Well, there’s a headline containing all the information I wanted to convey. Hit ‘publish’, take the rest of the day off. Done. I can continue pining for arcades in peace, having let the handful of people likely to stumble upon this blog know that I’m terminally-nostalgic for games designed to rob me of my money for very little play time.
Except that description doesn’t really do justice to the arcade experience, or at least does but focuses on the very worst. And when being nostalgic about any given thing, thinking of the worst isn’t the way to go, now is it?
I remember when a trip to an arcade rocked my tiny world. A little about this world of which I speak, then; the town from which I hail is a small-ish ex-mining backwater which, around 15 years ago, was so white it hurt. Not literally hurt, but for a young twentysomething who wanted to get out in the world (and at the same time, stay in and play games) it was sorely lacking in diversity of people. The normies in this place are murder, I tells ya.
Nearest place I could go to escape the white-trash pothole in which I lived would either be neighbouring towns similar enough to render the endeavour utterly redundant, or the nearest city of Nottingham; now home to the National Videogame Arcade, it was the closest place I could visit an actual arcade with actual arcade games in the early 2000’s. I mean, most of those things were found at the coast for some reason. Living in the landlocked county of Nottinghamshire? No dice.
So I went, with a friend. Stepped into the (sadly no longer with us) Namco/Vegas arcade because I knew they had a Street Fighter of some kind and I wanted to play against human beings and not the computer A.I.
Upon entering, the scene I was greeted with smacked of diversity. Guys on the fighting games, gals on the dancing games, a mixture of skin colours inferring a wealth of roots from here there and everywhere. And there I was, the chalk-skinned goth in a scruffy trenchcoat I’ve still got and his pre-everything transgender friend. Long story cut short, I played Street Fighter and got totally and utterly bodied by this black guy who had a reputation for doing that kind of thing to newbies. Not that I minded, it was exactly the experience I wanted.
It was then that I had something of an epiphany about games and the public spaces they could and should be in. In that hall of video-based entertainment, gender or skin colour or country of origin didn’t really matter, y’know? Put your coins in, play the game. Win or lose, it didn’t matter, because everyone there was there to play, and play together. And again, this was the early 2000’s and home gaming loved to brag about how many hours a game took for a single player, ostensibly playing alone, would spend on the story or whatever. But I digress.
That is what I miss about arcades. I miss the time I found a Street Fighter II Champion Edition in a pub as a tween and beat this twentysomething’s high score so badly I could hear his friend talking him down from pummeling me in real life. I miss the small crowd I got from an almost one-credit-completion of Virtua Fighter 2 in Skegness that one time. I miss my partner Harry and I hustling wannabe boy racers on a deluxe 4-player Out Run 2 in Bridlington, even though that was only about a year ago, but I miss that experience being something more commonplace.
Of course, I’m a nostalgic. I am guilty right here of romanticising it all, and it probably wasn’t commonplace at all. But it should’ve been. And should be.
I’m in a pretty enviable position these days, as I live around the corner from an old church converted by tabletop gaming enthusiasts for their games that is host, once a month, to a local gaming event. In the public space. And in Nottingham itself, there’s a fighting game community being built and I’ve attended (read: got utterly bodied in the first or second bout) a couple of their tournaments. None of this XBox Live or PlayStation Plus stuff which, although is nice, still remains kinda faceless and loses that intimacy and camaraderie experienced when sharing meatspace for the vidya.
I miss arcades. Not for what they were, but for what I always knew they could be. A way for people to play, together. A way for people to experience games together.