In my quest to write, keep relevant and witty, and make sure my mental muscles don't melt maliciously (hehe), I am writing more these days, doing more journals and generally thinking aloud onto a screen. Having wasted an entire night watching footage of the w00tStock shows from the last few years, I'm kind of in a good mood. Watching Adam Savage talk about how Jamie Hyneman has a sick sense of humor and how Wil Wheaton got his Rocky Horror virginity taken made me a bit introspective.
Gamer's kind of a funny term, isn't it?
It didn't really exist until the early 2000s and even then, no one dared call themselves that until they'd left high school (for fear of atomic wedgies and/or swirlies all day long for being a wuss). Yet today, it's a popular term, used in common media and vernacular like, oh, the words geek and nerd.
But see, I think there's a sad thing many modern gamers are missing out on, REALLY missing out on. See, these days, we have all our games practically at our fingertips; games come easily over XBLA and PSN, costing little more than two weeks worth of allowance (mine was about $30 a month if I did my chores). But then, we took the games we had or were graced with and played them for all they were worth. You'd hear about the random kid who had more than 10 Nintendo cartridges and you'd be *insanely* jealous. Bragging out at the jungle gym during recess about having beaten Battletoads or Mega Man 3.
Now, not so much. Now, the game throws achievements at you, sometimes for just pressing start. No more bragging rights, no real need to feel truly vindicated at the supreme amount of effort you spent in doing Super Mario Bros on one life or in mastering Duck Hunt without having the Zapper flush to the screen.
You all did that. I know it. No shame in it.
But while all of that is fun to think about, what I remember fondly and with a special place in my heart were the best parts of being a gamer: the arcades. Concentrated gamey goodness in one convenient place. All of the best titles, plenty of selection, lots of choice and LOTS of sound and lighting. The smell of smoky, somewhat unwashed personnel who worked the counter. The dim nature of entering and being nearly assaulted with the immediate wall of *sound*.
Back then, I couldn't find a word for it, but now I know a decent enough term for the feeling: euphoria.
It was a feeling. When I'd go to the arcade, usually accompanied by my aunt (whenever I visited her and my grandmother), we'd make plans for the weekend. Maybe a movie, maybe a day in. Watch the local college football game on TV (Yay Huskers!), things like that. But nearly always, she knew what I wanted to go do. So she'd hop me and my sis in the car and we'd jaunt on down to the local mall. While she and Sis would go to the various stores or whatever, she'd hand me a five or, if I was good, a ten and say those marvelous words:
"Go have fun. We'll be back in a while."
I'd run full-on into the arcade, beeline right for the token/quarter changer, get my pockets filled and make that first walk around of the aisles of screaming machines begging to make me 80 quarters poorer. Perhaps a fighting game or maybe that one adventure game over there? Ooooo! A new Nascar driver! GASP! TURTLES IN TIME, YES!
Invariably, the hours would blur and I'd find myself with empty pockets and kind of a mixed wash of emotions. On the one hand, I felt fantastic and on the other, sad that it was all over for now. After turning in tickets (if the arcade had them as some did), I'd take my whistle and yo-yo and rubber dog turd and various oddball knick-knacks and go find my aunt at the food court table where she waited for me. She'd always be reading some trashy romance novel, y'know, the type with some beefcake machismo asshole on the front holding a wafer-thin broad with tits the size of basketballs and the two just...staring at each other. That kind of book.
Damn, nearly lost my train of thought there.
She'd be reading that and would put it down, pat me on the head or give me something to drink, we'd have lunch, and then we'd go home.
Considering I didn't have many consistent and reliable friends, these times at the arcade were the best. I developed my love of good music, fast reflexes, and stellar hand-eye coordination. I remember being part of tournaments and doing respectably well for a teenager. I remember no one outside of my aunt in my family really caring about that, but I don't hold that against them. I remember once turning in 70,000 accumulated tickets for a four-and-a-half foot tall Coca-Cola Polar Bear plushie that we gave to my mom for Christmas.
She was...surprised to say the least.
I remember so many things, beating games, seeing new technology.
I remember Chuck E. Cheese when it was NEW. I remember what it used to be BEFORE that (Showbiz Pizza). I remember that arcade pull never fully leaving me as I would see game cabinets in various places in restaurants or diners or wherever we went in life and feeling that same old...'wannaplaywannaplaywannaplay' urge. Some would say it was an addiction. Mom certainly did at time, but to me, it was just...fun.
Hell, I could've been doing drugs, right? At least this was controlled and fun.
Arcades have kind of all but gone extinct now. They don't really exist anymore. There's little chains here and there, but the dingy, dirty, crummy-carpeted, pinball-pinging halls of awesome have vanished to time. Probably with the rise of costs and with games costing more than just a quarter to play.
But I'll remember those happy times. I'll remember them well.