article is an excerpt from the excellent book Arcade
Fever by John Sellers and Running
Published online with permission.
what I like to think happened to arcades as we knew
them - that is, open for business: One morning, we
all woke up with a killer hangover and couldn¹t muster
the strength to trudge down to Aladdin's Castle (or
Space Port or Fun Factory, or any of the other somewhat
nerdy variations on names for video-game hangouts).
This being right around the year 1986, we slumped
in our basement beanbags, hooked up the Nintendo NES
that we got for Christmas, flipped on the television
set, watched a few videos on MTV - hopefully catching
a break and getting Falco's Rock Me Amadeus
and Eddie Murphy's Party All the Time back
to back - pushed the NES power button when veejay
Adam Curry's freakish mane appeared on the screen,
and played games for the rest of the day.
After hours and hours of collecting coins and power-ups,
we knew that we were meant to be here, at home, where
Funyons were readily available and where we could
sit and listen to our favorite Mötley Crüe tunes and
not have to deal with idiots coming over and putting
a quarter up on what is clearly our game of Duck
Hunt. It looked almost the same as the stuff at
the arcade anyhow, except that Mr. Sandman had mysteriously
been replaced by Mike Tyson in Punch Out!,
and who didn¹t respect Iron Mike's authority?
Of course, our bodies went through a brief withdrawal
period. We'd venture down to the old arcade once in
a while - assuming that it was still thereto play
standbys like Track & Field and Star Wars.
The other three kids in there looked as shellshocked
as we did: Sure, games like Rampage and
Ikari Warriors were cool in an old-school sort
of way, but these new releases certainly weren't compelling
or diverse enough to tear us away from Mario and Luigi
Technology got more powerful and more affordable,
and we soon found that arcade titles could be closely
replicated in the privacy of our own homes, something
that wasn¹t available in the Atari 2600 days. We sat
complacently on our couches and forced game manufacturers
to come to us, rather than the other way around. And
they did, every single one of them. The last half
of the 1980s went out with a wimper at arcades, with
only a handful of uprights - titles like Toobin',
Outrun, Double Dragon, Altered Beast,
720, Narc, Golden Axe - worth
their weight in ROM chips. For the first time in the
history of man, kids actually wanted to stay at home
where they could pound away on hellions in Ultima,
flip goofy Tetris shapes on our Game Boys and
save the princess in, well, the hundreds of games
where you had to save the princess.
So we stayed home. Arcades closed. Life was good.
The early '90s success of Street Fighter II
and Mortal Kombat temporarily lured zit-faced
teens out of their bedroom caves into the few public
places that still existed for video-gaming. We older
folks even sniffed around a little ourselves. But
something was horribly, horribly wrong: The games
all looked the same, sounded the same, made you memorize
moves the same way and cost upwards of 50 cents to
boot. We tried to compete with the kids - all of whom
probably grew up watching Teenage Mutant Ninja
Turtles or listening to Barney records - but we
couldn't really muster the enthusiasm. It was so over.
We moved on to Sony PlayStation and Sega Genesis -
or even more likely, our newly powerful personal computers.
We played Myst, explored the Internet, dabbled
in network gaming, and just generally ignored the
fact that there was ever such a thing as arcades,
and that we used to go to them every weekend and blow
our entire allowances there. But every once in a while
we'd remember, wistfully, what it used to be like.
We'd get flashbacks of wasting the invaders from Galaga
while tossing back beers at our local. We'd start
whistling the exciting Time Pilot theme song
while commuting to work in the morning. We'd stumble
across a too-realistic game like Carnevil at
a movie theater and go,"How exactly is that more
fun than Missle Command?" And then it would hit
us: My god, why did we ever stop going to the arcade?
Retrogaming sprung up to quench such nostalgia, which
helped wash away a little of the guilt we felt for
having deserted the arcade. Programs such as MAME,
which does its best to emulate old-school games, and
Stella, which reproduces Atari 2600 titles, allowed
us to rediscover favorites like Congo Bongo
and Yars' Revenge. Seemingly every hipster
bar in the country installed a sit-down Ms. Pac-Man
machine. Even some daring folks stocked their arcades
full of the classics, places like Seattle's excellent
Hi-Score and Ann Arbor¹s homey Pinball Pete's. Through
it all, the twinge of guilt remained.
who would have it any other way? Certainly not the
current crop of gamers, who are two or three generations
removed from the people who grew up on Breakout
and Space Invaders. They're perfectly content
beating the living crud out of each other at home.
Certainly not the video-game industry, which is raking
in more money than ever.
Us? Well, to be honest, we actually kind of like sitting
on our couches and remiscing about the good old days.
Because that's what they are: Good and old. While
we're at it, we'll fire up a nice game of Soul
Calibur or MLB 2001 on our Dreamcasts and
hang loose with some of our friends. We know that
it's not nearly as rewarding as proving ourselves
to total strangers, but at least we don¹t have to
bum rides off of people. The arcades of our youth
are gone, and we're finally okay with that.
and be sure to visit the
Deal Games now carries
autographed copies of 'Arcade Fever' for ONLY