The sight of a humble mamachari amidst the gaming glitz of the Tokyo Game Show 2018 highlights a charming core to an event that may have eyes on the future but is offering gamers and creators of all stripes the means to come along for the ride.

“Welcome to the next stage” reads the slogan from TGS 2018 organizers, the Computer Entertainment Supplier's Association (CESA), as they dazzle visitors with upcoming marquee releases, VR/AR gaming, and eSports competition.

But with this year’s show occupying all halls of the huge Makuhari Messe venue in Chiba, east of Tokyo, organizers have plenty of space to play with.  In a display of counter-programming savvy, they’ve used it well, giving the chance for grassroots innovation to shine.

At the Game School Area, which displays student projects from some of Japan’s higher education institutes, 3rd year students from the Osaka College of Design & IT were offering visitors the chance to play their VR game “Mamachariot.”

During Mamachariot, gamers attempt to save the world from invading monsters in a shoot-em-up for which the traditional game controller is replaced by Japan’s favorite form of local transport, the mamachari -- those lumpen two-wheelers often employed by parents as a way to transport both kids and shopping around town.

“We wanted to make a game that combined VR with an object of everyday use.” said one member of the three-student team that put the game together with the support of Tokyo-based tech company Alpha Code.

The game play for Mamachariot involves sitting astride a regular mamachari (the student’s bought it from a shop -- no sign of any toddlers or shopping but the front basket is in place, albeit redundant as far as the game play is concerned) as a VR mask is strapped on.  Gamers then pound away at the pedals to generate lazer bolts which are aimed in the direction of oncoming monsters by a turn of the bicycle’s handles.

“You should aim to get a score of 10,000 (points).  That would be a really good result.” went the challenge laid down by the students.

This gamer came in at an exhausting 8,000.  Gaming has never been this hard on the body,  even in the space of a solitary minute. Perhaps this is a more legitimate form of eSports than the nimble-fingered action taking place over at the TGS “e-Sports X Arena.”

Maybe others faired better at the game which has been drawing attention from show visitors, among them local celebrities.  

On the opening Thursday of Tokyo Game Show, the students were visited by Jun Utahiroba, the drummer from air-rock band Golden Bomber.  The game is perhaps a good fit for Utahiroba, who has made a career out of appearing to play the drums without actually doing so.

Mamachariot is the fruit of a business project that sees students at the college develop their ideas from a concept phase through to potential commercialization.

“It took us about a month to actually make the game.  We also thought about combining the technology with activities like trampoline and bouldering, but in the end decided to go with the mamachari as we thought it would make for an easier fit with the technology.”

The presence at TGS of something so humble as the brutally practical mamachari offers a charming, if stark, contrast to some of the gaming tech on display at the show’s VR/AR Corner.  

Along with eSports, the VR/AR Corner might be said to display another aspect of gaming’s “next stage” in the form of the “Photon Bike” or the “Photon Car” from Tokyo-based JPPVR, which deliver the VR/AR experience through bits of gaming kit that look like they’ve been lifted from the set of the movie Tron.  

While most eyes at this year’s Tokyo Game Show are more likely to be drawn to similar high-end tech, eSports competition, and the booming extravagance of the booths from industry heavy hitters, Mamachariot is just one example of the many, although quieter, gaming charms that can be found throughout the event space.

This year there are over 40 booths at the show’s Game School Area.  These combined with booths at the New Stars Area and Indie Game Area represent the potential for gamers to unearth plenty of surprises.

Tokyo Game Show is being held on its largest ever scale in 2018 with opening day figures revealing 2,338 booths from 668 companies and organizations showcasing over 1,500 game titles.

The game show kicked off with business days on Thursday and Friday.  It is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday.

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