Fishing for Quarters – Remembering arcades

Being a kid of the Eighties and Nineties, I spent a ton of time feeding quarters into arcade games. We at videolamer may rain praise upon our little console buddies but we rarely talk about their much larger, and these days dumber, brothers, the arcade machines. If it were not for these coin-gobbling behemoths, consoles would not exist. There would be no Pac-Man to munch on stuff, missiles to command, or Tron…to do whatever it is that Tron does.

We owe a lot to these big guys and sadly, like all overly-huge things such as woolly mammoths, dinosaurs, Sony, the RIAA, and The Ultimate Warrior, they are becoming extinct. Not many people visit arcades these days, and for good reason. What was once a bustling, multi-genre industry has deteriorated into a handful of companies making fighting games, shooting games, racing games, and beat games. Consider this my tribute to a more innocent and carefree time.

All of my life I have liked video games. In elementary school, when we would have skate parties, I would plead with my mom for quarters and she would go berserk upon learning that I had already blown ten bucks playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (I was always Donatello by the way). TMNT is easily one of the best arcade games of its day. Before it, the closest players had come to a fun coop experience was either playing Double Dragon or NARC.

Those games were great…if you only had one friend. Being the social butterfly I was, I needed more and the ingenious Japanese designers at Konami shared my desires. You see, just because I have always liked video games does not mean I am all that good at most of them. With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I had three other people to blame for my sucking. Now that I am an adult, I can tell you with 100% certainty, three scapegoats are much better than one. Many hours were spent at the skating rink, my fingers sticky from cotton candy and Coke, punching buttons to the beat of Pump Up The Volume.

Junior high meant no more lame skate parties to go to. Who the hell uses skates with four wheels anyway? I was now the Rollerblade master. By this time, I had moved to a new town and had made more than one friend again so I needed a new game to help me blame my mediocrity on as many people as I possibly could. Lo and behold, the clouds parted, and baby Jesus kissed my local arcade, Pojos, and from that tender show of heavenly affection came The Simpsons arcade game.

The Simpsons has had a crazy effect on my life. It is easily my favorite show of all time and a tattoo of Evil Homer rests on my left arm. For that show to be turned into an extremely fun arcade game was almost akin to being told that Kelly from Saved By The Bell wanted to be covered in my man glaze. The Simpsons will go down in the history books of Tyson as the best arcade game made. It is, to this day, one of my life goals to own that game cabinet and convince it to let me play it for free. I dumped fifty cents into that machine so many times I deserve to play it for free. Alongside my horrible pimples, finding out the true potential of the female species, and finding hair where there was no hair before, The Simpsons is nestled in a special place in my heart.

Next up was high school. High school meant all sorts of things for me. It meant trench coats (I wore one before they were cool), meeting more friends (who also shared my taste in fashion), and learning the true meaning of having a job. Fortunately for me, the grocery store that I worked at had Lethal Enforcers and upon finding out what working for a living was all about, it let me kill hostage-taking, law breakers instead of listening to soccer moms complaining that we were out of blueberry yogurt. The criminal underworld…and the occasional civilian bystander quaked at the sight of me in my dark-as-my- soul trench coat and armed with my blue or red plastic light pistol that was lovingly chained to the arcade cabinet.

By the end of my two year stint of playing Lethal Enforcers and working at the loathed grocery store, I had mad skills on that game. Beating it on one quarter was no big deal and, out of boredom, I started playing the game “John Wayne” style, me shooting both guns at the same time. I actually got to where I was pretty good that way, too.

I was also very skilled at Silent Scope. I am not sure what it was about the late-Nineties that made people want to wear trench coats and shoot stuff up, but man, I was damned good at those games. Once I hit college and started going to bars, there were several occasions on which I had people actually stop to watch me play Silent Scope and stare in awe at my awesomeness; I am also assuming beer helped that. The beer helped me too, I could be stone drunk but I could still clear levels on Silent Scope with accuracy in the 95-99% range. Playing that game actually got me free drinks on a couple of occasions and any game that can do that for me is okay in my book.

Writer’s Note: Being a supreme badass on a fake sniper rifle in a bar full of morons does not get you chicks. Come to think of it, being overly good at any arcade game other than maybe DDR, is likely to decrease your odds of scoring with the ladies by at least half. Even drunk women can spot a loser at a video game. Having said that, if being the Supreme Commander of Cool on a fake sniper rifle, in a bar full of morons has ever gotten you laid, you are a god in my book. Pat yourself on the back.

Anywho, as I went through college, I played arcade games less. I wasn’t the only one. My favorite arcade fell upon hard times and it seemed like fewer and fewer games were coming out that I wanted to pop my dollar into. There were a ton of fighting games out but I had only ever been really good at one of those, Soul Calibur. I had a girlfriend and she wasn’t into video games all that much and my roommates had Wrestlemania 64 and for some reason, that game went really well with booze. The arcade started creeping toward the exit from my life. Or so I thought.

Then a couple of years ago, I found myself once again single, in the middle of Nowhere, Japan, and with a ton of free time on my hands. While the arcade’s popularity is diminishing in the Land of the Rising Sun too, it is still a thriving spot in my town. The day that a random gaijin beat you down on Tekken: Dark Resurrection is a day of shame amongst many of the local teenagers here.

I don’t visit the arcade a lot but I like the fact that I can do it whenever I want and not feel like a goober. I like the fact that an arcade game costs me one coin again, albeit that coin is worth roughly a dollar. But most of all, I enjoy the fact that when I play some of the kooky games here, I feel a connection with all of the games that I played throughout all of the various stages of my life; the little kid running all over the skating rink fishing for quarters in every nook and cranny I could find, the high school youth slightly angry at the world for no good reason, to the semi-adult-acting guy plugging his change into a beeping and pulsing machine that promises to give him a few minutes of relaxation.

Everywhere I have gone, arcade games have been there. How much longer is this going to last?

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Golden Jew
15 years ago

The fall of the arcade is lamentable. There are really few bastions left of them: cruise ships, and casinos. Having been on both recently, it’s sad to see the lack of new games and the mistreatment of the old.

You’re right, some of the best arcade games are the multiplayer ones (by which I mean 3+). Simpsons, as you mention, was awesome. I also really liked the X-Men game that had 6 players I think (I remember a middle school birthday party I had where we all played at once, and it was heaven to me). I also enjoyed the D&D games (Tower of Doom? I think and Shadow over Mystara).

Were arcade games that awesome, or are we just nostalgic and old? I think they really were that awesome, because when Jay and I were in Vegas a few months ago and beating every game at Gameworks (thank god for the unlimited play card!), it was a blast. More fun than I have PC or console gaming.

15 years ago

I didn’t play arcades often, but I loved the X-Men game, Simpsons, and the D&D Tower of Doom game. Never did find a machine of Shadows over Mystara (until I went to Japan). Briefly, a restaurant near me had a UN Squadron machine, and that was great too.

Tower of Doom was an awesome concept. Great action-RPG.

Golden Jew
15 years ago

Also, I love the brawler games, especially the ones where you get your hands on various implements of killing– Final Fight being the classic, but also Die Hard, Zombie Revenge, etc. Especially when there’s 3 or more players.

15 years ago

The fall of arcade culture represents a major shift in the industry mindset, for better or worse. These days some people look at a challenging game as “work”. In an arcade, it was just a challenge, and usually a fun one at that. They were designed to suck away your money, but had to be good enough to make you want to try again. And usually, the challenges could be overcome. Once games started to be about other things, their design- and our perceptions and demands – shifted.

15 years ago

Holy shit X-men was the best thing ever.

15 years ago

I am conflicted about arcades. I liked playing fighting games and enjoyed the social aspect but I dislike how some of the games were designed as blatant money disposals. Too many games were short and stupidly difficult, which at least on a smaller scale may be part of why arcades died. Why play a 20 minute game that kills me every 2 minutes when I have a 20 hour game at home that wants nothing more than my initial deposit?

It’s a shame, really, because not all arcade games were that cheap, and even some that were were still hugely entertaining. Hopefully I’ll hit up some cool arcades in Japan.