Over the decades, gaming arcades in Japan have faced a series of challenges. Typically, they’ve been in the realm of technology — namely high-tech video game consoles that first promised arcade machine-level graphics and then, eventually, surpassed them. Now, Japanese arcades are facing a new menace, one that the entire world has been combating: COVID-19.

Even pre-pandemic, arcades in Japan were on a downward trend. According to a police white paper, there were only 4,022 arcades across Japan in 2019, down from 26,573 in 1986. Things have changed even since the late 2000s, when I published a book on Japanese game centers called “Arcade Mania!.” Back then there were over 9,000 arcades — significantly less than their mid-1980s peak, but double that of today.

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