One of my favourite things about travelling is exploring gaming culture in other countries. This mind-set has led me to discover all kinds of interesting things, like the fact that France has its own dedicated RPG magazine or that there’s a veritable pinball utopia hidden halfway down an otherwise unremarkable Hungarian street.
Up until earlier this year, however, I’d never been outside of Europe, and so a trip to Taiwan marked my first foray into Asia. Hundreds of thousands of column inches have been written about Japan’s love affair with video games over the past several decades, so I figured this represented a uniquely exciting opportunity for me – after all, Taiwan plays a pivotal role in producing the semi-conductors for many of the consoles you own.
But just what are the people playing there?
Once I’d brushed aside the haze of a 13-hour flight, the first thing I observed when out and about in Taipei – the country’s capital city, which houses a population of around 2.5 million people – is that while video games are everywhere, consoles like PlayStation are not. There are large promotional posters in practically every subway station, designed to capture the attention of commuters with colourful anime-style characters, but they’re all advertising the latest smartphone fancies – often from developers in Japan or South Korea.
I quickly learned that, like so many other countries, Taiwan is obsessed with Japan in a way I hadn’t quite anticipated. Family Mart, the Japanese convenience store chain, occupies at least one retail unit on every single street, and many house toy capsule machines outside, with plenty promising obscure plunder, like miniature washing machines or camp fire scenes. At up to NT$200 (~US$6.63) a twizzle, these are not the kind of tasteless throwaways you find in Western supermarkets – and they’re not for children either.
But while I spotted the pervasive presence of Pikachu in plenty of places – there’s actually an entire subway train livery dedicated to Pokémon that’s running on Taipei’s red line – I really struggled to find any mention of PlayStation anywhere. I couldn’t find a GameStop analogue in any of the larger malls, and the marketing was non-existent. I perused 7-Eleven magazine racks, eyeing the items carefully in anticipation of some kind of gaming mag, but had no luck. I even spent a little time watching one of the local television stations in my hotel’s gym, wondering if I might catch a PS5 commercial.
But it wasn’t until I went underground that I discovered Taiwan’s true gaming scene.
I’d done my research prior to travelling, of course, and I knew Taipei City Mall was considered the epicentre of the capital’s console market. You can access the plaza by heading down stairs from the city’s main train station, and it’s laid out like two long corridors which segue from general interest to video games and finally to food vendors. Upon exiting the elevator, I immediately spotted some promotional banners with SEGA Taiwan branding – I think there’d been some kind of contest or event earlier in the day – so I knew I was in the right place.
I believe the shops here are independent, but they use either PlayStation or Nintendo branding instead of their real names. God of War Ragnarok PS5 bundles were in plentiful supply – I travelled in mid-January, just as Sony was promising improved stock of its new-gen console, and that certainly proved to be true throughout my trip – and some of the stores were even taking pre-orders for the upcoming PSVR2.
In terms of inventory, I don’t know what I expected, but naturally many of the games were the same as overseas: Gran Turismo 7, God of War Ragnarok, and Forspoken – which was days away from releasing at the time – were all getting plenty of shelf space. I saw at least two or three local gamers purchase a PS5 during my trip, and one even went home with a Thrustmaster steering wheel as well; he was clearly a big fan of racing games.
Many of these shops all looked and felt the same; they were all bright lights and perfectly organised shelves. It’s perhaps little surprise, then, that a single unsuspecting grimy store with a Sony Trinitron CRT perched outside caught my eye. This place was a treasure trove, stacked to the roof with dozens of consoles in various states of disassembly, from the Virtual Boy through to Sanyo’s lesser-known model of the 3DO.
A lot of the games were imports from Japan, with rare Final Fantasy collector’s editions and dozens of boxed Super Nintendo cartridges stored safely behind glass. As readers will know, I enjoy train simulations, so I ended up grabbing a PS1 copy of Taito’s arcade title Densha de Go – it was cheap, boxed, and in relatively decent condition. And – whisper it – it’s a game I’ve been emulating for several months now.
My next stop took me to the distinctly trendy Ximen district, which some of you may be familiar with as the backdrop from the two Dusk Diver games. This place was filled with teenagers; I’m not old by any stretch of the imagination, but I didn’t feel cool enough to mince around these parts in my Primark t-shirt and Skechers shoes. (Although, actually my Skechers are limited edition, so maybe they fit right in!)
It’s here that I really felt the Japanese influence: I’ve never been to Akihabara, but I imagine it’s a little bit like this. There were entire commercial outlets filled with eye-catching pink LEDs and claw catcher machines, as well as toy capsules stacked as high as the eye could see. I ended up discovering one toy capsule machine dedicated to historical SEGA machines, and despite the high asking price, I simply couldn’t resist a punt; I pulled the Mega CD 2, a pointless piece of plastic without the actual Mega Drive 2 to accompany it, but I don’t regret a thing.
Gacha games are actually big in Taiwan, and not just the mobile titles like Eversoul and Heaven Burns Red which were being promoted everywhere. Many shops would sell tickets for raffles, where you have a slim chance of winning the grand prize.
I actually spotted one of these for PlayStation, because I noticed one shop was advertising some PSP and PS Vita key rings I really wanted to buy. As it turns out, you could pay NT$500 (US$16.56) for a chance to win any of the PlayStation items listed, with a PS5 money box being the top prize. The key rings were apparently the highest probability items, and so I took a punt, only to pull the towel from the tier above. It’s cool, but I doubt I’ll ever use it.
The last stop on my Taipei magical video game tour took me to an area literally named Digital Plaza, which is host to a couple of malls all dedicated to PC components and other items of geek interest. It’s here, on a fourth floor, in a minuscule unit, that I discovered a ton of imported Japanese games. It was the Nintendo Switch titles that caught my attention, and I’d end up going back to the shop a couple of days later to pick up two FMV-based train games from developer Sonic Powered. This was pertinent because…
Earlier in the week I’d taken a train to Tainan, a city at the bottom of Taiwan, for more cultural reasons. I like trains, you know that by now, and I was genuinely quite excited to ride the THSR 700T – which, if you’re not a nerd, is basically an orange bullet train which services the Taiwan High Speed Rail. It achieves speeds of up to 300km/h, which isn’t as fast as some of the locos you find in Japan, but is still pretty damn quick.
I ended up reading the train’s Wikipedia page on my return leg, and one small detail lifted off the page like I was destined to see it all along: “Railfan: Taiwan High Speed Rail, a 2007 train simulator video game developed jointly by Taiwanese company Actainment and Japanese company Ongakukan on the basis of the latter’s Train Simulator series, featured real video and was the first Taiwanese game for Sony’s PS3 system.”
I had to buy it!
I instantly started searching eBay for copies of it, but it was fetching upwards of ~US$150 from Western sellers. Fortunately, I was travelling with a Taiwanese native who was familiar with the local reseller apps, and they were able to source a boxed copy that was in great condition for a third of the asking price. It got shipped to a local 7-Eleven within days, and the game is now in my possession and on my shelf back at home.
I haven’t played it yet, but looking at footage on YouTube, it’s similar to Sonic Powered’s more modern titles which use FMV footage to create the visuals. Personally, I’m not a massive fan of these games as it feels more like you’re controlling the speed of a video than an actual train, but I’d like to dust off my PS3 at some point to give this a go; simulations are always that little bit more entertaining when you’re familiar with the content they contain, and I’ve ridden the Taiwan High Speed Rail in real-life now, so it’d be cool to play the game.
One last thing I want to mention is how I was navigating between many of the locations I’ve discussed above. Taipei’s subway system is really good: it’s clean and reliable, unlike in London – although it has the benefit of being built several decades later, of course. The main way people access the underground, or MRT as it’s known, is by using an Easy Card – a top-up card that you load with money which allows you to enter and exit each station.
These Easy Cards can be used to purchase various items outside of the MRT, like in convenience stores or even to get admission to the local zoo. But, as I understand it, occasionally the company will release special promotional versions of its cards – and one of these was an officially licensed DualShock 4 replica. As I mentioned above, I’m lucky enough to know someone in Taiwan, and they’d purchased one of these for me a couple of years ago, knowing I’d eventually want to use it.
The DualShock 4 is presented on a keyring, but is immaculately modelled: all of the details, from its USB charging point to its headphone socket are present, and the buttons even click in and out. The thing I like most about it is there’s an LED light inside, which flashes when the near-field connection is working, meaning the light bar on the top actually illuminates when entering and exiting the MRT.
To be honest, this wasn’t convenient to use at all; I had to make a big effort to take it in and out of my backpack each time I moved through a station, which wasn’t ideal. But I did feel like a few people noticed it. I'm sure they thought it was unusual that a white guy speaking English was navigating subway stations with a video game controller.
I prefer to think they thought I was cool.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading this article. I’ve wanted to write something like this for a while, so let me know in the comments section if you’re interested and I’ll try to do more like it.
Awesome article! Really enjoyed reading something abit different
Brilliant article! Made a refreshing change 👍
Love this article! Really enjoyed the read 👍🏽
Thank you for sharing.
I really enjoyed reading the article.
Loved reading this article, really interesting. I also now want the mini PS controller! Haha
Ok. That's awesome. Great read.
Some friends and I had a trip to Akihabara planned for September 2020.
Then everything that happened happened and we had to cancel.
One of these years we'll come back around to it.
But I for one would love to see more articles like this. Good job, Sammy.
I am a little disappointed though - I always pictured Sammy with a bleached blonde 90s hairstyle 😎
Enjoyed the article, nice to read something original. Great accompanying pics too, looks a cool place
Great read. Looks incredible.
I’m not jealous at all .
nice read, looked like you had a great time.
Hooray for travel articles! This was super interesting to read, thanks Sammy. Any idea what that huge Game Boy next to the Trinitron screen was? Was it a demonstration kiosk/attract screen type thing?
@Shepherd_Tallon Haha, the bleached blonde hairstyle is like 15 years old. Bit of an inside joke about how I never change my profile picture here! 😅
@CasuallyDressed I don't actually know. I'm assuming it was an attract screen thing, like you say.
Gotta love his dedication towards his beloved train sims fairplay. Didn't really know what to expect as I started reading but I carried on reading to end so it kept me entertained
Great article! More features like this please, less 'what did you think of X/Y/Z'!
Fascinating and really good read. Interesting in all the right places.
As someone who has lived in Asia for a long time, this article is so cringe. Like a tourist coming to Japan and being lost in their own Otaku in Akihabara before swooning at the Shinkasen on the way to Kyoto. OMG there's gacha, dazzled by their existence they forget gacha is not gaming.
@EliJapan Ah, sorry you didn’t like the article, Eli. Maybe next time!
Loved this, probably the best feature I’ve read on Push Square. Great stuff!!
Looks completely above ground. Even elevated above it in some places.
N.i.c.e. but taylor swift is not in taiwan sammy😅😲😂😄.haha.word up son
@brazzios_84 The Taipei City Mall is entirely underground, but I suppose I should have got some better photos to demonstrate that!
Absolutely fantastic article. I'd definitely read more of these.
Also, I was on a train for the first time 2 days ago. Cool timing haha 🚂
Just wanted to say thanks for all the positive feedback everyone! Glad you liked it, I'll definitely try and do more like this in the future!
Reading about how different cultures treat video games is so fascinating, and the trip pics are awesome!
@EliJapan Oh for you’re one of those toxic expats. We all know the type who like to gatekeep. Anybody is welcome to do as they wish as long as they are respectful to the culture. Also stop acting like you aren’t a dork yourself. Japan in your username and a weeb avatar lol.
My eyes have some problems with color, but it looks like you found a train to match your shoes. The bag too. Nice reference to the Beatles. Interesting read and photos.
Don't stop here, do a monthly series. Each Magical Video Game Tour could be named after the city or country. Would love to see Frankfurt/Berlin, Paris/Lyon, Madrid, Timbuktu, Jakarta, and others.
@EliJapan they only thing cringe is someone using the word cringe in a serious sense.
@get2sammyb your welcome 👍 if it gets you a few more holidays as well then happy days 😁 actually inspired me too watch some AJ styles retro game hunting in America on YouTube
Loved this feature! Would love to see more varied content like this on the 'off days' or weekends.
@get2sammyb so this is what you all get up to with that sweet sweet PushSquare clicks money! More of this I say, great article - thank you.
@EliJapan people get to travel around new places in whatever manner is good for them, for their own enjoyment. There's no right or wrong way to explore somewhere new, or write about it.
Awesome!! My wife's Taiwanese so I've been lucky enough to go over there many times and I'd recommend it to everyone to get over there as it's a wonderful friendly country.
I've also been to the shops you describe there in the City Mall and Ximen and they are all fascinating and extraordinary.
I'd love to hear more of your take over there Sammy. How you finding the food? Supposedly the best in Asia so go to Din Tai Fung for the dumplings, try the Beef noodle soup and also Taiwan Fried chicken. Guangdong has a great street food market area, I'm sure you're guide knows the best places.
Have a great time over there!
Great article dude! I'd also love to see more like these, helps spice up the website and make it stand out from the rest.
Jealous of several of the shops and things you got to be around, maybe one day I'll travel there too.
@Shepherd_Tallon I've never seen Sammy's face before either, looks very handsome!
Awesome article. It’s fascinating learning about the gaming culture of other countries.
I’ve always wanted to go to Mexico to check out the SNK fighting scene. Many of the best players of SNK fighters hail from Latin America. The Neo Geo absolutely blew up there compared to the States, where Capcom fighting games in the arcade dominated.
It’s the contrast of tastes and styles that’s so fascinating to me. I enjoy the articles you guys write about Japanese sales charts. It makes one realize that despite the rich cultural exchange between Japan and the US their taste in games are 100% opposite to ours.
That's some fine Taylor Swift ink you got there, @get2sammyb
Definitely a fun read, appreciate the train nerd details too!
@Shepherd_Tallon haha had the same thought about sammy, thought this guy in the photos was a terrible imposter! 😂
Loved this. Thanks for the interesting read @get2sammyb
Great article loved reading it. I have always wished I could go to Japan. I know my bank account would take a hard hit. So much I would want to buy and bring home with me.
Wow, and here I thought @get2sammyb was a cold, hard, Sony-only zealot.
Nice to see you out and about appreciating all things gaming for a change. Looks like it was a really awesome trip!
Great article. I spent a year in Okinawa, and from what I saw while I was there and saw in these pics their fascination with Japan is very apparent.
I had no idea Taiwan was immersed in Japanese culture and had its own unique gaming culture. This is much different than I in the US would have ever thought. I will be adding Taipei to my list of cities to travel to.
Sammy, did you try some Bubble Tea??
Great article, but the best part is that I finally got to know how Sammy really looks like irl. I'd just say that it's totally unexpected... in a good way of course.
That's a super fun article, Sammy! They need to ship you around the world all the time and we can play Where In The World Is Sammy Barker.
Never, ever did I imagine I'd live to see you holding Splatoon merch and posing with Pikachu. You'll be moving to NL before we know it!
And am I the only one watching the first person experience in those limited edition sketchers thinking how much we need this as a PSVR2 title? Sammy Baker's Rail Riding VR. BECOME the legend!
@octane if only Thanos were around to see this (or would bother visiting a Sony site). I hang up my mantle as hookshots obsessive train zealot. Sammy has that crown, by far!
@get2sammyb @Shepherd_Tallon @TheArt I always assumed the profile pic was from a secret Xbox 360 fanboy past, or an attempt at being cast in the FFXV live action film that wasn't meant to be. 😂
Great read thanks Sammy, would love to read some articles on EU locations too!!
Loved this, cheers Sammy!
@EliJapan most of us don't live in Asia. So hearing about this stuff is intersting.
My first adventure in Tokyo I played it safe, but soon gained confidence to go exploring, the big Asian cities arent as bad to navigate as you think. Glad you had a good time!
And don't worry about not being cool, we think you're cool!
Really good! I love articles like this. Keep'em coming
Great article! Nice different reading.
@EliJapan you moved to Japan and use it in your username + that Avatar, while critizing other people who enjoyed their holidays because you know best. There is nothing more cringe than you
Great article @get2sammyb! Of course I would love to see more of this!
Great article! Hope we see more stuff like this in the future!
@get2sammyb Looks like this article has generated the most likes in a long while, and with good reason. A really enjoyable read, and lovely change of pace! More of this, please!
Thoroughly enjoyed this feature . Just out of interest , did you see any Blue Stinger games for sale in the shops while you were over there ?
@NEStalgia He was lead singer of a band until gaming took over.
@janineking Funny you should ask, yes I did!
This article is lit! 你太棒了！
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