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The Burial of My Arcade Nostalgia

Posted on Wednesday, August 13 @ 12:30:00 PST by gil_almogi
Chew my pixels for me.

Barcade, a franchise in the New York metropolitan area, is where I found myself last Wednesday evening. The New York Videogame Critics Circle was holding their third annual summer “hoohah” there, and I was compelled to go by GameSpot’s Nick Capozzoli. (He convinced me that I am game critic.) Aside from the good amount of anxiety I experience when I visit a loud bar or club, I generally avoid Barcade (arcade cum bar) and Yestercade (arcade sans bar) alike because of their reliance on games from the '80s. My arcade coming-of-age was during the '90s, and last week, I realized it probably should have stayed there.

Oh, whatever.
I remember going to the Freehold Raceway Mall for the first time and seeing the flashing lights emanating from Time Out, the arcade in the corner of the food court. As would become my habit, I begged my parents for money to go play, and they conceded. So every time we’d visit, I’d sink hours into the games there, eventually being rewarded with the newest rage, The Simpsons arcade game. This one machine would become my home away from home when I (my mother) could afford it. Memories of my delight watching the giant Krusty balloon slap its hands together as I whipped it with Lisa’s jump rope still remain clear.

It wasn’t until I received an entire five-dollar bill that I could finish the game with additional players hopping in and out as I progressed. Defeating Mr. Burns in his insane nuclear contraption was a highlight of my gaming career, soon to be replaced by defeating Magneto the following year. The X-Men arcade game began my interest in the franchise even if it did not really echo much of the story worth exploring. I was fierce as Storm, flinging tornadoes about, as was my wont.

These weren’t the only games I played. I happily joined in Street Fighter II madness when it came round, pleasured my id to the dinging of pinball machines, and tested my poor aiming and patience in Bust a Move. Collective days of my life must’ve been spent staring into the CRT voids of each machine, mashing frantically on the buttons without a care for strategy or my personal well-being.
Fast-forward twenty years to that bar in Chelsea, and times have changed significantly. Our host, Harold Goldberg, was holding a contest to win a bag of goodies. All you needed was the highest score in Galaga, you know, an '80s game. After speaking with Nick over my odd dinner of grilled cheese and fried chicken on a waffle, I was game. The charitable Kevin Clark gave me a quarter to play for I was without.

First, I remembered how bad I was at games before the Gamecube/Playstation 2 era. Then, it occurred to me that the game itself isn’t great either. Despite my frantic tapping on the “shoot” button, my missiles didn’t fire at a rate I preferred, and my shots often missed as a result. But there was an added physical aspect to the game I did not consider. The spring of an arcade machine button provides a different sort of resistance than the clicky or sometimes tactile buttons on a console controller. With my arms pointed straight down from my 6’1” frame and my hands jutting from my wrists at almost large angles, the pain I eventually felt was deserved yet unexpected. It was not comfortable to play an arcade machine. I am no longer the height that allowed my arms to come forward.

My time with Galaga was brief, but it was not long before my love, X-Men, and I were reunited. I still did not have any quarters (not prepared, that’s me!), but Victor Kalogiannis acted as benefactor to me and Nick. Taking control of the Beautiful Windrider again, we proceeded to smash through too many color swaps of sentinels. Now, I have played this game at length on console since its downloadable debut, but I must’ve forgotten how fucking cheap it was when money is actually at stake. Many attacks are unavoidable, bosses have no tells between weak and strong states, and there’s that whole weird perspective thing that works against you.

I found myself a bit miffed from my time with a game that I once loved, no, revered. How is someone supposed to beat this game without sinking all the money into it? (Wait, that's the point?) At the very least, it’s cheaper at Barcade than it was at Time Out back in the day. Still, I found the mechanics unforgivable, and given the audience when it came out, almost unethical.

Sure. Why not?

That is, of course, until I was asked to join a game of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (Yes, on someone else’s quarters.) Joining Donatello and Leonardo as Raphael, with almost every swipe of my two sai, you could easily hear my, err, sighs. This game was the cheapest of the cheap, often employing room-spanning projectile shooting machines among other awful mechanisms. Each of us were dying faster than we could clear enemies, and I had to throw my hands up.

At the end of the night, my wrists hurt from discomfort, and the Dr. Scholl’s I bought during PAX East were becoming negligibly effective. Although I enjoyed myself overall because of the people I spent time speaking with, I was left raw by the actual video game situation. My inability to truly enjoy games of our collective childhood had both physical and mental components. I will always value how arcades laid the foundation for what would become a lifelong passion, but please give me my couch or my MARKUS, reasonable checkpoints, fair gameplay, and a controller in hand. This arcade veteran is retired.
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