I wasn’t yet a teen when I first walked into an arcade. My elder brother, Mike, fresh from his paper round and with pockets bulging with coins, ushered me in with one single purpose – retain his position at the top of the Galaga high-score table.
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I’ll never forget that sense of wonderment as I first walked through the arcade doors. For me, it was like the moment when Dorothy was swept from her sepia-toned world to the magical technicolour world of Oz. The cathode glow from Battlezone, the flashing neon lights of Galaxian, and the sounds… clattering pinballs, chirping arcade cabinets and the constant jangle of handfuls of change being poured through coin slots. It was like stepping through the gates of the emerald city itself.
I long to recreate this wonderment. When all that mattered in life was having your three initials at the top of the leader board at the end of the day and gain neighbourhood bragging rights.
Today however, I’m a ‘little’ bit older; a little more jaded. I can’t just click my heels three times, repeat, “there’s no place like home” and bring back those same feelings. I’ve seen it all before, I’ve grown-up (a bit) and these days, it takes a little more to impress me.
So, how would I go about recreating the thrill of the arcade? What would be my perfect retro gaming event?
It would be an event that feels tailor made. So personalised that it would seem to have been monogramed with my high-score initials.
I’ll need oodles of vintage arcade cabinets. All the classics please, from Space Invaders to Street Fights. And pinball machines a-plenty – the bigger, brighter and louder the better. And all free to play, of course.
Speaking of free, free days are hard to come by so I’d want to make the most of it. The event should open early and finish late. And if I’m there all day, I’ll want a good bar, an arcade themed bar that serves cocktails as vivid as the games I’m playing and good cask ale and bottled beers too. Then there’s food. As I’ll be enjoying games from around the globe, why not enjoy foods of the world too? A concourse of street food stalls with ample seating on a humdrum of mismatching cushiony couches; the type Mum and Dad used to have.
I could go wild and ask for a multi-story Donkey Kong themed adult soft play area too, foam barrels and mallets included. But that’s just going over the top, isn’t it?
Then later, a disco (I still call them that). But instead of playing all the current club classics, the events DJ is pumping out classic electronica with remixes of themes from retro gaming greats including tunes from 8-bit maestros, Rob Hubbard and Tim Follin to console kings, Hirokazu Tanaka (Tetris anyone?) and Soyo Oka.
It'll have a vibe about it, it’ll feel right. It’ll capture that same kind of wonderment as it had when I first visited the arcade. Why? Because most of all, I want an event run by people like me. People who care. People who, like my brother, cherished the high scores they received. It mattered.
The arcade closed soon after my brother retained his Galaga high-score. He’s been dining on his record reign at the top for years. Those days built the boy. Huddles of kids would crowd him as his orchestrated eye-hand co-ordination to blast wave after wave of pixelated aliens. I hope for the day when the local arcade can once again inspire passion and character in generations new and old but in the meantime, wish for that perfect retro event that will fill the void, even if it is just the once per year.
Pie in the sky? Maybe. After all, I dream of a day when arcade leader boards are headlined on the back pages of the daily newspaper.