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In Japan, it's surreal reality meets virtual reality.
With Japanese developers creating franchises like Final Fantasy, Metal Gear and Resident Evil, handheld gaming devices as ubiquitous as mobile phones, and an arcade on every Tokyo corner, the videogame industry accounts for an even larger share of the entertainment market here than it does on the down low in the West.
Coming into this world as a non-gamer is a little like walking the red carpet at the Oscars without ever having seen a movie.
Fully a third of the attendees — most of them apparently amateurs — were dressed in elaborate costumes, portraying characters from popular games, anime and manga series like Naruto, Full Metal Alchemist, or Gyakuten Saiban ("Ace Attorney").
And the outdoor hallways between the exhibition centers were quickly taken over for impromptu photo shoots as duplicate versions of silver-haired, emerald-eyed elves squared off to compare threads.
The running patter of the models playing Sega's Sonic Free Riders game, piped over monstrous speakers, was like the banter between the hosts of a bizarre variety show. The girls themselves were the flesh-and-blood versions of the pop-eyed pin-ups of the anime world.
Outside the pavilion for Monster Hunter — the second-hottest selling game in Japan at the time — the surreal meets real aspect of the show hit me the hardest. A long line of fans waited patiently for their turn to be photographed with inflatable versions of characters from the game, and then grab a chance to play the new version for the handheld Playstation or Nintendo DS.
And in the back of the booth, a doe-eyed human mannequin sat with her feet in a bubbling wooden hot tub — ersatz ancient Japan, I suppose — while a mad horde of photographers surged in to snap close-ups. The kewpie-doll-style model worked her lips and eyes like an automaton, in perfect imitation of some animated self.
American game makers may have surpassed Japan's. But when it comes to gamers, Tokyo is still streets ahead.