Like many people, I often reminisce of the enjoyable moments of my past. Perhaps the most frequent thought is of my younger days of the 1980s when video game consoles were really starting to take a surge through households while arcades were still making millions a year. We probably all had an arcade nearby growing up, usually in a shopping mall. It was when arcades still only cost a quarter a game. While there are arcades still around the country, too many of the machines require upwards of a dollar in order to play a game that may only last a minute if you aren’t the greatest player in the world.
Technology in gaming consoles and computers were the reason for making arcades obsolete. There was no reason to drive to an arcade when the arcade was in the living room and didn’t require numerous quarters to play (although the cost of one game these days is considerably higher than what I would pay for one arcade in quarters). Although I have consoles that are either modified to hold thousands of older games, I will still walk into an arcade that holds 70s, 80s and 90s standup cabinets. The question many ask me is why? This is especially with younger generations who knew nothing of arcades or was exclusively exposed to high-rendered, fully immersive games.
I could buy a giant joystick platform that is every bit as large as one from the arcades, plug it into a gaming system at home, and it should feel the same, right? Well not necessarily. There’s a bit more to it than just a joystick.
First, it’s the environment. The atmosphere. The cornucopia of music and sound effects orchestrating from the room well before you stepped foot inside the arcade. And yet, unlike the effect of playing numerous songs at the same time, there is a level of harmony that resonates throughout because many of the arcades used the same style of MIDI sound system. The room was always darker. Usually the rooms were narrow to save money on real estate with only a single row of fluorescent lights that barely illuminated the room. It also complimented the hypnotic glow that came from the brightly lit screens. Despite what experts may say about having too much contrast with illuminating screens and the illumination of the room, there is a reason why the lights go nearly completely off in the movie theaters. The glow from the screens attract our eyes just like, yep, the old cliché of the moth to a flame. Our eyes are attracted first to movement above everything else. Next, bright lights attract us. And if you’re curious, the colors white and yellow attract us after that if you were to place them in order. So turning the lights low is just smart business management to attract people walking by in the mall.
Once you are inside, you’re hooked. An overwhelming desire to get whiplash as you look left then right then left again, wanting to play that one….oooh this one first….no this one looks cool. In 15 minutes, you could theoretically have the entire place played through once if you’re fast, yet the draw to select the absolute favorite one is always challenging. Finally, however, the decision is made like maggots in a butcher shop. Even when you put the quarter in, there was the satisfied feeling of anticipating the game, the feel of the ridges from the quarter as it passes into the glowing red coin slot, and the typical sound the game makes letting you know the coin was accepted and not sitting in the coin return.
The buttons had little resistance to them – just enough spring to bring the button back to its stationary position. This allowed you to absolutely beat the ever living hell out of them with next to zero chance of breaking the system. That didn’t keep the arcade keeper from yelling at you to not smack the cabinets so hard, but you went right back doing it the second he walked on. The noise was so intense when you are in an arcade that the sound was easily drowned out.
Standing up to play a game can only be comparable for younger generations by playing the consoles at Wal-Mart or Gamestop. Our backs and feet grow tired; we long to just sit down for a few and relax. Yet we stand for 5 more minutes because while we play the game, we are lost within its world and locked in to the comradery of the sights and sounds. There are cabinets right up against yours so closely that you can’t see the beautiful artwork displayed on the side panels.
I feel I played better, sharper, than I do with a console. If I run out of lives on Super Marior 3 (which you should never), you just hit Start and away you go again with more lives or continues. With an arcade, you are in it for the money. That game is played on hard earned cash, and the longer you manage to play it, the more you stretch that quarter out.
Arcades are still out there, both the over-the-top kind with the latest arcades and a slew of those rip-off ticket games, and then there are the classic arcades. I’m seeing a few pop up throughout the country that are no longer based on the coin but on the hourly rental. Coins are infrequently in our pockets compared to 20-30 years ago as more people use credit and debit cards. Numerous arcades that offer the classic cabinets are paid for up front in dollar form then granted full and completely free access to any of the games in the place for a set period of time. The owner is banking on the average user to have very little attention span and grow bored of the games by the time he reaches what would have been the amount he paid for in quarters. And from what I have experienced, that frequently is the case. Paying $10 is 40 quarters, which is 40 different times to play. Many kids, especially today, wouldn’t play that many times before getting distracted and wanting to leave. It’s the older players, usually over 30 years old, who give the owner a run for his money.
I also miss becoming Gamer Friends temporarily with a complete stranger there. I recall back in 1989 I was playing on one of the greatest multi-player arcades ever built: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was a 4 player game offering access to any of the turtles. My dad treated me to $10 worth of quarters, and I decided to stick with that one game the entire time I was there. I will never forget throughout that incredible run in which I beat the game of the number of different kids who would join for a minute or two and then leave to be replaced by one or two others. At one time, all four joysticks were being used. None of us knew each other. We just knew what to do. I remember Dad saying,”Okay, this is the last quarter. Make it count.” I had been fighting Shredder at the time and managed to take him out with barely any health left. But that moment stays with me longer than any game I have played on any console. Although I was around arcades only a handful of times growing up and in front of a console literally thousands of times over the last couple of decades, I still remember the joys I had at the arcade.
Being at the arcade also kept Mom from saying I should get out of the house and go play.
Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with. Thanks for stopping by.