I miss every minute detail of the hangout Arcade experience: the frantic sound of quarters pouring out of the change machine, the colorful flickering lights, retro ambiance and echoing sound of Pac-Man chomping through ‘Pac-Dots.’ Like the phone booth, baseball card and video rental store; the Arcade is now a prehistoric relic and seems to have lost its reason for living.
Sure, the occasional man cave or sketchy pool hall might adorn a few classic Arcade games such as Galaxian. However, the overall experience of joining forces to battle evil in a two player ‘shoot-em-up,’ the obsession with breaking the record in Donkey Kong, even the saving of quarters for something other than laundry, has been out-and-out eliminated from popular culture. It’s almost as if our increasingly introverted society has forced gaming into a neutered position of ‘apps’ and home gaming consoles.
Maybe Americans got tired of rationing quarters for a trip to the arcade. Perhaps germaphobes launched a secret campaign and declared the joystick a magnet for disease. In a more likely scenario, Nintendo and Playstation just made it too convenient for most Americans to actually leave the house for a gaming experience. In either case, gaming after the millennium is more about ‘vegging out’ and definitely less about the adventure it spawned in the 80s and 90s. The hangout Arcade was punk rock and a box of Jaw Busters before dinner (sorry mom!). The Arcade was an escape from work, homework, parents and even schoolyard bullies named ‘Johnny.’ Today, the glorious Arcade games of the past are covered in cobwebs and ‘For Sale’ on the outskirts of suburbia.
As a kid growing up in Los Angeles during the late 80s, the Arcade was my getaway from the stale reality of the first Iraq War, math quizzes and an 8-bit Nintendo on it’s last legs. My fondest memory of the Arcade was watching my dad leaning against the change machine in the Video West Arcade in Glendale and saying, “I’ll be outside, let me know if you need more cashola.” When I’d return after hours of playing Double Dragon, I would nearly spazz out when my dad would hand me a crisp five-dollar bill and ice-cold can of dripping wet Pepsi (Pepsi, especially in the 1980s, was way more awesome than Coca-Cola).
For most of the kids during those days, the Arcade wasn’t just a place to play the coolest new video games – it was Americana at its purest level. It was competition, Reaganomics, schmoozing, education, sports and even survival of the fittest (Social Darwinsim at the Arcade? Believe it.)
Although we may never be able to get authentic Arcade experience in the U.S., except for a few wannabe rehashes in shopping malls, the Japanese never seemed to have gotten the memo. In fact, the hangout Arcade is experiencing a renaissance in Japan on an unprecedented level. The sweat-filled gaming arenas in Tokyo are loaded with everything from corporate yuppies to bewildered schoolgirls, geeky fashion mishaps and seemingly endless rows of Dance Dance Revolution games. The Japanese Arcade scene has embraced the tradition of the 80s and combined it with the strange cultural practices of modern-day Japan. The Akibahara district in Tokyo, a geeks paradise and gaming haven, is filled with various hangout Arcades that tout rows of classic ‘beat-em-ups’ such as Street Fighter 2, along with strange Japanese cult classics such as the Table-Flipping game and the sexy-bloody schoolgirl shooter, Gal*Gun. Japanese Arcades, such as the epic playgrounds found in the Shinjuku ward in Tokyo, combine softcore porn, dance music, futuristic weapons and slot machines, into an Arcade utopia that acts as the perfect form of stress relief and outlet of aggression. that seems to be lacking in American society. Oddly enough, the Japanese even believe that relieving your bladder can be a part of the Arcade experience. Toylets, a Sega game found in only a few urinals in Tokyo, allows you to wipe away graffiti using your pee to spray a pressure pad. Not sure if Toylets uses the same hit-miss ratio from Space Invaders to measure accuracy, but it wouldn’t surprise me!
Even though the true American Arcade experience may be lost forever, we can still make feigned attempts to experience the same spaztastic joy from the 1980s. Well, maybe not the same level of glee Matthew Broderick felt when Ally Sheedy gave him that look while he played Galaga – but something close to that.
Thankfully, even as modern society trampled on the pleasures of yesteryear, a few brave individuals embraced nostalgia and created something close to the authentic Arcade experience. Here is a list of the most awesome hangouts where you can get your Arcade fix (sans the poser-infested Dave & Busters we all know and ‘love’):
Unless you’re going to hunt down the various Arcade games throughout dingy bars in Williamsburg, this is your best bet for gaming and beer on the North Side. Here you can find classics like Contra, Tetris, and my personal favorite – Ghosts’n Goblins.
Although this old school gem has tons of noteworthy games, one cannot visit Portlandia without playing the greatest football game of all time, Tecmo Bowl, on a gigantic projection screen while grasping a cold glass of local beer. Need more of a reason to attend? Portland is known as the unofficial brewery capital of America and Ground Kontrol just started service mixed drinks.
Located in an unassuming shopping center on West 26th Street, The Black Hoe is a huge pizzeria and gaming center that includes over 75 classic arcade games and a pool table. Not much is known about this dark getaway from the Windy City, but that’s how they like it in Chitown.
This place is the complete Arcade package on steroids. Round One might even be SoCal’s best entertainment destination; housing an endless supply of dancing games, new and classic Arcades, a lavish bowling alley, and more racing games then anywhere, ever! The food might not be the best, but you’d have to be wearing a blindfold and some earplugs to ignore the joyous sensory overload inside Round One.