There came a time in every gamer’s life when they would have to throw down in the arcade and prove their skills to everyone, but the landscape of arcades have changed dramatically over the years. Once a bustling utopia of pure gaming bliss, they have since been downsized to something similar to the size of Elaine’s fake apartment in Seinfeld — ya know, the janitor’s closest that she uses to order Chinese take-out.
The last “arcade” I went to had, no lie, FOUR arcade machines available for the public to enjoy:
- Terminator Salvation
- Golden Tee 2008 Unplugged
- The Fast and the Furious
- Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (At least they had this)
This “arcade” is a ghost of its former self. The original was shut down a few years ago, and when it reopened, it was nothing more than an alcove in the far corner of the mall. This used to be the mall that I would go to during the weekend, walk into the arcade, and smack down a quarter on the Street Fighter 2 cabinet to get my chance to take down the winner of the previous match. There was a competitive spirit in those days amongst the gaming population that was so over-the-top that it was absolutely wonderful. The essential melting pot of youth culture was once found in arcades across the country — nowadays what mall management refers to as an “arcade” is nothing more than a simple hole in the wall filled with only a few cabinets and hardly a person in sight.
There was nothing more mystifying than the atmosphere that surrounded arcades. You had the sometimes overwhelming stench of a large amount of adolescent males (you could throw older gents into that mix as well), the always greased-up joysticks, the occasional gaggle of people surrounding a cabinet as two peers were locked in a battle to the death with one another, and there was always that one person who was trying to take the high score in one of the classic cabinets in the joint.
About that last part — I have to admit that if I get the high score in a game, I will always put “ASS” as my initials because, let’s face it, I was the ass in the arcade playing the same cabinet for hours on end and not letting anyone else touch the thing.
In the last few years of my life, it’s been nice to have had the opportunity to travel around the country and see that there are some local arcades that are doing well in today’s world, and that by itself is no small feat. These sometimes hidden gems in cities and rural areas are led by individuals that are refusing to let the spirit of the arcade scene die, and I appreciate everything that they do to support the retro gaming community. The owners of these arcades are passionate beyond words for gaming, and by them holding on to an almost extinct phenomenon, they are allowing a new generation of gamers to become familiar with cabinets that *most* of us grew up with in the 1980′s and 1990′s.
The arcade scene is an important part of our gaming history, so please, if you have a privately owned arcade in your area, make sure to pay it a visit and support these guys — I would love to be able to visit a local arcade like I was able to back in my youth, but now all I have is that sad excuse of an “arcade” in the mall near where I live. It is only by our support that they can maintain them (both financially and emotionally) to help people relive their childhood memories, and maybe…just maybe try to finally get to that “kill screen” that they’ve waited all their life to see.