The Lost Days of Arcade-ia

I think we all have moments in our lives when we get smacked in the face with the fact that we are getting older.

I had one some months ago when I was talking to a coworker who was born during the 80’s. We were discussing games, and I bought up Geometry Wars in all of its seizure-inducing glory, and described the control scheme as being similar to Robotron 2084. He then gets a puzzled look on his face and asks: “What console was that game on?”

I then realized that he was born after the glory days of the arcade, when they weren’t old temples kept alive by Dance Dance Revolution. At that moment, I could almost hear my hair getting grayer and feel arthritis creeping into these hands that have been playing videogames for longer than this kid has been alive!

I then explained that once upon a time there was a place called the “arcade” where one had to go to play real videogames and not the watered-down versions you got on the home systems of the time. We dropped our quarters because the games were fun, they were something new, and they let us pretend to really be racing a car or flying a spaceship if only for a few minutes or maybe longer if you got really good. The arcade was a loud place filled with lots of machines, lots of people, and lots of noise coming from both.

When I read reviews where some kid is gushing over the “BRAND NEW” thing they’ve just discovered, I laugh, because its probably been done before, and we probably did it first. Before there was Gran Turismo, there was Pole Position. Before there was World of Warcraft, there was Gauntlet. Take Missile Command, set it to music, and you get Every Extend Extra. The first commercial 3D game to use shaded polygons was made in 1983. It’s called “I, Robot” and it was made by the original Atari.

We also played to be the best. Even if you were only the best at the grocery store or corner gas station, it still felt good to see your initials at the top of the board. Three letters were all you got, and so you had to make the best of it. If you accidently hit Fire and entered an “A” by accident, you followed up with “SS” instead, snickered for a moment, and then moved on to the next machine. Of course, if your name just happened to start with an A, it was no big deal.

Before there was online with its miscreants and trappings, there was playing head to head with your opponent standing next to you or across a cocktail machine. There was also co-op, even though we didn’t call it that. If you wanted next, you put a quarter on the panel and waited your turn, and if you finished and saw a quarter on the machine, you let the next guy have his turn.

Of course, those days are gone now, but the games are still around in one form or another. I still play them, and they’re still fun to me. I laugh at the repeated, often failed attempts to reimagine them for the New Generation. Much like classic movies, the games are products of their time, and the zeitgeist of that era just can’t be reproduced. These kids are also too accustomed to the overly dramatic stories and dinner-theater drama found in too many of todays’ games. You don’t ask why Pac-Man has to eat all those dots or why the ghosts want to eat him, that’s just the way it is.

No matter what aliases, nicknames or avatars I use in these hyper-connected days, I don’t think they will have more meaning than the three letters sitting on top of the list of the Time Pilot machine in the corner store down the road from my house:



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