A Fistful of Quarters

Whatever happened to the arcade? I remember me and my buddies saving up or hitting up our parents (the latter is probably more accurate) then jumping on our bikes and heading half way across the city to a place called Rainbow Recreation. No we weren’t into slumming at gay bars in the sixth grade, this was what the arcade was called. You could call a business Rainbow Recreation back then, now the gay community have annexed the whole rainbow sector. Sorry, only unicorns and shooting stars left. Well we would pull up on our bikes, and just chuck them in the bike rack, no lock, nothing. I wouldn’t dream of leaving anything unlocked these days, I even throw a club on my beer when I go to the bathroom. We enter the place like we own it, maybe you see some other people you know, “Hey Weasel, what are you up to?” “They got 720°, you gotta check it out!!!” The blinking lights, the smell of wood cabinets being heated from the inside by cathode ray tube displays and circuit boards. You walk straight to the back and take out a couple bucks, the guy behind the counter gives you your change, his hands all dark from handling quarters eight hours a day, probably developing a brain tumour at that exact moment. You get your bounty and your hand get’s all sweaty from carrying around a fistful of quarters, trying to decide what to play. What game would give you the best quotient of quarter-spent-to-playing-time. You don’t want to be the loser that runs out of money early and mopes around waiting for his friends to finish.

Machine, after machine neatly spaced against the wall, crowds for the popular ones, quarters lined up on the  specially designed ridge letting you know who was up next. There was no lines, if you stood in line you couldn’t watch the game. You and your buddies darting from game to game like ADD dragonflies hopped up on speed, reporting which game sucked, which ones were out of order, who was having an epic game and might break the high score at any given moment. It was a good time.

The social aspect of the arcade was cool, if you did shitty on a game, no one cared, you were just a quarter in their way. You did good on a game you got respect, a crowd would start to form around the game as you approached the high score, first your friends would gather, and then the arcade fan boys. If you got the high score it was on that machine until someone beat it for all to see. It was like you owned it, a trophy if you will. Even if it wasn’t your score, if you were there to witness it, it was a story to tell your buddies.

I think we have lost some of the communal fun in an arcade setting. Now people play games at home in their living room, if you beat a guy, who cares? You have no idea who he is. Video games used to be these five minute nuggets of entertainment, you would put in your quarter and be dazzled for a little while. Now you pay seventy bucks and you need to commit at least forty hours to finishing the game. I have a kid, I don’t have enough time in the day to log that many hours. I could forgo sleep, but I like sleep more than video games, sorry Mario, The Sandman wins every time.

Maybe we just need to up the ante. Take the eighties model and reboot it in the modern day. In the eighties they had games you couldn’t play at home, so how about if we had 3D, hologram, full surround sound, immersive, very expensive games, that you couldn’t play on your Xbox. Have the game social network through your phone if you got a high score or save a replay of the game to show your friends. Less cocooning  and more interaction. Put these Über Arcades in a bar like setting, women play video games these days, make it competitive between the sexes, add alcohol and voila! Better than your local thump, thump bar, mark my words.

So give me back my stand up cabinets, my bulging heavy pockets, and my short attention span (wait…I never lost that) because in this day and age we need short bursts of entertainment so we can get our shit done. Then sleep, wake up and do it all over again. Save a quarter for me!

List of games I was wicked at: Commando, Dig Dug, Q*bert, Super Sprint, Arkanoid, Gauntlet, Gyruss, Galaga, 1942

Me in the eighties before an afternoon of arcade mayhem

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