My three friends and I found Monkeytown at about 6 pm. The downtown Brooklyn restaurant had a hipster air about it with aromatic candles set on tables as waitresses delivered exotic dishes. My first instinct was that we were in the wrong place. I inquired with the hostess, almost embarrassed to ask, "Is this where I can find the Gamer's Night Groove?"
The woman nodded and showed me the way to a back room. I felt like we were being let into a private club, down a corridor lit only with red lights as strange music played. We emerged in a large black room with four huge projector screens pulled down over each wall. On the screens was a PS2 game I had never seen before called Rez. Along the perimeter, white couches were filled with a dozen or so people watching the hypnotic graphics of the game as its techno beats filled the room. My company and I plopped down on a couch, ordered a round of drinks and watched the game play for a few minutes before someone turned to me and handed the controller over.
Later, I noticed people had set consoles up throughout the restaurant and were playing other games. Everyone was sociable and freely shared games with others. It was like a gamers' version of Cheers.
The Gamer's Night Groove is a monthly event in New York which brings together the worlds of music and video games in a casual, club-like atmosphere. Though it's a great opportunity for gamers to meet and compete, non-gamers are also encouraged to come and experience the best of what Japan has to offer. Some events have even offered free Red Bull among other incentives to attract the reluctant.
The event's creator, Taeko Baba, has been organizing this and other events like it for over 5 years now. Her earliest projects include promoting anime for the Sci-Fi channel. Her company, New York-Tokyo, was formed soon after with the task of exposing "techno-cool, eye popping entertainment and production from Japan to the general public in the US." To that end they have also created the Monthly Director Series to showcase anime, and the Tokyo Robotics Festival among other events.
The Groove is the youngest of NYT's events. This month's groove being part of their "Game Creator Series," all the games were from Tetsuya Mizuguchi, including Space Channel 5 and Sega Rally. We also got a sneak peek at Ninety Nine Nights, a highly anticipated action game for the Xbox 360. It offers a Dynasty Warriors type feel except with more enemies, more power and no Yellow Turban Rebellion.
Taeko herself was in attendance, mingling with guests, always listening to feedback on how to make the groove better. When I asked for an interview, she was quite candid and told me about her vision for the groove.
"I really wanted to bring E3 to New York," Taeko said, "We can't beat the big shows like that, but we get a more street level involvement." With the constantly evolving state of video games, and the overwhelming congestion of big events, Taeko believes that a monthly event such as this one can best serve east coast gamers. She likes to keep in contact with the people who attend the events and she responds too much of their feedback.
A considerable strength of the GNG is also Taeko's personal friendships with several important game producers, including Tomonobu Itagaki (Dead or Alive), Goichi Suda (Killer 7) and Tetsuya Mizuguchi.
Before we left, my friends and I had our extra fill of food, drinks, conversation and of course, gaming. As an extra treat, cake was shared with all the attendees in celebration of two members of NYT getting engaged. They clearly thought of everyone there as a friend. Late that night, I finally stumbled out of Monkeytown wondering where I left my car…or if I should even drive home at all.
Some people think gamers are reclusive and unsociable, but Taeko and the rest of NYT has proven they can get out there and have a blast, just in our own way. Recently, the GNG has visited Los Angeles and Washington D.C., but Taeko has stated no specific plans to take the show on the road again. To learn more about the GNG and other New York-Tokyo events, please visit http://www.newyork-tokyo.com/“>newyork-tokyo.com