I never quite understood my fathers obsession with arcade games. For years he told tales of his arcade exploits, always in pursuit of of a higher score. He would constantly insist that the arcade experience was far superior to any console gaming, and I never believed him. I had had minimal arcade experience on which to base my decision. I had attended the occasional arcade birthday party and never quite understood what they were all about. During these arcade excursions I would rarely play ‘classic’ games, opting for the more modern alternatives. These light-gun based games would usually eat up my entire roll of quarters in the first ten minutes. I was prematurely sidelined, forced to twiddle my thumbs waiting for mommy to come pick me up. Occasionally I would drop a loose quarter into a Pac-Man machine, lose all three lives on the first board, and scream in agony. The games my father always spoke about were outdated and frustrating, he had to be crazy.
Each year around fathers day my dad would drop subtle hints, ‘You know what I would really love… Ms. Pac-Man’, or ‘I had a dream last night… I was playing Missile Command’. He would go on and on and soon enough it got old. Rather than listening to him wax poetic about days past my family finally decided to give in. We found a brand new cabinet with Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga, two of dad’s favorites. We had it delivered to the house in secret, it was going to be a surprise. My father returned home from work to the sounds of a classic arcade machine blaring in the basement, he was speechless. He spent the next hour or so acclimating himself to the new machine, and to say the least I was impressed by his skills. He knew the ins and outs of Ms. Pac-Man, he was familiar with every board and could anticipate the movements of those pesky ghosts.
Soon it came time for my turn and I decided to give Galaga a try. I had never played Galaga before and to be honest I wasn’t expecting much. Surprisingly I immediately understood why my father loved these games so much. I tumbled head first into the game world. I was the tiny spaceship floating at the bottom of the screen and I had to destroy the alien ships at all costs. I saw only flashing lights, I heard only beeps and blips, I was completely absorbed. I learned to predict the patterns, powering through stage after stage. I lost track of time as the hours seemingly melted away. I was completely hooked.
I really do enjoy playing epic console and PC games, and I appreciate how enthralling they can be. I spent countless hours questing in Bethesda’s Oblivion and Fallout 3. Many of these ‘modern’ games allow you to explore beautiful worlds teaming with clever enemies and mind-numbingly difficult puzzles yet they pale in comparison to the arcade experience. Many people might say that they prefer the artfully developed epic or the exquisitely designed FPS to the cold cruel cabinet. These people favor highly developed narratives and rich visuals. Many gamers don’t understand why someone would stand in front of an antiquated box furiously mashing buttons. What they don’t see is that arcade games are the epitome of competition. In arcade games there are a clearly defined set of rules that don’t leave much room for creativity. Arcade games require skill, perseverance, and experience. In most console and PC games you battle a complex and flawed A.I. Arcade games allow you to go head to head with the most noble of enemies, yourself. You are constantly fighting to beat your personal best, pushing yourself towards excellence. Arcade games assign you a numerical value, you always know exactly where you stand. It is extremely easy to judge your performance and compare it to those around you, all the more reason to fight your way to the top of the leader boards. As far as I am concerned arcade games exist solely for the sake of competition. You play for pride.