Thursday, October 20, 2005

Stack 'O Quarters

I'm going to tell you about a place that doesn't seem to exist in this time anymore.
When I was a kid, this place was full of sights, sounds, lights and people of all different shapes and sizes.
It was the Video Arcade.
Nowadays you don't see many of them around, at least not in the parts of the world I have travelled in. Oh sure, you see the odd couple of games stuck in the corner of the mall, put there to hopefully soak up some change from a kid while Mommy's trying on slacks at the Gap. But the old-school, dimly lit, smokey haven of childhood glory it ain't.
I used to love going to the arcade. The music was always blaring from the jukebox, (It was a CD jukebox, I'm not that old.) and there was usually some new game that everyone was going on about.
I remember the first time I ever saw Super Mario Brothers. I was a big Excitebike fan and it was always on the far side of one of those sit-down style arcade games with a different game on each side. I can't remember what game was there the week before, but today it seemed like half of the arcade was crowded around the other side. I quickly took a look over some body's shoulder and all I could see was this massive stack of quarters lined on top of the machine. As I got a chance to look at the game itself, all I could see was this guy pounding on coin boxes and jumping on mushroom-headed guys. I was amazed. I don't know if it was the story or the setting or whatever, but that game just drew people together. I was there when the first guy in my town found a Warp Zone, and holy shit, it was big news. half the arcade stopped what they were doing just to check it out.

And an arcade was like a community. It had it's high traffic areas, it's low income areas, the games nobody could get onto, and the derelict games nobody wanted to play. There were the movers and shakers, (the Change Guy was king) the bad-asses, and pretty much the rest of us, but when it came to games, we were all equal. You'd see a nerdy guy beating a jock at Karate Champ, two girls squabbling over who was better at Bubble Bobble, and me with my hands glued to that funky control stick on Star Wars. ( Every time I heard "I've lost Artoo!" my gut would constrict and my testicles would run for cover.) There were the people who would only play pinball or Foosball, and those who thought Gridiron Fight was the best because it used a trackball. But everybody acknowledged greatness when they saw it, and to have your name as the high score on any game, be it Joust to Defender to Dragon's Lair was quite the honor. Of course there were the seedy sides to every community, just like there is in today's society. You'd have the kids who had no money try and bum quarters off you, the cheat who would unplug a game just so he could have his name as the high score, and the guys who brought in ringers to play Foosball, just because "loser pays". But those points were few and far between.

What caused the death of the classic arcade? Was it home systems? Was it the rising price to play the games? (I thought paying 50 cents for Dragon's Lair was such a fucking rip, no matter how cool the game looked.) Was the profit margin that tight that the owners of the arcades just didn't find it feasible any more? Or was it a great government conspiracy to force people away from like-mined groups of other free thinking radicals, and into their homes where it is easier to force feed them drivel, cutting them off from the herd, so to speak?

Probably the home systems, just for the simple fact of not having to wait for the other guy to finish his turn. How selfish is that? The death of a community because we don't like to share.
I'll miss the arcade of old. I don't think I can recapture the feeling now. But there was a time when, for a moment, that pocket full of quarters was my key to new and exciting worlds, anything was possible, and having twitchy fingers was a blessing in disguise.


  1. You would post this the day after I stumbled on a box of what J called 'my treasures', in which was of course my old Shufflepuck. This because Terri at FamilyFun told me to buy one so's I'd stop wrecking hers by launching it into orbit at the other changedroids.

    Thanks for the memory, dood. Awesome post. Karate champ was the best: "Fo' Poin'!"

  2. Ahhhh, yes the arcade. I remeber the arcade it was the place you went when you were done buying your comics for the week. Cause yes, you had to have priorities. It was an amazing thing. I remember Mario Bros. But I didn't get to play it much..becasue of those stacks of quarters, so many childhood mamories tied to that place.The Tron game, Star Wars, Street Fighter, Spy hunter, Afterburner, pole postion..those were the times.The Family fun center on St. Anns...the stargate in the mall dens of iniquities all , but so much fun. Home systems are fun but not the same....The only one I every see is in Vancouver and you can't be in there after 7pm if your under 19...changing the closest thing we have are online gaming communities....