by Philip Orona
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Once upon a time there was a dark cave in the corner of Chicago called Diversions. This cave was a black hole where quarters disappeared and many hours of one’s life was lost. This darkened room full of noise was bathed in cathorade blue from CRTs in wooden cabinets. Diversions was not the only darkened haven to be sure but it was one of the most prominent. I am of course speaking of the ye olde arcade parlor.
Back in my day, the 80’s, before there was such a thing as subscription services like Xbox game pass and Playstation Now, you were stuck with the games you were fortunate enough to have until someone bought you a new one for christmas or birthday and then traded with your buddies. If you were really lucky, your parents would rent you a game from the local Blockbuster video for the weekend. For most of us, we had to scratch the new game itch by going to the arcade. These days gamers have it good with the aforementioned subscription services and then some. Steam, Origin, Amazon games, Apple Arcade and the Nintendo online store has made gaming extremely accessible for single and multiplayer ambitions and lets not forget the mobile offerings for Android and IOS. We are spoiled for choice with all of the available titles at our digital finger tips. No leaving the house required. However, something is missing.
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My gaming setup complete with a car seat, wheel and pedals is a fantastic way to game in the home. Sega Rally 3 for PC and the recent Need for Speed releases have been staples in my arcade racing library. There are still some games that don’t exist outside of the arcade scene on current gen systems such as Initial D Arcade (I own the closest thing to it on Playstation 3) or 4 player beat em ups like X-men and the Simpsons Arcade. You can buy some of these cabinets for that real arcade feel but they aren’t cheap. Neo Geo has a nice selection of multi game cabinets. I have even seen some mini-arcade cabinets for sale at Walmart. So it is possible to bring the arcade feel home but it is almost impossible to replicate the high voltage atmosphere of local competitive play.
Image from Walmart.com
In the year of COVID we have been hunkered down in our shelterinis, forced into Discord chats and distant online play. Gone for now are the days of local couch co-op, to say nothing of the huddled masses of the arcade. While I don’t miss dropping massive amounts of coin into a cheating machine that just cheap-shotted me, I miss the social aspect. I miss watching people discover how to do fatalities when a new Mortal Kombat hits the local convenience store. I long for the fervor of watching a couple rip it up on Dance Dance Revolution in front of a crowd. I can still feel the buzzing car engine drone in my ear from having played an 4 player instance of The Fast and Furious arcade. I miss the sound of a pinball machine ticking over digital numbers to keep score and the voice of the Bride of Pinbot mocking your “Poor Performance”. Heck, I’ll even take a ski-ball machine at Chuck E. Cheese right now. I won 100 tickets? Sweet, maybe I can afford a Sonic the Hedgehog keyring, oh, that’s 150.
Arcades were already a dying institution before the major shutdowns and it is now it is almost certain to become extinct due to the past year of social isolation. Digital media has become even more prominent and relied upon with everyone staying in the house and I don’t see the end of its dominance. Once all of the quarantine is over, I fully intend to head over to Galloping Ghost with the SuperGGRadio crew for some wholesome arcade action and will probably take my boys with me. If it managed to survive the shutdown that is. Now excuse me while I boot up a Double Dragon arcade rom on my PC and while blasting “Put Your Quarter up” by Slug and Aesop Rock on my headphones.