Arcade anamnesis5 minute read

Mike Leigh’s memories of gaming whilst on holiday

For the record I am aware that arcades are still around in the United Kingdom, and to an extent are still thriving in their current iterations, but honestly, nowadays, they suck. They really, really suck.

An obnoxiously, overpriced collection of gimmicks with racing and shooting cabinets, sport based ticket rewarding and coin gambling machines in addition to ego-stroking ‘test of strength’ towers purposely built to impress others. This is all a far cry from what I remember – the classic joystick and big-bright-button-based machines that glowed with images of sprites and tinny chiptune sound bites.

Americana culturing

Arcades were more prominent at the height of their popularity in the 1980s with games such as Pac-Man, Galaga, Donkey Kong, Defender, Dig Dug, Tempest and Joust, among others, lining up against each other in pizza parlours, community clubs and holiday camps all over the world. They’re probably more associated with the culture of Americana, but they transcended worldwide and revealed a new type of entertainment-avenue that was generational. Being born in the mid 80’s, I never got the chance to play many of the classic arcade cabinets mentioned above as they were unfortunately, mostly, phased out for the newer, slicker higher spec machines of the 1990’s. However, it’s the games of the 1990’s that I actually remember more fondly.

Arcade cabinet’s from the 1980’s

Looking back to different family holidays as a child, going to caravan parks and seaside hotels, arcade machines were prominent everywhere. Although I’m sure I had great times visiting the local sights and enjoying times on the beaches, and by the pool, all I can seem to vividly remember are the arcades I frequented. I remember going to a caravan park in Weymouth and being transfixed by the Double Dragon cabinet in the small corner of the park’s clubhouse. Although I never got the chance to play this game myself I couldn’t turn my head away from watching the older kids punch and kick their way through the levels. That may possibly be my earliest memory of seeing an arcade machine, but I can’t 100% recall.

I had a holiday at a caravan park on Mersea Island, a small isle off the Essex coast, and all I can seem to remember about that experience is there was a WWII PillBox on the beach next to the clubhouse. Oh – and there was a ping-pong table. Sure, it wasn’t the best holiday ever, especially as I shudderingly remember members of the family performing synchronised dancing to Agadoo by Black Lace in the disco hall. However, through the doors away from the disco was the arcade, and boy I still remember the games available to play there. The Simpsons, The Punisher and Super Sprint were all lined up, to name but a few. There were probably more choices but these three in particular all stood out to me.

The Punisher arcade cabinet

Unfortunately, being a kid without my own source of income I didn’t play these much and I was constantly having to scrounge 50 pence from my Dad, which he begrudgingly yielded in doing a couple of times. Disappointingly, once I’d used up the money that was it. I had to spend the rest of the time looking at the demo screens of each game emblazoned with “Insert 1 Coin” flashing on the monitor. The Punisher is a game I didn’t get a chance to play again for more than 20 years. As you could guess, I was extremely happy to play it again, and the nostalgia alone was worth it.

Are arcades a distant memory?

There are just so many fond memories of arcades that I could talk about in great depth, such as seeing Mortal Kombat II for the first time and being totally shocked at the violence on screen. I remember being amazed by the 3D graphics of Soul Edge and playing the Wrestlemania cabinet after swimming at the local baths. There were so many great memories that unfortunately cannot be replicated in today’s cultural environment. The arcades I knew and loved have all but disappeared; or so we are led to believe.

There are still nostalgia-embracing arcades around, if you know where to look. These arcades are mostly aimed towards the adults who, like me grew up in more innocent times, but now we can have a beer whilst playing – a “barcade” of sorts!

Japan appears to be the only country where arcades are still a steadfast part of their culture. In the 1980’s they had over 44,000 arcades registered and, although that has dropped to circa. 14,000 today, the arcade remains a huge business for the likes of Namcoland, Taito Station, Plaza Capcom, or Club Sega.

-Jim Cullinane, editor for Fing’rs & Thu’ums
Travel Japan highlights Namcoland in a country where arcades are still popular

The arcades gave me experiences that I am thankful for being part of, in the time that they were as prominent as they was. The gaming industry has evolved and changed over the course of the last 30 years, for good or bad. Online and mobile gaming has made arcades generally obsolete in their grandeur. No matter the future, and what it holds, I’ll always remember that warm feeling from hearing that 50 pence, as you slipped it into the coin slot and let it smash into the money inside the machine. The subsequent loud beep let you know you had a credit and as you hovered your finger over that start button you knew. You knew that no matter how far that credit would go, you would savour every second of that experience.

Now, press start.