Arcade Dreams

As someone that has played a lot of video games over the years I find myself missing something that used to be easy to find, a real arcade. Yes, I know there are plenty of places that still have rooms filled with state of the art video games, but I just don’t get the same enjoyment out of them anymore.  It may just be nostalgia setting in but more and more I miss the classic idea of the arcade.

The only establishment near where I live that could even be considered an arcade is the video game section at a “Franky’s Fun Park.”  I do have fun when I go there, but I don’t go there to play games, normally I’m there with friends to play mini-golf or one of the outdoor activities, and when I do play the games what I’m really thinking about is how expensive they have gotten, or the game’s only point is to win tickets.

Tickets have been a staple of the arcade since the beginning and I’ll admit I enjoy winning a long string of them (and the basic prizes are still as bad as ever) but the best prizes places have to offer are stuff you can just go buy for probably cheaper, unless you are good at always hitting the ticket jackpot.

Also when looking at the games I realize that I have better games at home now between my computer and consoles the only difference is the fancy peripherals.  Believe it or not, there was a time when if you wanted to truly play the best video games, you had to fill your pocket with quarters (so you could change them to tokens in some places) then go wait by your favorite cabinet and place a quarter on the controls marking your place in line.

Again, maybe it’s just nostalgia glasses, or maybe because I’m actually spending my own money now at the arcade over my parents but I just miss the places I grew up with.

The best local arcade I had I never truly appreciated it because I was too young and it’s been closed for 20+ years now, and the mall it was in was torn down years ago.  The room was dark using game cabinets for most of the light, it always felt like there were way to many cabinets crammed into the small space and there was a great blend of game sounds and music. It was the stereotypical mid to late 80’s arcade.

The second arcade I had locally, well it was a place called “Showbiz Pizza.” It was exactly what it sounds like an early version of “Chuck. E Cheese’s.”  Full of cheep and probably bad pizza and bad animatronics, but you didn’t go for that we would go for the room full of games.  This is where I started to really understand games and what an arcade should be like.  The legend of shooting the dog in “Duck Hunt,” done it, the cabinet we had was just old enough to not have that feature taken out, I’ve actually seen the dog limp out on crutches more than once.  Spent a lot of money in that place, went to many birthday parties there, but it was still gone[i] well before I reached the age of 10.

The third place was the one I spent the most time and money in and is probably the one I miss the most.  “Putt-Putt Golf and Games,” it wasn’t the best place, but it was the closest to my small home town.  This was right around the time arcades reached their peak, the old-guard of games like “Galaga” and “Pac-Man” were still around and busy, but a new wave of games had arrived “X-Men,” “The Simpsons”, and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”  These games would go on to be some of the most popular to ever hit the arcades.  These cabinets could support 4 to 6 players, the music and sounds were stereo quality and had a level of quality home consoles just couldn’t match.  This was also the same time tournament fighters began to rise.  In my one little arcade within a span of just a few feet you had three games I’ve already mentioned plus “Mortal Kombat” and “Street Fighter II.”

“Putt-Putt” would be my go-to place for years, but eventually I grew up and the little place could no longer keep up.  The games we spent hours had finally given up and shut down, the little arcade couldn’t get top of the line stuff anymore, and the children that did visit weren’t impressed anymore and eventually the arcade closed it doors.

It’s not a coincidence that arcades started dying off right as the Playstation 2 and X-box reached the peak of their popularity.  Game companies had shifted their focus to home based games with 20+hours of game play, instead of two-hour side-scrollers.  Leaving arcades needing more than just games, leading to fun parks with batting cages, mini-golf and go-karts.

The next time you are in an arcade if you hear someone over 30 complain about missing old style arcades, we aren’t being old and grumpy, they truly aren’t the same anymore.  Arcades are not supposed to be about making a fast moving light stop in just the right place to win tickets.  Its about spending hours with your friends and a pile of quarters trying to prove you can make it to the last level.

If you need an example of what we are talking about just Google “Flynn’s Arcade.”

Oh, and if you happen to find an old arcade still hanging on out in the world with a working “Ninja Turtles,” put a quarter on the cabinet next to Raphael’s controller for me.  I have some unfinished business to take care of.


[i] “Showbiz Pizza Place” went through a corporate restructure and rebranding into “Chuck E Cheese’s” around 1990.  The place we used to go is actually still open in the original building, but once the rebranding began it wasn’t the same and we quit going.

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