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Quarter Flash
by John Sellers

This article is an excerpt from the excellent book Arcade Fever by John Sellers and Running Press
Published online with permission.

Here's what I like to think happened to arcades as we knew them - that is, open for business: One morning, we all woke up with a killer hangover and couldn¹t muster the strength to trudge down to Aladdin's Castle (or Space Port or Fun Factory, or any of the other somewhat nerdy variations on names for video-game hangouts). This being right around the year 1986, we slumped in our basement beanbags, hooked up the Nintendo NES that we got for Christmas, flipped on the television set, watched a few videos on MTV - hopefully catching a break and getting Falco's Rock Me Amadeus and Eddie Murphy's Party All the Time back to back - pushed the NES power button when veejay Adam Curry's freakish mane appeared on the screen, and played games for the rest of the day.

After hours and hours of collecting coins and power-ups, we knew that we were meant to be here, at home, where Funyons were readily available and where we could sit and listen to our favorite Mötley Crüe tunes and not have to deal with idiots coming over and putting a quarter up on what is clearly our game of Duck Hunt. It looked almost the same as the stuff at the arcade anyhow, except that Mr. Sandman had mysteriously been replaced by Mike Tyson in Punch Out!, and who didn¹t respect Iron Mike's authority?

Of course, our bodies went through a brief withdrawal period. We'd venture down to the old arcade once in a while - assuming that it was still there‹to play standbys like Track & Field and Star Wars. The other three kids in there looked as shellshocked as we did: Sure, games like Rampage and Ikari Warriors were cool in an old-school sort of way, but these new releases certainly weren't compelling or diverse enough to tear us away from Mario and Luigi anymore.

Technology got more powerful and more affordable, and we soon found that arcade titles could be closely replicated in the privacy of our own homes, something that wasn¹t available in the Atari 2600 days. We sat complacently on our couches and forced game manufacturers to come to us, rather than the other way around. And they did, every single one of them. The last half of the 1980s went out with a wimper at arcades, with only a handful of uprights - titles like Toobin', Outrun, Double Dragon, Altered Beast, 720, Narc, Golden Axe - worth their weight in ROM chips. For the first time in the history of man, kids actually wanted to stay at home where they could pound away on hellions in Ultima, flip goofy Tetris shapes on our Game Boys and save the princess in, well, the hundreds of games where you had to save the princess.

So we stayed home. Arcades closed. Life was good. The early '90s success of Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat temporarily lured zit-faced teens out of their bedroom caves into the few public places that still existed for video-gaming. We older folks even sniffed around a little ourselves. But something was horribly, horribly wrong: The games all looked the same, sounded the same, made you memorize moves the same way and cost upwards of 50 cents to boot. We tried to compete with the kids - all of whom probably grew up watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or listening to Barney records - but we couldn't really muster the enthusiasm. It was so over.

We moved on to Sony PlayStation and Sega Genesis - or even more likely, our newly powerful personal computers. We played Myst, explored the Internet, dabbled in network gaming, and just generally ignored the fact that there was ever such a thing as arcades, and that we used to go to them every weekend and blow our entire allowances there. But every once in a while we'd remember, wistfully, what it used to be like. We'd get flashbacks of wasting the invaders from Galaga while tossing back beers at our local. We'd start whistling the exciting Time Pilot theme song while commuting to work in the morning. We'd stumble across a too-realistic game like Carnevil at a movie theater and go,"How exactly is that more fun than Missle Command?" And then it would hit us: My god, why did we ever stop going to the arcade?

Retrogaming sprung up to quench such nostalgia, which helped wash away a little of the guilt we felt for having deserted the arcade. Programs such as MAME, which does its best to emulate old-school games, and Stella, which reproduces Atari 2600 titles, allowed us to rediscover favorites like Congo Bongo and Yars' Revenge. Seemingly every hipster bar in the country installed a sit-down Ms. Pac-Man machine. Even some daring folks stocked their arcades full of the classics, places like Seattle's excellent Hi-Score and Ann Arbor¹s homey Pinball Pete's. Through it all, the twinge of guilt remained.

But who would have it any other way? Certainly not the current crop of gamers, who are two or three generations removed from the people who grew up on Breakout and Space Invaders. They're perfectly content beating the living crud out of each other at home. Certainly not the video-game industry, which is raking in more money than ever.

Us? Well, to be honest, we actually kind of like sitting on our couches and remiscing about the good old days. Because that's what they are: Good and old. While we're at it, we'll fire up a nice game of Soul Calibur or MLB 2001 on our Dreamcasts and hang loose with some of our friends. We know that it's not nearly as rewarding as proving ourselves to total strangers, but at least we don¹t have to bum rides off of people. The arcades of our youth are gone, and we're finally okay with that.

       ... and be sure to visit the ARCADE FEVER homepage!

Good Deal Games now carries
autographed copies of 'Arcade Fever' for ONLY $21.75!


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