“I got a pocket full of quarters, and I’m headed to the arcade. I don’t have a lot of money, but I’m bringing everything I made. I’ve got a callus on my finger, and my shoulder’s hurting too. I’m gonna eat them all up, just as soon as they turn blue. ‘Cause I’ve got Pac-Man fever! (Pac-Man fever). It’s driving me crazy! (Driving me crazy). I’ve got Pac-Man fever! (Pac-Man fever).
I’m going out of my mind!!! (Going out of my mind).” Lyrics excerpted from “Pac-Man Fever”, the hit single by Buckner & Garcia circa 1981.
It was an RV park in the middle of nowhere, sometime in the early 80’s. A pit stop on the open road to destination unknown… more honestly forgotten with the passage of time. It was late in the year and forebodingly cold weather kept everyone cooped up within the recreational vehicle’s closely cramped, claustrophobic confines.
The prison… err… RV park had a small commons building. This was the only respite one could find from the monotony of interstate travel on pause. Within its walls was a small store for basic needs, along with assorted vending machines and some washers and dryers. It also held, just beside the cigarette dispenser, a standing cabinet arcade game.
“Gun Fight”, released by Midway Games in 1975, became my 8-bit refuge. It’s sketchy 2-D animation, of an old west gunfight, prompted me to beg quarters of any and all present for just one more round. Yeah, the graphics sucked but so did I at playing it. However, this was the first arcade style game I’d ever laid hands on, and it was AWESOME!
Beyond that, though I never caught “Pac-Man Fever” (because I sucked at it also) my “gaming” time was well wasted and oft unspent. Plunking quarters into the Galaga Machine at the local grocery store. Trying the table-top version of Mrs. Pacman at Pizza Hut. It seemed that whether vertical or horizontal, I truly sucked at all things “Pac”.
With such minimal exposure to video games, my interest in them rapidly began to wane. Until a friend invited me to the Time-Out Arcade at the old Catawba Mall. Which, at the time, was the only thing left open at that mall and that in itself added a bit of mystique to the whole adventure.
Remember arcades? Not that Dave & Buster Charlie Cheese s*** they have now, but actual arcades? Those smoke filled (it was a different time) darkened dens of juvenile joy! Maybe a little ambient lighting, but the gaming screens lit up the place on their own. All the better to see you with… or rather them with, with strategically placed neon to guide you to the token vendor/snack counter guy.
Back there, back then, it wasn’t all about the games but rather that magically mystic atmosphere we engaged them in with our friends. Alas, in the grand scheme, their time was short lived. Slowly, painfully outsourced by their own creators with the dawning of affordable home gaming entertainment systems.
In my little world we did have the original Atari, with any game found in the reduced price, “nobody has ever heard of it” bin. Upgraded to the original Nintendo Entertainment System a few years later. And then, became an adult who had no time for such things. Until kids happened.
By then gaming was on a whole different level of graphics and gameplay. So, in due time, we Playstationed, Xboxed and did a 360. With each upgrade the graphics became more realistic and the gameplay more intense. And then it started becoming ridiculously complicated.
Wait for the game to upload. Select skill level. Choose a character. Modify that character to desired sex, race and body type. Pick a costume (which covers up everything you just wasted time doing in the last step). Of course, we’re playing “first-person-shooter” mode, so we’ll only see our hands onscreen. Choose a weapon. Modify it to your liking. Collect XP and rewards for completing these mundane tasks. Now watch the highly detailed, intro-storyline cut scene. My gawd, are we ever going to get around to actually playing the friggin’ game?
Well, it does buy us a moment to reflect on a simpler time. You walk into the arcade with your friends. Choose your game. Insert a quarter. Press START. Game on!
I welcome almost all questions, comments via FOCUS, or E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope to hear from ya until then try and stay focused! See ya.