December 5, 2010
Thankful that I knew you and sorely miss you…..
During this time of year we are thankful for all sorts of things; Family, good health, friends, stable job to bring food to the table, and compassion towards our fellow man. As gamers we are thankful for all of those and more; great games, new hardware, updates to bring a new flavor to our favorite games, the joys of taking down a noob and gently resting our virtual nu-nads on their forehead, laughing and having good times with friends, and having the comforting joy of a controller in hand during the long winter nights.
This year I have played a lot of games both retail and downloadable, through great games and sour ones, great narratives and horrible clichéd stories that make famous authors turn in their graves, I have stolen every form of transportation known to man and have walked to the far reaches of the galaxy and back. Still with all of this said and done, all the experiences I have had there is one that I miss every day; the thrill, smell, sights and sounds of the arcade.
Arcades have played a big role in my life. My family owns a business in Pittsburgh which has assembled arcade machines since the 70’s and is still open today despite the American arcade scene has fallen off the grid; they mostly do touch masters for bars and video slots now. Growing up I was in the front lines of the arcade industry. While my parents were still together we had a pinball machine in the basement, anytime I would visit my grandfather’s shop I would spend countless hours in the show room with various pinball machines and arcade games. After my parents split and the times in the shop diminished, I hit the arcade scene with every quarter I had in tow. There were two arcades in the town I lived in, Pocket Change which was in the mall that is still in use today but has since been remodeled and Giggles (see the above picture) which still has a storefront but the mall has been vacant for years. Pocket Change was the more advanced of the two arcades, always having the top of the line machines. Giggles was more of a retro arcade, housing games like Double Dragon, P.O.W. and John Elway Football but still had some of the more recent titles like Mortal Kombat.
The weekends were great, get dropped off at the mall, walk into Giggles, hit the change machine and start my night. You would always have the big crowds surrounding the top machines, kids placing quarters in line at the bottom of the monitors waiting for their turn, and the smell of the Pizza Boy floating in from across the way. Ran out of quarters? Not a problem. The local ToysRus was attached to the mall and you would find kids setting up their own tournaments on the demo machines; Soul Blade on the PS1 drew a crowd every weekend despite only having 3 characters unlocked.
Thinking back to those times makes me sad to see the way of the American arcade. The last arcade I stepped into was when I was in New York City in 2003, and the fate of that one I am unsure of. The arcade has a special place in my heart, that no matter how many remakes show up on XBLA and PSN they can never replace the feeling of going to a brick and mortar arcade.
To see a resurgence of the American arcade is one in a million, but I am thankful that I was there to at least see and experience what those wonderful places had to offer. This holiday I will hold on to my 360 arcade stick tightly and think of better times while I enjoy the X-men arcade remake coming through the downloadable pipe. Have any of you enjoyed the days of the arcade or wished you could have? I am still looking for a Rush 2049 arcade cabinet, one of the only racing games to have a working clutch. I would love to rebuild it from scratch so that maybe a future retirement plan; some people build cars, I want to build arcade machines. Maybe it’s just in my blood. What are you thankful for this holiday season?