Recently, I got the chance to interview Mathew Bloch, the owner of Space Station in Osaka. Space Station is a video game themed bar, and for a long time was the only foreign run video game bar in Japan. Matt was featured on a PAX East 2014 Panel, which can be viewed below.
Since the interview ran quite long, I’ve decided to split the interview into two parts. The first part will cover how Mr. Bloch came to Japan, as well as his work at Big Huge Games. The second part will be focused on Space Station itself.
PushDustIn: So what’s your name, and how did you get started [with Space Station]?
Matt Bloch: My name is Mathew Bloch, and I’ve been in Japan for ten years. I got started with the JET Programme. Should I explain what that is…?
Matt: Well, the JET Programme is, for those of you who don’t know, one of the most popular ways to get an English teaching job in Japan. Every year, the Japanese government hires about 6,000 foreigners from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., New Zealand, Australia, etc. If you successfully get the job, [the JET Programme] places you in the public school system whether it be elementary, junior high, or high school anywhere in the country. So that’s how I got in. I was in the JET programme for two years.
PushDustIn: How did you like it?
Matt: Loved it! My JET experience was great. One thing everyone says about JET is that experiences on the program vary greatly. After you get that job, you are handed over to some town’s Board of Education. It’s no longer in the hands of the big government — it’s small, local government. Your experience will largely depend on how they treat you. My experience was great — I was in a countryside town of 5,500 people. But, besides the remote location (and it wasn’t THAT remote as it was close enough to this city [Osaka] and Kyoto) it was grand. They [the town] treated me so well.
I need to say: that was part of my farewell speech. Like you guys are great, you guys gave me a lot. That was sincere. The kids liked me well enough. While I’m sure I’m not a good teacher, I filled the position and palled around with the students.
PushDustIn: Did you use JET as a way to get to Japan?
Matt: Right, that’s it. Teaching English is how a lot of us start our lives here, typically.
PushDustIn: I mean, that’s what I’m doing. Switching gears: what led you to be interested in Japan in the first place?
Matt: Right, well being a huge fan of video games, Japan was always on my radar to some degree. I remember looking at the pictures in game magazines of the long lines of people waiting for the latest Dragon Quest, for example, wondering what it was like over there. But I never had it in my mind that I would ever visit Japan despite my interest in it.
Matt: But then I was in a relationship with a Japanese woman who was studying at my college in Maryland. After she graduated she returned to Tokyo. I graduated the next semester and followed her there. To be with her was was my main reason for visiting Japan. I spent 90 days in Japan on a tourist visa and it was during that trip that I became interested in the possibility of living here. Six years later is when I got the JET position.
PushDustIn: Oh, so there was a significant amount of time between the two.
Matt: Yeah there was. And it was during that time that I worked at Big Huge Games as I was telling you [before the interview] in that gap of time between graduating from college and moving to Japan. But also during that gap I visited Japan quite a few times. And I tried to get the JET job in 2004 initially. I didn’t succeed in 2004. I applied again in 2005, still with no success. In 2006 they finally accepted me into the program.
PushDustIn: How was working at Big Huge Games?
Matt: That was great!
PushDustIn: And you were a programmer?
Matt: I started as an intern, and then ended up in production. And that was interesting. Good experience, good office space, good company. And I’m happy that they are back. If anyone knows anything about Big Huge Games, well they made Rise of Nations in 2003, and they eventually went down with the Curt Schilling ship when it sank. What’s his studio? I think it was 38 Studios.
Editor’s Note: It was 38 Studios.
On the next page, we discuss Rise of Nations (click below “Related Posts”)!