How my home console killed the video arcade star
By Christopher West
When I was kid, video gaming was difficult. I don't just mean that in the literal sense, but in the financial sense as well. There weren’t roms, digital downloads or Raspberry Pi's. The only option was to buy, rent, or go to the arcade. If someone were to tell me I could have every game from the first five generations of consoles and handhelds plus all arcade games released during that time on a tiny SD card, my mind would have exploded.
Unless someone was rich and spoiled, games were very hard to come by. Getting parents to buy a system was the easy part. Getting them to shell out anywhere from $40 to $100 (depending on the chip the game used) per game was usually relegated to birthdays and Christmas only. Arcades on the other hand were different. This was a chance for anyone no matter what part of the financial rung a kid fell on, to play the newest game everyone was talking about. Sure a kid might only get five minutes to play but that was all he or she needed.
There weren’t any arcades in my small town. Roller rinks and bowling alleys were all I had. Sometimes there was an occasional game between the doors of a retail store. For some reason they could never actually go inside the store. The turnover on these games was rare to non-existent though. I have no idea how many times I played the first 10 minutes of Final Fight in the lobby ofa Hills department store. That thing was there until they went out of business.
If I wanted to play one the holy licensed trinity (Simpsons, Turtles, or X-Men) or the newest powerhouse game, I headed to Lima, Ohio. These were the Fast Times at Ridgemont High kind of arcades. It was dark, very loud, and unrenovatedsince its inception. There was carpet on the walls and the floor. It was next to the movie theater and the food court. Pizza and cola were always at a hands reach. These types of malls and arcades, especially the ones with ice skating rinks, almost seem like a dream today.
Somewhere around the death of the Super Nintendo and birth of the PlayStation, arcades took a quick left turn and never came back. It wasn't the fault of the arcades or the manufacturers. It was my fault. It was my friends’ fault. We chased the technology, and that technology was now in our house.
Games were bigger and longer and stronger than ever before. How could an arcade compete against the vastness of Final Fantasy 7. Why did we need to pay a dollar per play on Time Crisis when we had Golden-eye multiplayer at home. Arcade cabinets became bigger and flashier and more gimmicky and we were too jaded for that.
Then came the final nail in the coffin. Why leave my house? Why use a gross bathroom shared by hundreds of Jeff Spicolis? Why feel uncomfortable around other people when that’s what happens all week at school? Why get made fun of by the older smokey joe kids? Why get delivery when there's DiGiorno's?
Ultimately arcades went the way of the technological Dodo. Just like all technology before them they were sold, trashed or, stored away. We all learned to live without them and never looked back.
As with every generation before us our childhoods were sold back to us in the form of the bitch known as nostalgia. The cost of technology was rapidly falling and our ability to rip every arcade game and easily store them was increasing by the day. Armies of modders, home brew and software developers, and people with a fascination for electronics banded together. Out of this group of people came a want to actually start building arcade cabinets and bring arcade gaming to the masses again.
Some people just think of this as theft, and granted to some people that's all it is. There are people who make a lot of money selling Raspberry Pi or arcade cabinets to technologically clueless people. It’s been my experience though that a large amount of these people fall under two categories: Preservationists and people who like creating and modding electronics and software. To these people this is a hobby and a passion.
Through the creation and passing of arcades to the dissection and recreation of the technology came the retro arcade/barcade. Now I'll personally say up front I've never been drunk in my life so that aspect of this doesn't appeal to me at all. I think it’s great that the public now has access to these machines again. You'll see a lot of parents taking their children to these places trying to show them there's more than tablets and cell phones. Then there's the older guys from the original Atari age of arcades trying to get their skills back in the face of arthritis. While I praise bringing back arcades in any form possible, I've found though that there are two types of arcades.
There's the arcades/barcades that you can tell are in it just for the games and the preservation of the best part of their childhoods. Places like Arcade Legacy in Cincinnati and DK Effect in Dayton. Then there are the places that have video games for what seems like the sole purpose of creating a cool retro background atmosphere. These places are filled with the beautiful college youth of America and aged hardwood floors. It’s like if Central Perk from Friends was a barcade. Monica and Rachel would talk more about the cool art on the cabinets than actually have any want to play them. I'm not trying to be anti-hipster or anything like that. I'm just saying if there are arcade games around, I'm going to play them and not just put my IPA on them or lean on them sexily while hitting on girls.
Barcades are nothing new. We’re just really late to the game in Dayton. They've been common in New York and California for 15 years. So here's hoping that this isn't just a fad. We've been riding a wave of 80's and 90's nostalgia for years that could end anytime. While I'm not nostalgic for Papa Roach, the Nintendo 64, and the Harry Potter films that day is coming, so go support these places before they're gone again. So in the immortal words of Buckner and Garcia's Pac-Man Fever:
I have a pocketful of quarters
And I'm headed to the arcade
I don't have a lot of money
But I'm bringing everything I made