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Friday, October 28, 2011

Games: Arcades

It was only a matter of time until we became what we played. The arcade at its peak was both sanctuary and battlefield. You would walk in with your five dollars, do a lap around the dark room, taking in the sticky floors and soaking up the flashing lights and jarring sounds of bleeps, bloops, punches, tire screeches, and coded messages shared between fellow game players. They chat about everything from fighting game fatalities to rumors of your favorite company finally releasing your favorite game on console. Because after all, the arcade did what game journalists and the internet do now before anyone even knew that there was a need. It got us all together in one place and told us what we needed to know.

You would feed your dollars into the weird little box that would only work about 40% of the time. And if it didn't, there was always a twenty something guy milling about, ready to fulfill the task that the ugly machine had failed at. You could tell him by the half apron that constantly jingled when he walked, and the look of disdain he had when you made eye contact with him, because that meant that he had to work, and the only reason he took the job in the first place was to be around video games. not feed little kids quarters.

You grab your loot and once again look around the area, even though you know exactly what you want to play. So with your head down you slowly saunter toward the wall of people that circle shoulder to shoulder but quietly entranced behind two guys standing in front of a video screen that flashes harder and screams louder than all others around it. There is a fight happening. You have read about this fight, and practiced it yourself a few times in the arcade late at night when no one else was around, but never when it meant something. Your hands start sweating and your heart starts racing as your legs begin to move themselves close enough to get near the machine. Your arm shakes as you stretch out your hand and place a quarter at the base of the screen, next to five others in a line. Then you wait. 

Darwin would have you believe that Lan parties and online play would be the natural evolution of the arcade. People say that the arcade never really died, but that with the introduction of these tools we were all were rid of the hopelessly archaic need of "seeing each other" that plagued us in the stone ages of gaming. To this I would only ask that a person one day take the time out to visit any medium or large game company and ask where to find either the "code dungeon," or the "tester pit." Then visit a large Lan party like the one pictured above and walk those dark corridors.In both these places I believe you will see what Ebenezer Scrooge was showed by the ghost of Christmas future. Some fucked up shit.

They are all dark warehouses illuminated by rows and rows of video screens reporting the same images. And next to them sit rows of rows of expressionless kids with faces invisible to the darkness. Not really playing games,just manipulating those images for a response. As long as something, anything happens on screen its ok. It doesn't mean nothing.

Arcades were places of anticipation and excitement because you were under constant audit by your fellow game players. At anytime during play a person could stand next to you, put their money in the machine, and test your skill. And if you won you could look the other person in the eye, say "good game," and have that guy walk away knowing that you beat him in a fair fight. Or you could be a D-berg, just walk away from the machine and allow the peon to finish your round because you were, "bored." 

I am sure its all relative, and the future of online play will introduce something to entertain or inspire me enough to forget how much I miss the true social aspect of the games we play. But as of now I feel that technological advancements have taken us from playing the games we play for enjoyment, to constantly De-bugging the games for companies prepping the next release, patch, etc... We now just sit alone in a room, accountable to no one, accepting challenges from funny 1337 tags with no soul.

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