When I first heard about our field trip to Quarters, I’ll have to admit to the wave of relief that passed through me upon learning I was free to buy the beer needed to carry me through the night. And I will admit that I bought a beer before redeeming even my first batch of unlimited tokens. But, I have one more confession: I loved Quarters, pretty much every minute of it – and I probably would have even without the beer. Both the arcade setting and the real life interaction of multiplayer mode afforded a physicality to videogaming that I have been yearning for in all the years of my youth (and the recent few that have followed said youth…).
After purchasing the aforementioned beautiful, dark stout and obtaining my first flimsy plastic cup (of many) filled with tokens, I finally turned away from the bar and faced the bright lights surrounding the other three walls, and my eyes immediately locked onto the one sign that was the most familiar and comforting: Tetris. I could take on that, I thought; Tetris carried me through the boredoms and horrors of Middle School just as I anticipated the beer in my hand to presently do.
Luckily, the game was unoccupied, otherwise I don’t think I would have been able to navigate the undoubtedly established proper etiquette in “calling” the next game (Am I actually supposed to leave my token on the counter? Is this like Beer Pong; do I leave my ID?), so I darted over in haste, knocking over a stool on the way. As I slid my tokens into the slot I took a big swig to ready myself and settle the unexpected nerves that arose as our undefeated Mario Kart champion came to be my multiplayer opponent. Even in the first level I felt the differences between Tetris in the arcade and Tetris on my laptop in study hall. The trippiest thing for me was the controls: on my laptop, the right arrow turned blocks to the right and the left arrow to the left, but when the two separate joysticks performed similarly (despite the fact that one joystick could easily incorporate both kinds of movement), I now had to use two hands to rotate the blocks and I was incredibly, and entirely unrelated to my beer, dizzy. I moved my right hand to the left, and the block moved right– what sorcery was this? Furthermore, as we progressed to later levels, instead of the blank slate I was trained to expect, the levels opened with blocks just floating all over the screen as confounding obstacles. The basic physical laws of the world seemed drunk.
I needed things to fall back into their proper place, so I grabbed my full-bodied Mason jar, still topped with a sufficiently thick foamy head, and mosied around searching for another unoccupied game when I found the true hidden treasure of Quarters, none other than Tapper itself, the perfect union between bar and videogame nestled within an arcade bar. Now, I had never heard of Tapper until 2012, when the animated movie Wreck-It Ralph instilled me with the hope of its real life existence, but I was so excited that it felt like I had been waiting for this moment my entire life.
I was thrilled; within Quarters, in this small cubed version of computerized heaven, I could take the often neglected next step of TiPS training and continue to fulfill my post-graduate dreams of becoming a bartender. The controls were highly intuitive – a joystick to traverse the bar and a lever to draw each glass of Budweiser (“This Bud’s for you!”) – in a way that would have been less effective on a more recently-developed platform, such as the traditional handheld controller or a computer keyboard. This accurate representation of human movement made it easy to become immersed in the game, and, as a representation of a bar itself, strangely made me more aware of, and more involved in, the physical bar of Quarters. It was as if, armed with a pint of liquid confidence, I was mingling with new games with which I’ve never been acquainted instead of strange men. I was so much immersed in the environment that every time I completed a level and the avatar bartender chugged a beer, I couldn’t help myself from taking a big gulp of my own. It was our celebration together, and I was bonding with both the game Tapper and the little drinking game I had so naturally concocted.
It was difficult, but I had to eventually step away from Tapper… and refill my beer. But, I realized that I had a newfound sense of place within the space of Quarters, and could more assuredly explore new games. I found some, such as Moon Patrol, that I had encountered when I was younger, and others I had never seen before, like Burger Time – but all of them seemed to me a more physical entity than the videogames which dominate the gaming scene today, things I could engage with, get to know, and even walk away from. And in the end I have to admit… I carried my beer through the night; it didn’t have to carry me.