More Thoughts on Arcade Memories

We’ve discussed arcades before, reminiscing about fond times when arcades were at the height of their popularity, when they were the place for gamers to gather.  This time around, we’re going to reminisce again, but without the nostalgia of last time.

Touched on in that last post, arcades have seen a notable decline, as home video gaming has risen.  I remember the last time I was in Gold Mine—it was a Friday afternoon, around eight years ago, and I was feeling nostalgic, so I headed in to waste a few dollars and see what the younger gamers were into.

There weren’t many kids in my local mall, but they were noticeably lacking in Gold Mine, by then renamed Tilt.  On a Friday afternoon, the place was barren.  Again, there were a few kids in the food court, but none there.  The only other person was a man about my age, looking like he was there for the same reason.  There wasn’t an attendant on duty—the counter where, as a youngster, I’d marched up to with my tickets for the Pokey stuffed animal was long gone.

The place looked, to be honest, terrible.  It was a dump.  Trash on the floor, approximately a quarter of the games weren’t working—it looked like a place I wouldn’t have taken a kid near, much less into and allowed to run free.

I played one game of the latest Street Fighter, and only one because the only joystick that worked only half-worked, and headed out, shaking my head the entire way.  Later on I discovered that Tilt was doing so bad financially in that location that they couldn’t afford dedicated technicians, forcing surrounding stores to send over employees to empty out the machines irregularly.  Maintenance and janitorial services were next to nonexistent.  I couldn’t help but think, admittedly only for sentimental reasons, that such was not deserved, for all the memories that place held.

Sometime later I’d visited a local Camelot Family Fun Center.  It had opened a few years previous, and offered everything one would expect from a “family fun center”—miniature golf, go-carts, bumper-boats, and so on.  It also had a respectable video game section, featuring the latest games as well as plenty of classics like the sped-up version of Ms. Pac-Man.  The first few times I’d been there, it was packed, everything was in use.  The last time—not so much.

It was a few months after my visit to Tilt, and I was once more feeling a bit nostalgic, combined with hoping that the “arcade experience wasn’t completely dead.  I remembered that Camelot was more about the modern games with a “gimmick”—racing games with elaborate contraptions you climbed onto or into, shooting games with giant plastic guns that simulated recoil, and other such things.  Such things that, even now, can’t really be replicated at home.  Even so, they had plenty of games from different eras, so I was hoping to find some remnant of my youth spent in the arcades.

What I found was almost as sad as the shell of an arcade that was Tilt.  For one thing, Camelot had been bought out by Boomers.  I had never heard of the company before, so that didn’t bode well.  Another warning sign was the nearly-empty parking lot, even though it was another afternoon.  There were only two or three kids milling about in the arcade area, a few adults playing miniature golf, and the rest of the attractions were barren.

Most of the games worked, so that was a point in Boomers’ favor.  The floor was clean, too, more or less.  The compliments ended there, though.  I could only see two staff members on duty, and they were half-visible behind the counter, chatting with each other.  I didn’t have a small bill on me so I was at the counter to break a larger bill.  I had to stand there for a few moments, and the two looked directly at me more than a few times.  It wasn’t until I said “Excuse me,” a few times that they finally broke their conversation.

The one who came over, a teenaged girl, had a Very Not Pleased look on her face which she didn’t even bother trying to hide.  she broke my bill for me and didn’t even hang around long enough for my “Thank you” to be fully spoken.  After exchanging a few dollar bills for tokens, I looked around.

The older games were gone, save for a lone Ms. Pac-Man in one dark corner, a Turtles in Time in another, and one of the Street Fighters in yet another.  The rest were very modern—elaborate contraptions, mostly, including one of the then-popular Dance Dance Revolution machines.  I spied bits of trash on one machine, along the bottom of the viewing window, reminiscent of the days when kids lined up quarters for “next”.

Was this intentional?  Was this just what the next generation did for “next”?  I didn’t know, but I doubted it.  A movie ticket stub, a bit of popcorn, a few other bits of detritus I don’t recall—and on a machine that wasn’t in use.  I ended up playing only one game before I left.

I haven’t been to an arcade since, though I know there are some around the country that are trying—hard—to recapture that old magic.  Some are even succeeding—for now.  I just wonder how long the arcade, as an experience, can really last.  A part of me is surprised it’s lasted this long, while another part of me hopes it will survive for decades to come.  The reality is likely somewhere in the middle—but I wouldn’t want to bet on which part of me is closer to being right.

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2 Responses to “More Thoughts on Arcade Memories”

  1. WhiteWolf Says:

    Oh man, the good old days of Tilt. I remember then fondly. Going in after school or ditching to go in. 🙂 Throwing quarter after quarter into area 51 trying to make it to the next level. Standing in line waiting to fight the next person in Tekken. I was never in Camelot except maybe once so I don’t remember it well, but Boomers I have been to enough times, to know I like everything but the arcade. It’s sad because I can remember how my mom and other adults talked about how great arcades where. This post takes me back.

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