Growing up, there was a place kids could go to waste money on mind-numbing entertainment. The arcade was a great place for lazy little fat kids like myself to unload our allowance for the week on video games at a place that was not our home.
Those were the days. We had Nintendo, the 8-Bit gaming system that was limited to Mario punching bricks and eating mushrooms to fight turtles, dragons and sea creatures. To play more complex games, we had to go to an arcade, be it a creepy Chuck-E-Cheese or one in a mall somewhere, which was even more creepy, dingy and usually run by a sweaty old man with too much hair on his knuckles. That man’s creepiness rivaled the animatronic woodland creature band at Chuck-E-Cheese.
There were co-op games like “X-Men” and “The Simpsons” that allowed us kids to learn to work together as a team to achieve a common goal. Or to stomp on our friends’ feet to divert their attention so we could get a higher score than they.
Then there were the fighting games like “Street Fighter” and “Mortal Kombat.” The latter stole the thunder of the former because, well, the graphic violence was taboo and controversial at the time. The early ’90s were not that different from today, with people blaming violent videogames for a lot of ills in our society. And there may be some truth to that, but from my experience, I know of no one personally who went insane from games. As an aside, if someone is mentally ill, games such as these probably do not help.
“Mortal Kombat” sticks out because I spent way too much money on the franchise. Heck, I even bought the latest version for my X-Box 360 last year. But in the arcade days, this game was king for three installments.
It was a rock star for arcade games. Lines of 10 to 20 people waiting for their chance to play a round were not uncommon. You had to be really good to play more than one round. I mean, the kids who were really good were videogame ninjas, pulling out moves that to this day baffle the mind.
Was I one of the greats of this game? No, I was terrible in comparison. Sure, I had moments of glory of bashing buttons in such a randomly clever way as to win from time to time, but they were few and far between.
But what happened to the arcade? One day it is raking in huge profits, then it they were slowly vanishing like Marty McFly’s family in “Back to the Future.”
I think the obvious reason was home gaming systems became as advanced as arcade machines. Specifically, the first PlayStation. People could play high quality arcade games from the comfort of their own home. I know that is what happened to me. I could save myself the embarrassment of being horrible at games I enjoy by staying home.
Then as I got older, these places pretty much went out. At the time I didn’t really care, because I had discovered Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath and Nine Inch Nails and music became my number one priority. These days, I balance my entertainment media fairly evenly.
But when I do come across an arcade, it’s like seeing through a time window. They look foreign and strange, but I can’t help but plop in some quarters and amuse myself for an hour or so.
Gina introduced me a cool bar/arcade when we visit Phillip, S.D. every now and then. I’ll stick to pinball mostly, because though many of my skills have gotten better over time, I have come to the realization I will never be great at videogames, especially in the arcade. But having fun is the key.