lost in my own timeline without the sequential nature of this hobby.

    I still maintain that handhelds don't get good games, and I think that's a lot of the problem with keeping them in competition with real system. The 360 and ps3 have tons of good-but-not-great games to kill the extra 10 months in every gaming year. Everything on handhelds is either "OMG YES!!!" or "Ehn.", so anytime they're not the rock star of your arcade, they're just useless.

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  2. Aahh... Tonkatsu. I've gotten that at a Japanese mall that's an hour drive from my house. It looked exactly like your picture too. Since I've yet to go to Japan however, I have no idea how it stacks up to the real thing. It's been a while since I've had it... Maybe I need to go for a drive...

    I understand what your saying about portable gaming. When I had an hour long commute to and from work, my handhelds got a lot of play time. Two years ago I moved closer to work and I can no longer take the bus. My portable gaming time has now become my lay in bed gaming time. Now it has to compete with my first entertainment love, reading books. Books win out more often then not...

    Great blog! This was a very good read.

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  3. @ Thirdrail - Thank fuck for games. Without them I wouldn't even know my age.

    The PSP definitely suffered from a lack of good games in the West. You could go months on end without anything decent and, from what I've read, developers did not enjoy working on the platform.

    Cheers

    @ Ceva - I love Tonkatsu. We try to make it at home (we have all the sauces etc from japan) but its never quite the same.

    Glad you enjoyed the post. Cheers.

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  4. it's really been that long since you left japan? i remember you talking about it but it doesn't seem like it was that long ago. time flies.

    i haven't really been playing my portables either. i regret getting the 3ds and haven't really touched my psp even though i've been buying games for it. my reason is pretty lame and it's your fault. your blogs have made me a trophy whore. i want to add to my trophies and don't want to waste gaming time playing games that don't have them. that's one reason i'm super stoked on the vita. trophy support!!!!

    speaking of the vita, according to amazon i will be getting uncharted and my memory card on the 21st of feb and not get the vita until the 27th. those six days are going to suck.

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  5. Time does fly. I think!

    I'm happy to have been a positive influence on your gaming! I'm interested to see the deatils of the Vita trophy support. Not sure why Sony didn't do it for the PSP years ago.

    That's a bit strange, getting the games first. You will just have to stare at the cases for a week. Cheers

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