We want him to write on the blog so much we’ve created a series! So, welcome to the first in our guest blogs focusing on memories of the arcade. As Keith wrote here, they’ve gone from being an institution to as rare as a Gooty Tarantula, but were vital for us oldies growing up. Here is the rather younger Jordan H J with his take on the whole thing. And after you’ve read it you should really check out his YouTube channel and we’ve put his rather excellent Donkey Kong Country vid at the bottom of the article.
Arcade Memories of a Gamer Born in 1992
I was born in 1992, which means that my first experiences of arcades that I have a clear memory of, was in the late 90’s as a kid. I would go to arcades mostly during the school holidays, either at seaside towns like Margate, or at holiday parks like Haven, which normally had their own on site. I loved going to them. Most of the machines there were simple luck and skill based games, which ended up rewarding the player with tickets. These tickets could then be spent on hideously overpriced trinkets, and was essentially, a waste of money.
Hidden amongst the ticket machines and one armed bandits though, were genuine games. Now even as a child, I was a big gamer. I played on my parents SNES every day, playing such classics as Super Metroid, Donkey Kong Country, and of course, Prehistorik man. Me and my friends would swap and borrow each others cartridges all the time, and this was my gateway into gaming. I played all sorts of titles, from RPG’s to Puzzles, and this was where my love of gaming originated. As my love of gaming grew, It didn’t necessarily lead to an increased affinity of arcades. This was mostly due to the fact that, as I grew older, I noticed that the games on display were just not proper games, but essentially more like gambling than anything else.
And then it happened. One day, at a Haven, I saw a machine I had never seen before, playing a game I had never seen before. It turned out to be Dragons Lair. Dragons Lair was released in 1984, and was a game in which footage was played back from a Laserdisc, and the player had to press a prompt at a specific time to go to the next screen. It was extremely unforgiving, but it was proper fun. It might seem funny to think of a gamer in the late 90’s being amazed by a game from the mid 80’s, but it genuinely did amaze me. It was so different from the 2D graphics I was used to on the SNES, or even the blocky 3D graphics I had seen in adverts for the PS1. Most of all, it was completely alien to everything else in arcade. The movie quality animation stunned me, and I loved it.
After this, I began to look at arcades in a whole new way. No longer were they places to get stripped of all my holiday money for a couple of cheap toys in exchange for tickets, but places to search for hidden gaming gems that I couldn’t experience at home. I began to search directly for these types of machines, and would drag my parents around every arcade at a town until I found one with a machine I liked. Time Crisis was always a staple, appearing at most arcades. Then there were the driving simulators, which were always fun. Once in a while, you would come across something a bit special, like a Star Wars Arcade, which was phenomenal – and then the one time I found a Street Fighter 2 Machine in Brighton, was one of my best gaming memories.
As I grew up, I found that this wasn’t the arcade experience many people had. Watching videos online of arcades in America, I saw that they were full of actual gaming machines, featuring the newest fighting games, and classic arcade titles, such as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. Even more, watching videos of arcades in Japan seemed almost like they had been invented by a fantasy writer. Even in the UK, seeing how arcades used to be in the 80’s made me jealous, and wondering why it was that arcades were no longer like that.
Arcades in the UK are generally quite poor, mostly having old partially working machines, shooting games, and then a glut of one armed bandits and ticket machines. These days they can be depressing places, with a few people spending there last couple quid on gambling machines that obviously have very distorted odds. There are a few proper arcades about if you search, but they are very much the exception and not the norm. Despite this, the places I went to in my childhood still hold a special place in my heart. I didn’t see the obvious scam of the tickets, all I saw was a place to go and have fun.