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EDITORIAL - Gaming Civilization and Its Discontents
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posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
date posted: 04:59 PM Sat Jan 1st, 2000
last revision: 04:59 PM Sat Jan 1st, 2000

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By Brandon Hall

Yesterday, the arcade nearest to my house officially sold its soul”not to the devil, the government, or even a special interest group with some less diabolical agenda. No, it sold out to the thirteen year old mall crowd and their perceived need for franchise-like arcade huts and the seemingly infinite series of genre clones that go along with them. Don't get me wrong, one of the best things about arcades is the fact that they provide you with the opportunity to play games months before they make it to a console, and generally in better versions.

But face it, there are really only three types of arcade games on the market these days: fighting clones, driving clones, and those obnoxious sit-or-stand-or-fish-with-a-cheap-replica-of-some-sort-of-vehicle-tool-or-weapon-for-three-or-four-dollars-a-shot. And there isn't anything wrong with those genres either, really, except that simply because they have proven popular in the past, they get the lion's share of arcade development resources, effectively limiting the number of ground-breaking games to a trickle, and forcing low-rent "nostalgia" games out of valuable real-estate to make way for "Super Mortal Kombat X Tag Vs. Superfriends 4 (now with AquaMan) 3-D" or some such recycled hybrid stop-gap piece of garbage.

First it was pinball. Nobody plays pinball anymore”that's the line at least. And according to (formerly) Bally Midway, the fiscal reality of the situation backs up such an assumption. All pinball games produced in America (which used to number into the many thousands a year) are now put together at a single factory, and in much smaller numbers. Sigh. Thank god that bars are typically so out of touch with the gaming public that you can always find a Nightmare on Elm Street, World Cup Soccer, or (god willing) Mars Attack machine somewhere in town, even if you have to drive thirty miles on Rural Route 9 to the Something-Or-Other's-Breath to find it, and endure the suspicious looks of people who are in the midst of realizing, at just that moment, that the machine isn't an oversized coaster, ashtray, or love-meter.

But the same bars can rarely help you with what you really what”Congo Bongo, Food Fight, Rolling Thunder, Gyruss, Terra Cresta, Rygar, Ikari Warriors, Bad Dudes, (well, you get the point). Even if by some miracle you come across a machine that isn't Ms. Pac-Man or Defender, chances are excellent to certain that either the buttons don't work, or if they do, they don't work all that well.

Counterpoint 1 Considered: Yes, most of these games have made it, in one form or another, onto consoles.

Problem 1: These ports typically suck like [insert name of your least favorite Keanau Reeves movie here]. Because most of them ended up on the NES, the sound is always some eerily mutilated midi version that sounds like it was filtered through a Speak-and-Spell. And of course, 8-bit graphics just can't do almost any game worth its quarter justice. I mean, remember when you first turned on NES Gauntlet, and you and your friend (if you were lucky enough to have one) just looked at each other until one of you asked, "What the hell is this?"

Problem 2: Your couch is not an arcade. If you are lucky, there are no sweaty reprobates sweating all over your controllers, or the potentially lethal smell of contained human biology mingled with quote-unquote pizza and carbon datable popcorn. Sure, you can sometimes dig through your couch until you find change, but it just isn't like that same desperate scavenge through quarter slots you remember so well from adolescence. Sure, you can leave your bathroom unsullied by cleaning products for months on end and purposefully urinate on the floor”but again, it just isn't the same.

Counterpoint 2 Considered: There are nickel arcades and the like in most bigger or at least better cities out there.

Problem 1: Most cities are not bigger or better.

Problem 2: This brings me back to my original point”these arcades are going the way of the Sega CD. The one by my house that I mentioned earlier just traded its fully functional Galaga and Mappy machines to make way for another (this is the third) fishing simulator. Granted,? No, I can't say anything compassionate about fishing games; there is no reason anyone should ever play one unless they are deathly allergic to either water or fresh air.

You see, some call this progress. Others call it savvy marketing. And some of us call it a tragedy of, if not epic proportions, at least those of that episode of Family Ties with Alex's girlfriend at the train station where he drives all night to stop her from leaving and, well, enough said. I have to get to the bar before they get rid of Classic Star Trek pinball.