Where Are The Retro Games? The Dissolving Arcade Games Landscape
If you grew up in the 70s or 80s, chances are really high that you spent some quality time in an arcade. You see, kids. Long ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth, we used to spend time outside our homes at a place called “the mall.” At the mall (whether indoors or outdoor strip mall) we could roam around aimlessly –OR– assuming we had some cash, we could spend an afternoon basking in the glow of our favorite arcade.
These days, honest to goodness arcades are nearly impossible to find. Even if you are fortunate enough to locate an operating arcade, you’ll be hard pressed to find good retro games. Most arcade games shooters, racers, or fighters. They are floor filler for mini-golf establishments, kids pizza places, and the occasional truck stop. The rest of the space is dedicated to ticket/redemption games. Hey, I’m not going to harsh the joy that you get from spending $10 in quarters to “earn” enough tickets to get a plastic spider (worth $0.15) and a handful of tootsie rolls. You enjoy that reward, my friend. You have indeed earned it. No, my sadness comes from the sheer lack of classic arcade games available today.
Yes, I can remember hopping off of the family brontosaurus at the grocery store, knowing good and well that I’d be spending the bulk of my time playing Ms. Pac Man or Vanguard in the breezeway. I saved the change from my lunch money to have a stash of loot to spend at Aladdin’s Castle the next time we went to the mall. Yes, we had Showbiz Pizza. Yes, our Putt-Putt had a huge arcade, but you could find mini-arcades and big arcades EVERYWHERE. There was no escaping them. At least until the 90s came around.
Once the 90s hit, the SNES and Genesis systems were offering near-arcade quality games that could be played at home. By the dawn of the 32 bit systems, there was little need for arcades. One by one they began to close across the US. I’m told that in the Asian market, arcades are still thriving with both new and retro games. Good for them, but I don’t have access to those venues. The closest I get are the two quarters I spend at Ci-Ci’s Pizza making sure my Ms. Pac Man and Galaga high scores stay on top.
I miss the smell of CRT monitors burning brightly and the soft glow from all the game cabinets. It was always fun to be the one of the first in the arcade because you could hear all the games running their attract screens and audio. I miss hanging out and watching my friends try for the high score on a game, knowing that I had the next turn and would catch a lot of grief if I didn’t muster a decent score. I even miss the arcade workers, who had to be making peanuts for a salary, but who always had the latest news on what games were coming out and which units were about to be replaced. Though most of the games I played were single player, there was still a social environment. We all watched each other play and we always chatted while we played rather than spread out and meet up when we were done. That’s how we stretched our entertainment dollar, and it worked. I guess you can get that similar experience with some of the multiplayer and co-op console games, but the environment was hard to beat for making friends and generally having a great time.
A few years ago, I was on the west coast at a boardwalk that still had an arcade. Yes, most of the games were DDR and Skee-Ball, but there was a section in the corner with a neon sign that said “Classic Video Games”. I was drawn like a moth to a light. Within that little tucked away portion of the arcade was a little piece of history. About 8 other guys, probably all around my age, were playing games, hanging out and having fun. It was cool to stand at a Tron game and have complete strangers walk up and engage me in conversation. Just like old times. It was fun to play the games too. No dance moves. No tickets to collect. No internet connection. Just people playing games and enjoying life.
Makes me wonder how much it would cost to build and maintain an arcade stocked with retro games? I miss you, Time Pilot.