TBT - Old School's Odd Thoughts: Part 1 - I Was Scared of Arcades.

TBT - Old School's Odd Thoughts: Part 1 - I Was Scared of Arcades.

I’ve written about good times with arcade games during the 1990’s (Proof is here Rereading my work, you might think, “Wow, that guy loved arcades as a kid”, and you’d be right. To a degree. 

I loved arcade games…

But truth be told, actual arcades terrified me as a youngster. They really did. Maybe it was a personalsense of smallness or just an over-inflated caution of “Stranger Danger”, but I think I saw arcades as schoolyards within the wide consumer expanse of the mall—a sort of wild west where older, teenage bullies who smoked cigarettes lingered just to make little kids feel like absolute chumps. 

Frankly, I have no idea what informed this concept. Was it some episode of TV show, wherein an older kid pushed around a younger kid and justice was served via the joystick driven digital platform? Was it due to a repressed personal experience from my own childhood? Was it just my porting the bully-victim construct of Karate Kid 1, 2, and possibly even part 3, onto another niche subculture of the last century? 

I don’t know. 

Most of the referenced arcade experiences of which I’ve previously written took place alongside friends at a boardwalk, or with my soccer team at a restaurant, or during a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese (back when it was that legit Showbiz Pizza Place). Basically, my fond memories were almost always at events where adults were nearby keeping watch and I had no fear of cruel newcomers joining the fray. Any new kid at these venues was a welcome addition; and if not, I would just run and cry and get my dad. 

A Space Port arcade, similar to the one C.J. and Chris visited as kids in the 80s and 90's

Rare were the events when I would brave the mall arcades alone, ever-cautious that some older kid with an earring and a leather jacket would strip me of my quarters via round-after-embarassing-round of Mortal Kombat (where he would trap me against the edge off the screen and sweep kick until I was drained of life—you all know what I mean, it happened to you, too). 

Not sure what even spurred the idea for this article, but it got me wondering if that’s the reason you can’t teach this old dawg new tricks. So much of modern gaming is based in online combat or vast digital multiplayer experiences. I was scared enough playing Street Fighter II against a 14 year-old with a buzz cut, who knows what bullying or mean-spirited denizens lurk in the vast online rosters of Xbox, PS4, and the Wii—probably more 14 year-olds with buzz cuts. Of course, they can’t hurt me now; chances are they probably weren’t aiming to hurt me back then. 

Inside the Space Port arcade, they had all of the best games to eat your quarters.

Fear is a funny thing. So often it is grounded in our projections, assumptions, and blatant ignorance, only to deprive us of otherwise fun and exciting experiences. I wonder how much I would have loved burning money at those mall arcades—with their cheap skee-ball prizes and ever-present aura of body odor and spilled soda. Maybe I could have been a local legend at Tekken or “that guy” you wanted alongside you when playing Area 51. Of course, I really would have just fetched a beating, both onscreen and in real life. I guess I’ll never know, but what an odd thing to think about…

Chris Says - I was very fond of our Space Port arcade in our local mall. In fact, I remember our grandparents taking me and my brother there on a pretty regular weekly basis. I remember playing various pinball machines, and watching older kids play games I never heard of before. Most games I played in the 80's I had played ports of either on my Atari VCS or Nintendo Entertainment System.  Off the top of my head here is what I remember regularly playing:

Pole Position Cock Pit machine (Image courtesy of ArcadeCrusade.com

  • Pole Position (cockpit)
  • Rampage
  • Gauntlet
  • Q*bert

The funny thing is, I pretty much had the complete opposite experience that C.J. remembers.  I remember my brother Sean and I venturing into the Space Port arcade unassisted while my grandparents waited on the bench out side of the arcade. I do remember my father taking us in and playing together.  I also remember having no problem waiting my turn or calling "next". However, this also had something to do with the fact there was never a long line for the games I wanted to play.. Redemption games are pretty much the only thing that keeps arcades alive today, and are predominantly found no longer in malls, but at amusement parks, and boardwalks.  Every once in awhile, I will see an occasional pinball or Pac-Man machine, and I might take a minute to stop and play, reliving the glory days at the Space Port arcade once more..

Stay Tuned for more of Old School’s Odd Thoughts in 2017…

Spaceport King of Prussia video arcade. Last day before closing to remodel. January 1993.
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