I’ve lived in seaside towns almost my entire life. Although I was actually born in Canterbury, my parents moved to Hastings before I’d turned one. I grew up there and, when I was old enough, moved on to Brighton. As if that wasn’t enough, my grandparents live in Portsmouth, so even visiting family meant going to a slightly different seaside town.
What all of this experience means is one thing – arcades. I don’t know what it’s like for you people who don’t live with seagulls trying to steal your chips if you foolishly decide to eat outside, but my entire life I’ve been exposed to arcades.[drop]I used to love them, to treat them as a shrine to video games. It wasn’t just game cabinets of course, there were always the 2p machines and, more recently, their 10p variant. A good arcade should probably have at least one pinball machine and an air hockey table to boot and given that the arcades I grew up with had a focus on drawing money out of tourists, you need some weird ticket machines that, from an economic or entertainment based standpoint, aren’t really worth playing.
The focus though, for me, should be games; lots and lots of games. That’s the way it used to be, even when the place was packed out with tourists. I remember fondly the money I basically poured into a sit-down Star Wars machine, the joystick somehow meant to control both an X-Wing and a lightsabre. I also have especially fond memories of anything with a light gun in it, Time Crisis being vastly superior to The House of the Dead, of course.
Sadly, in recent years the dynamic has shifted and games are more of a side attraction than the main feature (at least here in the UK). Although they’re not completely gone, they’ve been tucked away in many of the arcades of my youth, hidden behind machines that offer big prizes. Even the Thomas the Tank Engine ride for toddlers (or whatever’s in fashion at present, there’s always something) is given a far more prominent position than my beloved games.
I will admit that there’s one exception to this that I’ve found, and that’s Brighton Pier. The choice on offer there has, generally, been very good but even that’s started to slip in recent years. Games are slowly becoming less prominent there as they seem to have everywhere, and it disappoints me. I used to enjoy heading down there every now and then to just have a play and see if they’d got anything new in.
Of course, the decline of the arcade in the West (they still seem to be doing great business over in Japan) is nothing new, it’s been a slow slide pretty much since machines like the NES first hit. I mean why go pump all those coins into an arcade machine when I can just sit here at home?[drop2]For me the reason is simple: playing in an arcade is just more fun. Yes, it probably costs me more in the long run, but there’s something about playing those games in that setting that’s just more fun. I’ve played Time Crisis in an arcade and Time Crisis at home and the arcade version is simply a better experience; the guns feel more solid, the pedal has a better response, and the bigger display is a real help.
Another example was when Hastings had a dedicated Tekken arcade for a short while. You’d go along, pay an amount for a set period of time, and get free play on any of the machines there.
This was so much better than playing Tekken at home that is may as well have been a different game. The sticks on the machines were fantastic, far better than anything I’d ever tried at home, and the ability to make friends with the dude kicking your ass far trumps almost anything I’ve ever experienced in online play.
It’s memories like this that make me long for the resurgence of games in arcades, but I suspect with home machines becoming ever more powerful we’ll see them continue to decline. For me though, no amount of graphical flash or improvement in online play will ever trump the fun you can have at a good arcade.
Oh, and always remember this; Dance Dance Revolution in an arcade will forever be far superior to Just Dance or Dance Central.