You guys know video games right? Like how you can play them in your own home at your leisure and stuff? Well it wasn’t always like that. There used to be games that were exclusive to these places called ‘arcades’. You had to go to this building with a bunch of other people and wait your turn to play these ‘video games’. I thought all of those places had disappeared long ago, but they’ve had this weird resurgence in the form of bar-cades and other alcohol infused gaming venues. I went to one of these places, and boy howdy was it interesting.
The first thing that really caught my eye was what the arcade was putting front and center. When I walked in I was greeted by the row of Mario Kart Arcade machines that was in constant use, which wasn’t surprising considering Mario is a pretty big deal. But surrounding those were a large number of Japanese developed rhythm games. From DJ booths, to Dance Dance Revolution, and even some Drum Mania-esque machines with full drum kits weren’t far from the main entrance. Even better, they were all getting played pretty regularly, and people were pumped for it.
As you pushed past those machines, I saw some of those basketball games, skee-ball lanes, and a shit-ton of claw machines with very anime prizes in them. One of them even had these Goku statues in them that I genuinely considered trying to win.
I think what really caught me off guard was how the basic premise of the arcade has changed so drastically in order to survive. For instance, back in the day I was able to go to the arcade and play stuff like Galaga, Defender, X-Men, The Simpsons, and countless fighting games. I remember seeing these cabinets line the walls and create snaking aisles for people to navigate through. Now, it’s literally these digital poker styled tables with an LCD screen and computer in them, running some sort of emulator, probably MAME. It all played fine, but it was just so jarring when compared to my memory of how arcades used to be.
Change happens though, and I understand that if these places are to survive, it’s through cost cutting methods like these. Arcade machine maintenance is expensive and more specialized than ever. I just wished that if they’re going to use emulated games, at least let me select what I want to play instead of pretending that these are bespoke machines that can only play one game.
But easily the most bizarre stuff were the amount of mobile game ports that were on display. We’ve all probably seen those giant Fruit Ninja and Pac Man 256 games, but there was also a Tomb Raider rail shooter alongside a giant Injustice arcade machine, that only had 3 buttons per player that corresponded to the three kinds of actions you could do on the cell phone version. I remember it being a big deal when a game claimed to have an “arcade perfect” home version, and now we’ve circled back to having cell phone games enlarged and stuffed into a cabinet with buttons. Hell, even the Wii Nunchuck and Xbox Kinect were integrated into some games.
I went with a friend of mine and had a wonderful time despite the culture shock I experienced throughout my visit. So much has changed in the gaming landscape since I first started playing in the early nineties, and the arcades might be the most extreme example of that. But even for how different things are now, arcades these days still manage to provide gaming experiences that are unique to the arcade itself, and in that way things actually felt kind of familiar.