*zap* *pew pew* *blleeeerp*
One could hear the sounds of the arcade almost as soon as one stepped in the door of the mall. Of course, our mall was small so that was no mean feat, but it still lent a certain air to the rare trips we could make. If I was lucky, I had one or two dollars in my pocket that I could turn into the magical tokens that allowed me to board the electronic railways to leave my worries behind and hang out with my pixelated friends for a bit.
The arcades of the 80s, at least the one I was familiar with, was a bustling zone full of pre-teen kids to early twenties young people, mostly boys, staring wide-eyed at screens housed in large standup cabinets that displayed garish art on the sides and the logo at the top of the cabinet. Their friends either cheered them on or talked trash, depending on whether they were competing against them or not. The player’s hands danced over the buttons and shifted the joystick rapidly, body tensed with concentration, only releasing in agony once the inevitable passing of the player’s character, ship or other critter occurred.
Such was my Nirvana.
I still recall the fast-paced action of Sinistar as I frantically mined asteroids for the bits of ammunition I would need once the dreaded “Beware! I live!” blasted out of the screen. I remember the tiny thrill of fear running up my spine as the evil Sinistar started relentlessly chasing my ship, and thus me, like an angel of death. The just as frantic pace of Robotron as I fought both the ever increasing amount of enemies on the screen and my brain’s refusal to allow me to figure out two joysticks at once. My fellow humans were doomed. My almost equal inability to work the knob for Tempest as I swung around the outer rim trying to zap the wiggly, spider-type things, the kite-type things and the bolts of electricity that all wanted to end my spending spree quickly. It all seemed to go by so quickly and before I knew it I was once again reduced to penury and relegated to permanent onlooker until my mother game in to drag me away.
Such was my Hell.
I am sure that nostalgia is fogging up the glass somewhat, but those times are hard to recreate now. It’s been a long time since I bothered going into an arcade. The games, while miles more advanced in terms of graphics and cabinets and controls, just don’t seem to have the same magic. I have also found that I still, even being older and with more income, cannot afford to play these games for long. No longer will one token allow you on the transport; it requires a hand full. Age perhaps has served to dull the new and shine the old, but they just aren’t the same. As a parent, I am glad that my kids don’t feel the draw to the arcade. I would hate for them to be in the shoes I was in back then. But at the same time, I feel a bit bad for them not getting to experience the socializing and the camaraderie I shared with people close to me back then. I suppose they get that from their online games, but for me it’s just not as magical.
I suppose it doesn’t matter that the railway to escape takes more tokens than it used to now. The destination isn’t as grand anymore anyway.