Big in Japan: Video Games that Kill

We interrupt our regularly scheduled feature column to bring you an important news bulletin that may save your life, the life of your friends and even the life of your children.

Video games can kill – well, at least this one can.

Earlier this week, an arm wrestling video game known as ‘Arm Spirit’ was removed from arcades across Japan as a precaution. Apparently, the move was prompted by Atlus, the distributor of Arm Spirit, following a number of high profile game-related injuries. Apparently, at least three different players broke their arms during game play.

(And you thought tennis elbow and gamers’ thumb was bad!)

For those of you who don’t regularly visit Japanese arcades (I know I’m a total dork, but they’re just so much fun!), Arm Spirit features a life-sized arm that players try to slam down to the table in a series of matches. Tension increases as players advance through ten levels, with opponents including an erotic French maid, a drunken martial arts master, a yelping Chihuahua and a hulking sumo wrestler.

A long time favorite of high school boys trying to impress their dates, overworked businessmen trying to relieve a bit of tension and resident foreigners trying to show off to their Japanese friends, Arm Spirit appeals to virtually everyone. With stereo sound, hi-definition video and a catchy theme song worthy of putting on your IPod, a round of Arm Spirit is worth every one of your hard-earned yen.

Much like Japanese arcade staples such as Dance Dance Revolution (aka DDR and Dancing Stage), Taiko Drum Master and Guitar Hero, Arm Spirit was destined for fame. Some argue that Arm Spirit could have even taken rank alongside Super Mario Brothers and the Legend of Zelda as one of the truly great gaming experiences.

So, what went wrong?

According to Ayano Sakiyama, the company spokesmen for Atlus: “The machine isn’t that strong, much less so than a muscular man. Even women should be able to beat it. We think that maybe some players get over-excited and twist their arms in an unnatural way.”

Sadly, the days of virtual arm-wrestling glory are coming to end as a country-wide investigation has been launched into the incidents, and the recalled machines are being checked for any malfunctions. Loyal fans hold on to the hope that the engineers at Atlus can tweak the unit, thus ensuring that future generations of gamers can enjoy Arm Spirit. However, in a country plagued by the fear of anything even remotely dangerous, it is unlikely that Arm Spirit will be making another appearance in an arcade near you.

Arm Spirit was never released outside of Japan, though perhaps this is the best time to try and snatch up an old machine on E-bay. If you do manage to score one, let me know as I still need to exact my revenge on that infernal Chihuahua. Perhaps it’s my puny arms, but that mutt gets the best of me every time!

(Special thanks to my buddy Ryan-san in Uguisudani, who alerted me and you, the Gadling audience, to this important discovery).

** Arm Spirit photo courtesy of the Associated Press (AP). DDR photo courtesy of Flickr user iotae **