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Gaming in the Malls of the Philippines - by Lee Benfield (January 2011)

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The Philippines has an interesting history of being a colony under the rule of Spain, then the US, and suffering Japanese occupation during World War II. As a side effect, modern Filipino culture is still very young as is its gaming culture. Gaming has a small though strong presence in the country, but mainly in the malls and internet cafes. Console gaming is still expensive for the average consumer, thus most Filipinos play in arcades or enjoy MMORPGS in an internet cafe. In my stay there, I visited many malls and made sure to visit the arcade in each one (much to my girlfriend's chagrin). For an old gamer like myself it was heartwarming to see a place where the arcades still thrive.

In the capitol city of Manila malls rule the landscape. People flock there in droves, and shop (or window shop) for hours. Inside the malls there are arcades sporting many of Japans latest games. Like most arcades, fighting and shooting games take centre spotlight. I enjoyed a few rounds of Street Fighter 4 against a friendly kid who worked in the Robinsons mall. Sadly, I didn't find any other Street Fighter 4 cabs in the country, but I saw at least three Tekken 6 machines in different places. The competition on Tekken 6 is heated and fierce (aka: I didn't win much).

The main arcade I found in each mall was called Time Zone. The place was reminiscent of the arcades that once flourished in American malls circa fifteen years ago. I played ticket machines in an attempt to win my girlfriend prizes, and tried a few UFO catchers that seemed impossibly rigged (until I saw a small boy win an R4 card from one and felt terribly embarrassed). In the massive Mall of Asia, I played one of the strangest machines I've ever come across: it consisted of a giant plastic gorilla that sends constant voltage into the player's hands. The longer you are able to withstand the voltage, the more tickets you can win. Im not sure if this machine would be legal in the US or anywhere else for that matter.

Speaking of legality, piracy is rampant in the Philippines. Media stores in the malls sell bootleg DVDs, CDs, and video games. I went to one store that had four portable knock offs in the display case alone. In this same store I bought an awful Famiclone portable called the One Station for 1500 pesos, or $33 USD. It came with a 99-in-1 cart, not unlike the GBA pirates that flood most of Asia. In an interesting side note the store clerk asked me why I was not buying a PSP instead. My answer: I can buy a PSP anywhere in the US, I want something weird and unique that I can only get here.

In the TriNoma mall of Quezon city, I found a strange store called DataBlitz. Unlike most stores in the Philippines that seem to only sell pirated games, DataBlitz offered real goods for modern systems. The store looked almost exactly like GameStop, with Western game releases filling the shelf space (Atlus releases like Persona 4 had a huge presence in the store). It was almost refreshing to see a store like GameStop but without Madden advertisements covering every wall. Unfortunately the store didn't have any customers when I went inside; I chalk this up to the fact that few Filipinos can probably afford a PS2, much less a PS3 or Xbox 360.

The mall was very different in the sleepy town of San Jose of Antique, the place my girlfriend hails from. Their small, one story mall barely had an arcade. On one side of the game room old Japanese cabs lined the walls (with classics like Raiden II), and on the other side small CRT televisions were connected to PS2 units with play intervals timed by the Peso. This was a far cry from the advanced arcades I found in Manila and Quezon City. Real gamers use the internet cafe in San Jose for computer titles like World of Warcraft and Starcraft; the arcade exists mainly for small children to play in after school. Like the small town I was in, the arcade was a humbling experience.

The Philippines is a nice to place to visit for anyone looking for a place a little out of the ordinary. It is exotic, and the people are warm and friendly. If you are a hardcore gamer like myself, then the arcades of the big cities will be a very nostalgic experience for you. It is a cheap alternative to Japan and China with an interesting flavor all its own. I will be going back to the Philippines at some point. When I return, I hope to meet new Filipino competition in the mall arcades for my favorite type of cultural exchange, the Hadouken.

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