I’m not much of a gamer anymore. If I still had time/money to invest into it like I did in my younger days, I would. Yet, I’m still somewhat sad to see the end of an era – arcades.
Growing up, you could find me in one of four places: hockey arenas, baseball diamonds, neighbourhood streets and school. Between the ages of 5 and 12, arcades must be added to that list. The first arcade I discovered was the Fun & Games on the bottom floor of the 101 Mall in Timmins. During the summer months, my mom would take me along for daily trips to the 101 Mall. She’d browse, shop and I was incredibly bored. The squeek of clothes hangers moving on a rack still bugs me to this day. Being young and having no patience, I’d become fidgity in a short amount of time and I’ll follow up with a constant barrage of “can we go now?”. My mom would then go to the restaurant on the bottom floor (whose name escapes me and it’s since been replaced by a food court anyway) to smoke and drink coffee. Again, this is no fun for a young boy. My mom stumbled upon an idea that would alleviate my boredom and her having to listen to my boredom. One day she gave me a couple of quarters and guided me to Fun & Games. It all started there.
To a five year old, that arcade was an amazing new world. I was bombarded by bleeps and bloops from every direction. Lights flashed. Button were mashed. Quarters chimed as they fell from the coin slots. People darted from one side of the arcade to the other. It was a hive of activity. The first arcade game that I ever played was Asteroids at the Timmins Airport when I was four years old. But it was by itself; not in an arcade. The first game that I played at Fun & Games was the king of video games; Pac-Man. Pac-Man became an obsession for me. I doodled the characters and mazes on my school books, ate the cereal and religiously watched the cartoon on Saturday mornings. When I was at the arcade, I clung to that Pac-Man cabinet for dear life. However, I eventually started to become curious and checked out the other games. The ones that I recall frequenting were Joust, Vanguard, Robotron 2084, Defender, Bag Man, Satan’s Hollow, Wizard of Wor (whose voice in attract mode used to scare the shit out of me at one point), Phoenix, Spy Hunter, Karate Champ and a bunch of pinball games to name a few. Then one day, Fun & Games got a slew of new cabinets. A few of them like Punch-Out!! and Double Dragon did a fine job of robbing me of quarters. Yet, there was one game that I would come to own at the age of 7. I would dare say that I did more that own that game. Dare I say, I OMFG 1337 pwn’d it LOLOLOLOLOL!!! That game was Super Pac-Man. By my estimates, Fun & Games powered down the cabinets on Saturday evening (these were the times of no Sunday shopping) because “CVB” was always at the top four or five positions on Super Pac-Man every week 🙂 Often while I was playing, a group would gather to watch. The group consisted of kids my age, teenagers, drug dealers and tekkers (Timmins 1980’s vernacular for “metal head” guys with long greasy hair, jean jackets and lean brain capacity). Super Pac-Man was my machine and all who frequented the Fun & Games at the 101 Mall knew it. When there was nobody left to dominate, I got into collaboration with Gauntlet; I prefered to play as the Valkyrie or the Elf. “Valkyrie needs food badly” and other vocalizations from the game became staples of my vocabulary for a while.
Then, for whatever reason, I started hanging out in the arcade at the Timmins Square. Elevator Action, Kung Fu, Dragon’s Lair, and the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game were my faves there. At some point, I stopped going to arcades. I had progressed with game consoles from Atari 2600 to NES to the original GameBoy to SNES. Afterwards, I got my first PC and arcades were going the way of the dodo. Top Hat still existed on Pine Street North in Timmins at that point, however it was more infamous as the easiest place to buy hash and acid, instead for having Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat.
I’m not much of a gamer anymore. I play the occasional game of Unreal Tournament, NHL/Madden/Tiger and the latest shooters from id and Valve. Yet I long for the days when the arcades were video game meccas. There’s a certain warmth and sense of community in arcades. Maybe the allure came in the form of the dimly lit rooms, glow of the screens, mesh of sounds, socializing, change ladies or a combination of them all. Now I’m not bashing console gaming on couches and playing with others via online services. But I think kids are missing out on an important social apsect that arcades provide – a sense of attachment to the real world. Internet cafes are the new arcade, but they tend to be prim and proper. An environment that allows people to roam and yell would be more inline with the arcade experience. Here’s an idea: Put the computers in cabinets to force people to stand for a while in the hopes of preventing comp-ass (a term I’ve just invented to describe a flat ass resulting from sitting on it too much while in front of a computer), decorate the room with game art and open it up a bit. Who’s with me? 🙂