Japan didn’t invent the first computer game. That accolade goes to “Space War!”, a game created in 1962 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States.
But ever since then, Japan has embraced gaming culture with an almost unrivaled passion. From the Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog games that became cultural giants, to the Sega Mega Drive and Game Boy consoles which were symbols of their time, gaming was led by Tokyo for decades.
“Without the contributions of Japan, we wouldn’t have a video game industry,” Blake J. Harris, a video game expert and author of “Console Wars,” says. “Or, at least, not one that resembles what we have today in any way.
“From hardware to software, controllers to culture, no country has had a bigger influence on console gaming.”
After decades of dominance, however, Japan’s cultural clout waned during the early 2000s.
“As the appeal of video games grew larger and larger, it’s not surprising that the culture – and development – would no longer be dominated by a specific region,” explains Harris.
A renaissance, however, could be upon us with Japanese giants Sony and Nintendo both making comebacks.
Released in 2013, Sony’s PlayStation 4 became the best-selling home console of this generation in just 18 months, and so far it’s the only one that can be paired with a virtual reality headset – the Sony PSVR, which has sold over one million units.
Nintendo is also breaking new ground with the Switch, a hybrid between a home console and a handheld device, while its accompanying “Legend of Zelda” game has received widespread critical acclaim.
Here, CNN picks the eight most important Japanese video game inventions of all time.
Space Invaders スペースインベーダー (arcade game by Taito) 1978
One of the first arcade games, “Space Invaders” ignited the video game craze in Japan.
The very first “Star Wars” movie had hit theaters weeks before its release, and that cultural event combined with the game’s simple formula – shoot descending aliens with a laser cannon – made it an instant hit.
“It was such an enormous success that, for a time, it was believed to have caused a shortage of 100-yen coins in Japan – only a rumor, but one that shows how popular ‘Space Invaders’ was,” says Harris.
By the end of 1978, Taito had made $600 million in Japan and installed 100,000 Space Invader machines – with some arcades dedicated solely to the game.
“Space Invaders” introduced the now-common game mechanic of enemies moving faster as the player shoots them, but the popular feature was, surprisingly, the consequence of hardware limitations rather than design preference: as the player shot aliens off the screen, the CPU had fewer objects to render and could therefore process the game faster.