Friday, July 8, 2011

Triptych: Now You're Playing With Power

"Now You're Playing With Power" by PixelRadio (I think)

"Insert Coin To Play" by J. Mirman

"The King of Kong" by Scott C.

Do you guys remember arcades? They seem to be kind of a rarity these days. When did that happen? There's an arcade in downtown Vancouver, Lion's Lair, that I remember from my youth, but it's gone severely downhill in the last decade. Once upon a time, there was an arcade in every mall, bleeping and blaring and packed full of kids.

While I'm definitely part of the console generation, I have fond memories of arcades and the ubiquitous cabinets littering the landscapes of my childhood. I remember playing Super Mario Bros. in a laundromat when I was about seven, walking through the woods to go to the arcade in the mall with my brother and my cousin and trying to stretch our five-dollar allowance out to a couple of hours on Gauntlet and Afterburner and Outrun when I was eleven, skipping school with my best friend Jeff, stealing change from his dad's cash register and going to the arcade located next to his family's copy shop to line up our quarters on the Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat machines, at fifteen.

Did you ever play Time Killers? It was this gimmicky fighting game from 1992 or so, where all the playable characters were from the past or the future. I spent most of the summer of 1993 in the abovementioned mall arcade with Jeff, and we got to know the regulars pretty well, being regulars ourselves. There was this one tall balding businessman in his late 30s or early 40s who would come in every day at 12:15 (presumably during his lunch break). He would then spend fifteen solid minutes pumping quarters into the Time Killers machine, and everyone would stop what they were playing to watch him. It wasn't that he was any good -- he was terrible, in fact -- but he was so physically intense while playing, arms and legs flying everywhere, jumping in the air, and throwing the most incredible body language into his game, that we couldn't not stop and stare. And then, after fifteen minutes exactly, he would stop playing -- never mind that his game was still going -- straighten his tie, pick up his briefcase, and stroll out. Time Killers was the ONLY game he ever played, he never spoke to anyone, and nothing about him even remotely suggested the kind of manic flailing he was capable of for fifteen minutes every day.

I understand that it's hard to make a profit at a quarter (or later, a buck) a pop, and when you can play videogames with your friends over the internet and every household has at least one console nowadays, the thrill of going head-to-head with your pals has faded to a novelty at best. It still makes me sad that I am (nominally, at least) the last generation to experience that thrill, though. It's really too bad that the arcade business model never found a way to adapt to a changing industry, despite many doomed attempts (Dance Dance Revolution, anybody?) I guess it's telling, though, that I didn't even realise that arcades were disappearing until they were gone.

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