Skip to comments.A farewell to arcades
Posted on 02/09/2007 8:56:25 AM PST by qam1
It's difficult to write a eulogy for the arcade, that once ubiquitous quarter-eating staple of malls, bowling alleys and college campuses everywhere.
Like Saturday morning cartoons and the NHL, it still exists, but has been slowly fading from the American consciousness since its 1980s heyday.
Still, I felt compelled to write a lament of sorts after learning recently that the plug is literally being pulled at Gunther's Games, a small mom-and-pop downtown arcade in Columbia, Mo., where I spent many of my formative years (and quarters).
Not that the closing of Gunther's is a surprise. In recent years, the dusty confines felt more like an old Presbyterian church with pinball machines than a living and breathing hangout.
But it's hard not to wax poetic about one of the last of the old neighborhood arcades - the kind of place Norman Rockwell would have painted had he been a Gen-X-er who felt romantic notions about "Double Dragon."
For many teens in the late '70s and '80s, arcades were actually prime destinations. It wasn't just that my generation was dying to guide a yellow anthropomorphic hockey puck through a maze or to help a mustachioed plumber rescue his girlfriend from an ape, but because arcades were one of the few shared spaces we could hang out that felt decidedly adult-unfriendly.
The arcades I grew up in were dark, sweaty, dungeon-like rooms filled with loud, obnoxious lights and sounds, with even louder and more obnoxious people. I remember the plethora of mohawked misfits, metalheads in Megadeth shirts and ripped jeans, "D&D"-obsessed geeky types and various other mallrats. Even the typical arcade employee embodied the aesthetic - the longhaired burnout or the twenty-something underachiever celebrated in virtually every Kevin Smith movie.
When arcades appeared in '80s movies, it was usually to show the natural habitat of some sort of slacker or punky teen, such as Sean Penn's iconic Spicoli in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." There was even an absurd 1983 teen B-flick called "Joysticks" about wacky teens trying to keep their video arcade from being shut down by a curmudgeonly businessman.
In real life, drug deals and rowdy behavior were usually the exception rather than the norm, but the reputation of shady things occurring in arcades led many middle-class parents, including my own, to frown upon their kids frequenting these places. It's also worth noting that the skating rink and the bowling alley garnered similar reputations - and both tended to have arcade games.
Ironically, though arcades were viewed by the older generation as seedy dens of teen corruption - the games themselves were often simplistic and childish affairs, especially compared with today's complex and over- stimulating consoles games.
Back then, video games didn't revolve around fighting virtual lifelike recreations of World War II battles or murdering gang members; rather, we were innocently helping a pixelated frog across a street or saving a princess from a dragon.
And despite all the unblinking eyes staring at video screens, arcades also often bred a sense of community - we'd chat with strangers about how to get past the Nth wave of aliens in "Galaga," look on in awe for the guy who got past Act V in "Ms. Pac-Man" without losing a life, or bicker over who got the turkey leg in "Gauntlet."
Over time, you grew to know the regular characters at the arcade - sort of like a teen version of "Cheers."
But by the late '80s and early '90s, fewer people were dropping dollars into arcades. The first big blow of competition arrived with the home systems - first the Atari 2600 and then the Nintendo Entertainment System - when technology began to allow kids to play arcade games in the safe space of home (as Mom and Dad sighed in relief).
For those of us who miss the old days, home consoles offer "arcade favorites" compilations and collections, but they never feel satisfying, because the sum of the unique arcade experience was more than simply standing up in a room while playing "Elevator Action" or "Burgertime."
It was about a community of like-minded misfits. It was about sticking it to the Man, especially if that man was the final boss in a hard-fought game.
Finished dinner at a local Mexican restaurant not too long ago, and upon exiting passed by the open door of a neighboring computer-gaming business.
It looked like dozens of (if not more) young guys were in there playing "Halo" or some other war game against each other on networked PCs. Business appeared to be good!
Mindboggle, River Ridge Mall, Lynchburg, Virginia. Spent MANY an afternoon there getting my Joust on and sucking at Pole Position. Ah, memories.
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Good stuff. I still indulge myself the occassional game of Galaga...
Sad, but there will still be pockets of places for those who remember. I mourned my beloved pinball places until I found dens of iniquity like this one http://ujuju.com . There's also a great pinball museum in Las Vegas if you want to drop quarters and not hundreds of dollars ;-)
Now that just ain't right. ;)
There are only 3 acts in Ms. Pac Man.
It always amazes me how much I love Xevious (still do, it's available in one of the Jakks TV plug ins, as well as Gametap) while being completely horrid at the game. Galaga is still my all time favorite coin-op, followed by Elevator Action and Pengo.
You made me cry!
That game was hilarious (if I'm remember the game correctly). Wasn't the main character Dirk something?
Nevermind, wrong game. It was Dragon's Lair.
Ahhh, yes....Centipede and Frogger, two of my favs. I was never good at either, but I was more that willing to pump my hard earned allowance into those machines!
My daughter and her boyfriend play WoW at one of those places. It is a coffee place/gaming place. It has a good reputation, and I would rather have her there than God knows where. There hasn't been an issue yet. *knock wood*
Tempest was one of my faves too. They have it on a compilation, but it isn't the same without the spinny thing.
I was best at Galaga, though.
Oh, and also this one. Loved it!
Ahhh yes. Wasted many an hour at my college's arcade. Wasn't much on the regular machines, but I had a real knack for pinball machines. As a Gen Xer (born 24 Nov 1976) it makes me smile to see my 7 yr old son enjoying games like Pole Position and Galaga, even if it is on a Jakks plugin or on the Game Boy Advance.
It's a sign of just how good game makers back then were that they could make games so freaking hard yet so completely addictive. Zaxxon, pretty much anything by Williams, Gravitar, great games that very few people could play for more than 5 minutes on a quarter.
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