LEVEL US: Arcades Gave Our Generation A 1UP

I miss arcades a lot more than the quarters.

The day finally came 10 years ago when my son became interested in video games. Naturally, he wanted what his friends had: the lauded PSP. However, I insisted that he get the Nintendo DS instead. I was determined to give him the magic of moving sprites without ruining his innocence in the process, particularly not for the sake of matching his peers. I considered the PSP an adult gaming system, one that he wasn’t ready for. Now, many moons later, it’s obvious that the DS was a far superior choice for him, with games that still endure to this day.

You many wonder why did I put so much thought into a system to begin with. As someone that grew up in arcades, I understood how video games fundamentally changed me. Those neon palaces were adolescent laboratories for exploring the many facets of the human psyche, testing our young minds with hidden life lessons and formidable hurdles. I’m sure I sound like an apologist that just trying to justify the many hours of stationary indoor playtime, but bear with me.

In arcades, we acquired many skills that would definitely help us later in life. We had to concentrate on our goals in the midst of a madhouse full of flashing lights, electronic buzzes and squealing peers. We had to innovate our techniques, like the double finger tap on button mashing games and using a trackball like a hand-eye coordination savant. Some games taught us dedication through making us toil through level after level of insect squashing, ghost dodging and space invader thwarting. Some challenges were insurmountable, like Evil Otto from Berserk, which taught us that sometimes it’s best to just run to live another day.

Donkey Kong gave us our a taste of being the hero, making our mission to save the princess from the barrel throwing ape. However, it didn’t mean that the ladies were merely helpless accessories, as Ms Pac Man was infinitely better than her consort, and we lined up to play as her and eat dots with glee. Around the time head to head games came to prominence, like the amazing Joust, we quickly learned that tantrums in defeat were for babies and humility would serve us far better.

Video games also gave us our first taste of a cruel world. The multi-game Tron gave the impression that the fun would be multiplied, but the truth was exactly the opposite. The impossibly hard Paperboy didn’t care that you were a kid, going out of its way to throw everything at you, demanding perfect timing and memory. The beautiful and expensive teases Dragon’s Lair and sibling Space Ace were actually terrible games, but we had to invest tons of quarters to find this out. Even in the face of these injustices, we still loved the hell out of those games.  

And then there’s the zone:  the moment when mind and body become one, making impossible feats of hand agility and decision making happen in split seconds. When it happens, it is glorious to watch and life-affirming to accomplish.

Those quarters were definitely well spent.

Am I the only one that would ask for my allowance in quarters?
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