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Grandpa, whats an arcade? by cyke Written on 17th August 2001

Arcade. The very word conjours up a lot of images. Now I don't know on what part of this earth you are sitting, so I can't relate this article to everyone. This may have only been a UK thing. For your sake I hope so. But bear with me, as we look back and wonder how we ever got to where we are today.

I can still remember the first visit I had to an arcade. Actually, it only had one machine. But then, this was the early days. Stuck in the corner of my local games shop, little did the shop owner know what a can of worms he was opening.

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You wish you had all this
You see, the thing about arcades in those days was that they were a double edged sword. If you had the right machine there was profit to be made. The down side was the sort of clientelle they attract. Imagine listening to a hoarde of obnoxious kids day in, day out. All over the world, kids latch onto videogames just before puberty. Overnight, they have to be seen to be playing the 'in' game, keeping up with the crowd, and swearing. But preferably smoking.

Yes, all over the nation, arcades became a haven for spotty little kids to choke on cancer sticks and pretend to be 'hard' or 'cool'. Try to stop them and you'll be given an education in swearwords.

Other endearing memories of arcades would be the sudden influx after school, schoolbags lying everywhere and the grotty decor of the surroundings. Plus of course, the bad upkeep of machines. Kids aren't fussy that way, and they've no-one to complain to when your only member of staff is a severly mentally-unhinged social outcast ( what can I say, the wages couldn't have been great ). Christ, just getting those shiny 10ps in change from the attendant was a minor miracle in itself, you don't push your luck !!

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Wrestlefest I loved you
The great things about arcades were:

1. Your mates were there. A bit like a junior version of a Masons Lodge, you always knew your mates would be there after school or at the weekends. It was the place to hang. In fact, I've just realised it's kinda like on the classic TV show Cheers with Ted Danson, only everyones a lot younger and doesn't drink. Not in public anyway.

2. It boosted your self-ego. Alright, so you were shit at sports and couldn't speak to girls but at least you could consistantly get the high-score on Bamboozler 37 , right ? RIGHT ?

3. It was a release valve. I can just about remember the constant frustrations of teenage years, it always somehow felt like you were carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, yet somehow an hour on the machines could help relax you. And if that didn't work you could always start a fight on StreetFighter 2 and show the world what a stud you were. I even got into an actual fight in an arcade once, and was surprised to find the coveted Dragon Punch that Ryu and Ken used wasn't really applicable to real-life situations.

4. Missing your bus. Being in an arcade was like experiencing warped time. Nothing made sense. A half-hour was roughly equivalent to a game on Double Dragon, but two on Snow Brothers. But no matter how hard you watched the clock, time flew by, and if you did remember you needed to leave it would be futile anyway as you'll have just likely inserted three credits worth of happiness.

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The altar i worshipped at
At one point, the arcade makers started mostly making dedicated cabinets for their big releases. It started slowly enough, usually for games that needed mounted guns, but soon with the high cost of development practically everything was coming out only with it's own dedicated cabinet. The cabinets were all part of the marketing for the game to try and recoup costs.

That pretty much killed the market. All the local small businesses which owned the JAMMA games ( and stuck them in other peoples arcades, food shops, malls etc, splitting profits 50/50) couldn't get new JAMMA stock, couldn't afford the dedicated (four times more expensive than normal) cabinets..and that was that. A slow and painful death for the arcade industry. I watched as my local arcade never got a new game in over a year. Btw, that arcade went bust a long time ago..

Yeah, consoles helped kill arcades too, but I'm not going to get on the case of consoles, their crimes are too many to go into here in any depth.

The arcades which do still exist these days are big-business affairs. The cheapest machine will likely cost you an arm to go on and a leg to continue after the intro movie. The Star Wars Arcade machine is a great example. Its all style and no substance. The controls are bad, the gameplay repetitve, but hey - it's Star Wars so it must be good, right? Arse.

The power of the Playstation, N64 and Dreamcast has made it hard for the arcade makers to come up with concepts worthy of being placed in arcades. Most games on home systems now are eight thousand times better than the stuff we were wetting ourselves over 10 years ago.

The weird thing is, I don't actually miss arcades, but I do think it's somehow regrettable that kids of today really never experienced them. There was a social element, a brotherhood of the gamers, a common bond of shitty machines, a shared enemy in the end of level bad guys that's somehow missing for todays young gamers. But lets face it, when kids are getting 40 dollar games bought for them by their parents every week and playing them on the latest cuting edge machine somethings gone badly wrong anyway. Modern game buying and playing has got way too glossy and friendly for my liking.

Bring back badly lit, smelly, noisy, smoke-ridden rooms to play the latest gaming experiences in, that's what I say.

Bah, Humbug.

Arcades were simpler in those days. The actual machines were generally JAMMA units. This was the equivalent of a console, where basically the unit, screeen and controllers never needed changed. You just slotted in the game, plugged in the TV and controllers and she was good to go.


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