Game Center Spotlight: Game-center gourmet.

Submitted for your approval: Japan’s ubiquitous game centers.

Many people know about the wide variety of prizes available in their machines, from figures and cushions to towels and plush toys. Something people might not be as familiar with, however, is the surprising amount of food you can find there.

Most of it is simple junk food, albeit popular brands and in large amounts. Big cans of various chocolate or potato snacks, oversized boxes of famous sweets, loose piles of Umaibou — there are even machines that feature piles or stacks of candy, and you try to knock them down by scoop-and-pushing from a constantly-moving track. I’ve also seen dried squid and fish, as well as other “real” food, often seasonally. One place I visit in Ikebukuro has small tubs of ice cream in a refrigerated machine. Aside from the novelty sizes, though, most of this kind of prize can be found in your average grocery store. You can generally tell how touristy/casual a game center is by how much of this kind of food is available in their machines.

The second type of winnable snacks are game-center exclusives tied to anime or games. I’ve seen KanColle rice crackers, Hatsune Miku cookies (both regular and Christmas), 30-piece Umaibou bags with anime packaging (Madoka Magica, Kuroko’s Basketball, and Attack on Titan), and Date-A-Live II mini-cookies. The most prolific license I’ve seen so far, though, is from Love Live! (which is currently promoted by Sega). They’ve had LL-themed potato snacks (two different flavors), mini-ramen cups (a box with three flavors), cookies (three different types), and mild curry (the newest ones). They even had seasoning packets for a while.

I will admit to having won and eaten some of the above, mostly the cookies. While none of it has tasted bad, it’s pretty basic fare; the important thing is the license, not the quality. A positive note is that all of the food carries a “win by” date on the packaging. Close to that date, some game centers will make the food easier to win, some won’t. Either way, once that date has passed, it vanishes from the machines. (Another point to note is that while used-goods shops will buy most anything from a game center, they will not buy food.)

With very few exceptions, though, I tend to avoid the food. There are much better (and nonperishable) things to win.

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