Everyone remembers their first visit to Super Potato. Squished in a higgledy side-street, a plushie’s throw from Akihabara station in eastern Tokyo, you climb a cramped staircase, past a parade of blue-tac’ed posters, into a cosy, glittering Aladdin’s den of video games past. The shelves are as packed as the real estate outside. Towers of Famicoms, MegaDrives, PC Engines sway in the corner, while amongst the orderly phalanxes of game spines, desirable specimens sit, turned outwards, attracting customers with colourful plumes of artwork. In glass cabinets, the prohibitively expensive, or the prohibited from sale: Super Famicom review cartridges; an early Neo Geo system, sold exclusively to Japanese hotels; a Radiant Silvergun, the 1998 air – air from a time when its developer, Treasure, was still a going concern – still shrink-wrapped inside. One of Miyamoto’s fingers is probably back there somewhere, propped up against the expensive plastic, wrapped in muslin, brought out on nationals holidays, or Zelda’s birthday.
Places like this don’t exist in Britain – at least, not on this scale, or with this kind of density of stuff (the gigantic Dreamcast pillow, plump under the counter; the Mother scarf draped around the life-sized Solid Snake statue; the GameCube book-ends). Our vintage game stores are almost all gone (the basement of Computer Exchange in Rathbone Place, London, once littered with exotic desirables, has been a DVD dumping ground for years). The National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham has a few dozen eccentricities on show — a copy of a sand-dusted E.T. for the Atari 2600, a Lara Croft Lucozade bottle, a pair of Samba de Amigo maracas — but there’s no place you can go to run your eyes along the spines of a row of games and, in doing so, catch the grand sweep of the medium’s history. There’s precious little chance of being blindsided by an unexpected memory – your secret crush age 12; your favourite teacher age 15; the memory of your parents, together – when you spot an old flame on a shelf.
Super Potato is just one of half-a-dozen vintage game stores in Electric Town’s mile-or-so stretch. It’s the most famous not just because of its percussive, lumpy name, but also because, for a long while, it was the only establishment that allowed visitors to take photographs and videos inside. During the past ten years, as Super Potato’s fame has grown, its effect on first-time visitors has remained undiminished. The prices, however, have steadily risen, while the clientele has changed and the stock has depleted. Super Potato is now a tourist attraction; far more foreigners than Japanese squeeze apologetically through its narrow aisles. This is true, in fact, for most of Tokyo’s vintage game stores, from Mandarake, a chain of second hand geek stores, with a headquarters in a shopping centre in Nakano (a kind of Bluewater for recluses) through to Friends, the most un-plundered of the bunch, situated above Suehirocho station, where every day an elderly lady hunches behind a counter, placing cartridges into plastic wrappers with creaky fingers.