Photo courtesy of Padinga.com
Remember video game arcades? They were filthy and noisy. They ate quarters that, for many patrons, would be better spent on laundry. They were dimly lit caves of counter-productivity (to mom and dad, at least), and they failed because this thing called technology let people have an arcade at home, competition and cooperation with strangers included.
They were great.
It might just be that I’m a product of the 90s with a bad bout of nostalgia, but whenever I pass a dingy, beat-up arcade cabinet in a bar, bowling alley or somewhere else where it’s just a neglected, no-cost way to bring in a few extra bucks, I remember how proud it would have looked in a proper arcade. Surrounded by its brethren. Getting pummeled by kids. For all intents and purposes, that doesn’t exist anymore — not on the scale it used to. But it turns out that, if you want the arcade experience enough, there are places to find it.
The arcade experience
Arcades are all about atmosphere. That’s the one thing the home arcade just can’t replace. They’re dark, they’re busy, they’re almost seizure-inducing in that your only escape from flashing screens is the floor. Maybe most importantly, they’re communal. You “get next” by putting a quarter down on the machine, then face off in the flesh. And when the competition gets good, people gather around and watch. It’s like playing pool — a bit more fun at the bar, with people you may or may not know, than in your basement.
Experiencing it today
You still can.
I was in Portland, Oregon for Christmas, and had a few days to get to know the city. That mostly meant stuffing my face. But I noticed Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade on Google Maps as my girlfriend and I traveled downtown one day, and it became an instant must-stop. The great thing about it is it’s nothing but an arcade. Sure, you can get food and drinks (there are even cup-holders installed on some machines, which is totally awesome), but Ground Kontrol has a single focus: the classic arcade experience. It’s got some of the best of the 80s and 90s, from classics like Tempest, Tron and Galaga to popular 90s multiplayer games Street Fighter II, X-men and Simpsons, and a bunch of pinball machines. It would be perfect for a happy hour with a few friends.
There’s also California Extreme, an annual classic arcade game show that transforms a hotel conference room into a classic arcade for a weekend. According to the show’s website:
California Extreme was born with a desire to share fun coin op games that are in the hands of private collectors, and to hopefully spread the word that pinball machines were once plentiful, and that videogames were not synonymous with “martial arts” and violence.
The games are all free to play, so you buy a ticket and just go to town.
I’m sure there are more just a Google search away. It’s comforting to know that, even though the days of arcades are long gone, there’s still an appreciation for what they offer, efforts to preserve what remains and an opportunity to experience it for yourself.