Exploring Super Potato, Akihabara’s video game time machine
For Christmas of 2015, a friend gifted me a little black box, no bigger than a Roku or Apple TV. It came with two wireless controllers, an HDMI cable, and a flash memory card. Once plugged in, a fairly impressive and home-baked UI appeared and presented me with a carousel of video game systems from years gone by, including NES, SNES, Sega, TuboGrafx-16, and a slew of others.
I uttered various expletives in amazement, and my friend, already having acquired one of these devices for himself, nodded and smiled knowingly. For the next few hours, we drank beer and played forgotten games from our childhood, along with others we had never heard of. And all of it was run on a tiny SD card and some generic firmware.
I was amazed, even though I had played various game emulators before. I also knew that his black box contained several thousand copyright infringements, so I didn’t ask about its maker or seller.
The gift was all too fitting, because less than two months earlier I had found myself inside the box, in a multi-level game store in Tokyo’s Akihabara district called Super Potato, looking at what was essentially the physical versions of the games and systems that I was now able to access with a convenient scroll and push of a button.
In fall 2015, I had the opportunity to travel from my adopted home of Melbourne, Australia to Japan. While there, I did what any person in my position with a history of gaming, anime, comics, and other “otaku” tendencies would do: I went to Tokyo’s famed Akihabara district.
The district is a collection of shops and businesses mostly dedicated to what we would consider “geek” culture. Video games, manga, anime, and similar industries are celebrated there. If you are looking for something in one of those fields, no matter how rare, you can probably find it there.
I wrote about my trip there for DBP. We split the article into three pieces.
To think that entire libraries from decades of gaming can be contained on a singular device that’s smaller than a paperback book is an amazing thing to me. Still, the box itself couldn’t replace the nicotine-stained air and obsessively catalogued games and systems I had seen in Super Potato. It too was a kind of emulator for that experience. I was grateful to my friend and I thanked him dozens of times throughout the day for such a cool and unique (albeit slightly illegal) gift.
The black box, or “Nostalgia Machine” as I now call it, sits modestly next to my hulking cube of an Xbox One. I still enjoy spelunking into it regularly, but whenever I do I still come to the same conclusion – owning the box is great, but going inside the box is even better.
You can read about my experiences in Akihabara here.