I was on Gizmodo several months ago when I came across an article on a man who has built his own video game arcade museum. It got me to thinking about another of the bygone things from my youth, the video game arcade. They were a product of the 80’s, really reaching their zenith around 1985 or so. Today they are all but extinct with the modern day arcade being half kiddie Las Vegas where high scores are rewarded with tickets (which in turn can be redeemed for all but useless trinkets), and half broken down semi-amusement rides resembling cars, skateboards, and motorcycles.
My favourite arcade memories in London were at Wizard’s Castle, Wizards II, and Ace Arcade, all downtown within a three block radius.
Both Wizards Castle and Wizards II were deep dark hives, with black light, and dark spaces. The games were loud and bright, and you could lose yourself in there for hours.
Ace Arcade on the other hand was a former movie theatre which had been converted into a huge open space. Pool tables took up the inner areas, while arcade machines lined the outer walls. In the very center was a concession stand where you could get hot dogs, popcorn, and other light snacks.
I personally put quarter after quarter, and hour after hour, into the Terminator 2 pinball game, the T2 shooter, Dragon’s Lair, Tron’s Deadly Disks, After Burner, S.T.U.N. Runner, Bobble Bobble, Gals Panic, Street Fighter, Dark Stalkers, Marvel Vs Capcom, NBA Jam, Hit The Ice , Pac Man, Ms. Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Time Splitters, Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men, Gauntlet, and Stunt Track Racer to name a few.
Arcade games were about instant gratification. With enough quarters you could play right through a game. There were no saves, lives were finite, and you tried to get as far as you could on one play as possible.
I’ve moved on from arcades, the machines in my home are more powerful, and have better fidelity than even the best systems back in the day, and while I can still play until the wee hours of the morning, there’s something lacking from the console experience that we had in arcades.
There was a different type of community than what we have now, while video games were mostly a solo pursuit, the arcade was a meeting place, it’s where we’d get together to hang out, and where we’d gather before or after a movie. It was a staging area, and a place to lose yourself for a few minutes while the next event was about to happen.
Arcades were rarely a destination, they were the interm step, and that’s what’s changed with gaming. With the advent of good console gaming, games became an actual form of art with complex stories, gripping narratives, and moving performances from our pixelated heroes.
We have a different community now, we don’t spend quarter after quarter in a dingy smoky enviornment filled with sketchy souls when we want to get our game on. We can game in the comfort of our own homes on our own couch as long as we want to without the fear of the crusty old purveyor of quarters sweeping us out so he could lock up.
And sometimes I wonder if this is progress.