Of course, those times are dead and gone now. If you mentioned an arcade to most young CoD players these days, they’d think you were talking about XBLA. Even though they may be right, to a degree. You can indeed download your old arcade favourites through this medium, but it really doesn’t have the same effect. The flashing lights that accompanied each machine to draw your attention away from it’s neighbour and onto it. The deafening sounds which constantly echoed within these houses of electronic worship. The constant chitchat you’d hear from over your shoulder, as people commented on how good or bad you were performing, while you sat, engrossed in a frenetic game. This atmosphere simply can’t be recreated within the home. Although I enjoy downloading and playing through games that used to keep me happy but broke, it’s simply not the same experience that it was when these games meant something, before extinction came and had it’s way with these pixelated dinosaurs that we used to play ritually.
I still don’t fully understand what exactly the final nail in the coffin of arcade gaming was, before it was buried within a mass grave with many more of it’s ilk. It’s seems like one day, the world was full of them, and the next they were gone. Ok, ok, I’ll check behind the damn fridge then! I always believed that home consoles killed off the arcade way of life, but the more I think about it, the less I believe it. Home consoles were big in the 16-bit days, and tons upon tons of arcade titles appeared on them, from Smash TV to Final Fight, Lethal Enforcers to Terminator 2: Arcade, Street Fighter to Bubble Bobble. You could take pretty much any title you liked to play in your local arcade, and get a home port of it to slot into your SNES or Megadrive. Some claimed to be “arcade perfect” conversions of their quarter gobbling counterparts. Usually though, this was a complete fuckin’ lie. The home consoles usually couldn’t handle them. They did do a pretty good job, but you could expect dumbed down graphics, and something a little off with the physics. This didn’t make the console versions any less fun, it just made them slightly different.
In the mid 90’s, when the Playstation era kicked in, it sold like polygon flavoured hot cakes. There didn’t seem to be a house in Ireland that didn’t have at least one of these bad boys. Even if there was no roof on your house, no electricity, and no food on the table, you can be damn sure there was still a Playstation plugged into that lifeless socket. Console gaming blew the fuck up at this stage. Lara Croft was everywhere! Between her posing on the cover of Face Magazine and her battling vicious hounds on the TV ads for Lucozade (while forgetting to let all her fans know that it tastes like complete piss), Lara was becoming a household name, and she was dragging video games as a whole along for the ride.
There was an incredible amount of craic to be had while the gaming universe transformed from 2D to 3D. It was such a huge change, that the people creating games felt like they had no limits. With this in mind, they really went a little fucking crazy. It was an exciting time to be into gaming. This metamorphosis seemed like it was happening almost overnight. Each time I entered an arcade, there would be a new and more bizarre machine there, waiting to absorb all pocket money in exchange for a shot glass of fun. But somehow, in the middle of all this, arcades seems to simply die out. Again, I don’t blame the home consoles, because I used to practice my game at home on my SNES or Playstation in preparation for my next trip to the arcade, and I know I wasn’t the only one who did this. Even though I owned a copy of Killer Instinct, I still joined the queue that stretched out of the doors and down the street for a shot of that sexy fucking cab when it appeared in my local arcade. I’m pretty damn sure I wasn’t the only one who felt this way either, because there were always lots of players who’d claim they had the home port of their favourite games, while mashing buttons on an arcade machine of the same name.
Just like that, arcades vanished. Poof! Gone! Ninja shit! Perhaps it’s a little selfish of me to want to relive past glories, in the same way folks who grew up during the 70’s would love to see roller discos make a return so they can break their now brittle hips while pretending their young again. Arcades are nothing more than a history lesson now. The times I had there were fun, but everything moves on, changes, and evolves. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t have the fantastic games that we have now. However, it’s still a little sad to think that my old stomping grounds in Drogheda, where I’d spent hours just gaming and chatting with other likeminded kids, is now nothing more than a gambling hole. It’s only saving grace it that it still sports a few pool tables and a good jukebox. I keep finding small spaces throughout the country that house a handful of machines. The occasional retro shop, pool hall, or cinema may have a cab that I can toss a coin into, some of which have fallen deeply into disrepair, others that simply don’t get plugged in. Hell, some don’t even have fucking plugs. I’m always considering assembling a crack team of highly skilled cyber-ninja thieves, armed with shotguns and ice powers, to acquire these machines for me, but I usually decide against it in case they kill me an keep the gaming goodness for themselves. Besides, when I checked behind the fridge, I discovered that I wouldn’t fit a full arcade in there anyways.