Editorial: The Arcade Ramble

Watch the play video. Seriously. Screenshots do nothing for a game like this, you have to see it in action.
Killer Queen boasts space for ten players, and beer holders.

My writing desk in the only slightly damp LusipurrCorp basement is really more of a monolith of Zestria™ pallets, so there is not much to tidy up before I leave it for awhile. That is not stopping me from basking in the oddly pleasing cinnamon musk as I pen this exit article before stepping away to make something of myself in the Human Indenturement, Resources and Experiments Division. I very nearly was going to make my final topic that of various ways to save money on one’s gaming habit, but just before I severed the illegal blue cord that lent me access to the world outside our corporate offices, a little article from the A.V. Club found itself nestled in the tabs of my browser. It appeared at first as a crack in a dam that held back a deluge yesteryear’s memories, pressure mounting and forcing catastrophic failure, drowning in me heaps of imaginary quarters. Like the living dinosaurs of cryptozoology circles, the public game arcade still beeps out an existence in various forms, provided one knows where to look.

It is only fair to lead with Killer Queen and its transition from field game to arcade cabinet. I am unable to think of a better example of a title that shows the true scope of gaming, which has not always involved a back-lit screen. There are professional and amateur sports, of course, but what hit home with me about Killer Queen was that it started life as something for friends to do in a nearby park. I feel that this aspect of gaming is too often lost in the sands of time, many forgetting that sometimes games are made up on the spot and they can be terrific fun. There were certain after-class hours of my high school days spent playing one we had invented on a whim. We called it Arena, and the play was even less creative than the name. The fun, however, was apparent to any teacher who had the unfortunate experience of walking into a dark classroom only to find all the furniture forming two forts, divided by a line of dim Christmas lights as we wrestled each other to the ground in search of the other team’s flag. Arena’s history can claim one brief knockout, some slightly damaged desks, and an unbreakable wall between girls and our virginity, but we kept playing.

Joshua DeBonis and Nikita Mikros not only kept playing, but brought Killer Queen to an audience that could appreciate such things, and ran with that success. The A.V. article states some obvious facts about the market for such a cabinet, massive as it is and how it would be a difficult fit in today’s gaming world, yet reassures readers that the arcade culture is not completely dead. Even in my area, with its cornucopia of cookie-cutter sports bars, arcade gaming is given a nod, at the very least. A few locations by me have converted dusty old party rooms into dusty old arcade rooms. Some of them even feature free play nights with a drink special, though I can count on one hand the number that do. As a fan and somewhat venomous pinball player, it was nice to see the slight increase happen roughly a decade ago, and check out the old arcade cabinets that followed.

Show of hands; who named their cat/dog Bebop or Rocksteady as a kid?
April never really had a good day once she met the Turtles.

It is difficult to not walk in to my local generic Irish pub and not notice that the arcade cabinets were carefully chosen, evoking a long lost desire to buddy up with a complete stranger and try to finish Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles before the roll of quarters runs dry. There is that social aspect of games again, so blatantly part of gaming history that it befuddles me to see increasingly enticing offerings to shut the gamer who does not know any better up in a box, keeping them glued to a screen in a room nobody else is in. Even I buy into this sometimes, favoring single-player RPGs and closed doors so as to not be disturbed while playing them. Perhaps gaming can be both social and anti-social, but I will leave that one up to the psychologists, or whoever’s job involves figuring out such things.

The arcade is not a subject I can bring up without remembering my days at Major Magic’s All Star Pizza Review. Looking back, the place was nothing short of a waking nightmare. Sticky tables, rickety seating, robot bears with banjos, blinking lights and blooping noises, and parachute men. So many parachute men. There is even a kindly soul who strives to keep the acid trip alive with echos from our local collective past. I never did consider it a proper arcade in the sense that it was somewhere one road their bike to without parents trailing behind, but in the end, it was my introduction to the world beyond whatever console I had hooked up to my television. I made so many temporary friends whose names I never learned, but we certainly knew what needed to be done when it came time to rescue Maggie Simpson. What a weird and awesome thing to experience as a child.

TMNT was always my favorite of the two, but I would gladly play this again. In fact, the bar near my house has it. Any takers?
Lone wolfin’ it with Marge, as one should while waiting for friends.

It sometimes worries me that our children will likely not have such an experience. Online gaming will never have the same effect, no matter how much gear they strap to their faces in the privacy of their own homes. The veil of anonymity and flash-in-the-pan nature of playing online with randoms falls flat, to me. When I was playing arcade games shoulder to shoulder with kids I just met, there was a delightful mix of instant camaraderie and competition. Getting mad at someone for being terrible at the game meant one had to confront them directly, with the possibility of immediate consequence. Conversely, when everyone was doing well, the thrill in the air was palpable, and we would feed off the energy. Perhaps gets an appetizer of that sensation online, but the full entree will never be served because the diners are simply too far away from each other.

With that, I withdraw…oddly contrary to my flower-child babbling about togetherness. I will still be around in the comments section, of course, but otherwise engaged in bringing new life to something I care about, which just so happens to be the site you are on at this very moment. I was never terrific at journalizing about much of anything, but so very many of you are, and I would like to find and meet you. In the meantime, I really do want to hear your stories of your favorite arcade games as a kid. This is where it started for so many of us, and there is a truckload of arcade games I would love to talk about with you.

6 comments

  1. What the hell was that arcade game that had 3D holograms, was on a sort of pedestal instead of a cabinet, and cost several dollars per game? I never played it, nor ever saw someone do, and now I just have a vague memory of seeing it at a few places and not knowing what it was…

  2. @Matt Dance: I will likely wrack my brain on this all weekend, because what you’re describing sounds vaguely familiar, unless I’m confusing Holochess with a real thing. The only hologram game I can think of is Time Traveler, which I have never seen in person or played.

  3. Unfortunately I think society’s skewed views on children mingling with strangers, even if it is other children, prevents that type of shoulder-to-shoulder gaming you so aptly described from becoming popular in the near future. Luckily, places like Dave & Busters and Round 1 still cultivate that type of scene; making instant friends in the throes of battle, teaming up with some guy you just met to beat that damn Kung Fu Panda punching game.

    And you ruined my day by bringing up TMNT, Java. When I was around 6 or 7, I went with my parents and older brother on a church retreat to the mountains relatively close to our home. We went to an arcade for part of one of the days we were there and I made it to Shredder on a single quarter (I was in the freaking ZONE). Halfway through the final epic battle, my dad grabbed me and pulled me away from the machine, forcing me to watch as my stationary turtle took a pummeling and died along with my hopes of becoming an arcade legend. I still haven’t fully forgiven him for that one.

  4. That may be one of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve ever heard…

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