I was lucky to be born at a time before arcade games became the rage so I was perfectly situated to enjoy them during their prime. There were always coin operated games like this around but never were they so widespread as they were in the 70s and 80s when I came of age. Every small convenience store and pizza place had at least one arcade game next to the perennial pinball machine. Games like Pac-Man, Frogger, Donkey Kong, Space Invaders and Asteroids became pop cultural hits and the Age of the Arcade was on.
I remember playing one of the earliest versions of PONG in the lobby of a hotel in Salzburg, Austria. It was such a new thing that people would line up for a chance at the game despite how simple it was. People in three piece suits spent their lunch hour playing against their friends. All this excitement seems crazy today but some game had to be first and PONG was it. When I got my first 'game system' from Radio Shack it had three games. Pong, Handball, and Hockey which was basically PONG with two paddles and we would play that for HOURS on my old 13 inch black and white TV.
I wasted many a quarter playing Astroids. It was all fun and games until you moved your spaceship to avoid the rocks. Then you really had to work your hand/eye coordination and just when you thought you had it together that stupid little UFO would show up and blast you. Space Invaders was another of the first games I remember playing after bowling on Saturday mornings.
I always enjoyed the shooting games because all kids like guns. When I finally shot my first real gun it wasn't the thrill I thought it would be because it was just like the game. Plus, being a good shot at the arcade drew the attention of the jailbait that always was hanging around. And before you judge me remember that at the time I was jailbait myself - we all were jailbait.
Another good game that allowed you to pretend you were a sub captain and work the torpedoes. This was another one that I could just zone out on as I destroyed the allied war effort with my Nazi torpedoes.
If I could pick one favorite game it would be Galaga. I would sit at the game with a slice of pizza and an orange soda and go through as many levels as I could on one quarter. When I got that double ship I would rip through aliens by the hundreds. This was the game that put me into the ZONE. I dream of finding and old Galaga sit down game for my house but they are few and far between.
At the end of the Arcade Age when home video gaming finally reached a level where they surpassed the type of games you could play at the arcade, they introduced driving games that had you sit in a chair while working the peddles of the car you were driving. For many this was their first driving experience because the whole game was on a suspension system that gave you the feel of driving a real race car, especially when you missed a curve and went off road. Out Run was a fantastic version with its' great music and colorful landscapes that you could race through.
Of course you can download emulators that allow you to play all these classic games on your computer but that just doesn't feel the same to me. Maybe I just miss the sights, sounds and smells of the grubby and greasy arcade parlor.
I would love to do a vacation trip one summer in an RV and travel to this place I heard of in California that still maintains all these old machines in a huge museum that allows you to play them as they were originally designed. West Edmonton Mall used to have a place like that but it's all gone now.
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