Do you remember when video games were a novelty? I remember waiting all week to visit our neighborhood arcade. The arcade was in a little dark room inside a small diner. There were probably only six games there, but it was magical and the glow of a dim green light still brings me feelings of excitement and longing. The smell of fresh made corn dogs and fountain cola alone were enough to make my heart skip with anticipation.
I can only remember a few of the games from that era, 1947, Rastan, Xevious and Karate. I remember the first time I tried Xevious. I couldn’t hold still as I tried to ward off enemy starships. I pressed the fire button as fast as I could and watched one lonely bullet fly out of my ship every three seconds. My quarter probably lasted about five minutes but the experience is still my head.
The video arcade was a very exciting place to go for a child living in a small town. But after a few months it was gone. Regular diner customers didn’t like the strange and ominous noises. What a loss it was for me.
Starting back in the 1930’s, with pinball and carnival games, arcades were a novelty until the mid 80’s. After that the excitement and enthusiasm tapered off. In the late nineties, games big on graphic experience and low on personal involvement were popular.
Arcades went through a transition which saw the long lasting classics such as Galica and Pac-man swept out in favor of games that offered a larger interface such as a vehicle to sit in or a gun to hold. It was like the summer blockbuster being displayed for rent and Casablanca and Gone With the Wind thrown in the trash. With the invention of personal computers and the consul gaming systems that could do the same things and more than our old time arcade games, those old machines were abandoned, recycled into parts or bought as nostalgic art objects.
These days I can visit that nostalgic place any time I wish and anywhere I go. The invention of the tablet and the smartphone gave me access to any of the classic games I choose. We have a virtual arcade but it’s not the same. We truly lost something when we lost the real life arcade.
Even though I love most of what modern gaming has to offer, I miss the days when I waited to see which arcade machines would get traded out. When I actually had to wait and see. When I fervently hoped the new line up would not include another version of breakout. It was a time we were awed by small glowing shapes whose pixels could only vaguely resemble the artwork on the cabinet. It was a time of expectation and exploration that I truly miss. Those were the good old days. Goodbye arcades, you will be missed.