Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

One More Eulogy for the Arcades…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 27, 2012

Now, let’s say this up front: Life is better for gamers now than it was in the 1980s, by almost every conceivable measure. We have far more options, we can play or download games on the Internet without leaving the comfort of our chair (or toilet seat, if that’s your fancy…). The platforms are amazingly more powerful than we could even conceive of back then – even the tiny handhelds now would have seemed impossible then. And yeah, the games are better. I’m not saying every game released today is better than every game published over twenty years ago – that’s crazy-talk. But the awesome games of yesteryear are (mostly) still with us today, in one form or another – and are more available to us today on modern systems than they were just a few years ago. And the cream of the crop of the modern era are the things dreams were made of back in the days when Mario finally got his name (and a brother).

But there was still something about the arcades and game rooms that dotted the landscape of every mall and busy streetcorner back then. The technology – and the gameplay concepts – were so new and changing so rapidly that there was (for me) always a sense of wonder, excitement, and the thrill of discovery that came with walking into the arcade, especially a new one or one that I hadn’t been to for a while. What games would they have? What was new? What machine was surrounded by players with quarters or tokens lining the base of the marquee?

Then there was the social aspect. Not that we arcade-delvers were extremely social folks much of the time. But it was great being able to watch other players play a game, see the different approaches, maybe ask them questions or cheer them on. It was also a lot of fun to compete against them in either a direct head-to-head competition, or to swap turns and compare scores. It was even cooler to play in a cooperative mode, although that was kind of a rare thing. Or, in a game like Joust, the game encouraged both competition and cooperation as you progressed from level to level. While your opponents were usually strangers – like a match-up game online – at least they had a face. And since I usually prefer cooperative or indirect competition, it was a lot more fun for me than my typical online matches in the FPS du jour.

But the real driving thrill was that sense of discovery. I guess that’s a big thing with me, hence my preference for role-playing games. Every time I ducked in through the glass doors under the lit sign into a darkened room full of electronic sounds and music and poorly-digitized voices, I had a feeling of anticipation. Would there be some unknown gem of a game lurking here, something I’d never seen before which would become a new favorite? Every one of my favorite games began that way, with that experience. “Defender Stargate? What the heck is that?” I’d ask. “Let me drop in a quarter and find out.” Bam! I lived for that.

That’s a feeling I do miss, and to a large degree I don’t see ever returning. A lot of that was simply the newness of the medium.

Thanks to indie games, I get a little taste of it now and then. Each month brings a small crop of titles that deviate substantially from the established game styles (or add very new, odd twists to older conventions) that they bring a sense of newness and discovery back – if only to a lesser degree. Sadly, like their arcade counterparts, the newness and innovation isn’t quite enough to demand a lot of attention (or quarters).  But it’s great that people are out there and experimenting and exploring new territory in design again.

It’s not the same. It couldn’t possibly be the same. I’m okay with that. I miss the old arcades and that experience, but I would never trade what we’ve got now for ’em. I’m just glad we’ve got the indie game scene going on with the promise of the new and unusual to keep a tiny bit of that spirit alive.

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