Quarters: A Double Life

For me, the modern use of the word “arcade” usually brings up the mental image of an enormous screen, blasting the sounds of gunfire and explosions, and a control platform or chair that vibrates until your fillings fall out.  It’s an image I’ve derived from the few times I’ve visited any sort of arcade in the last few years.  The unspoken rules in these new arcades always seemed to be as follows:

  • Make your way to the biggest, brightest, and loudest machine in the entire place.
  • Be dazzled by its awe inspiring graphics and nonsensical storyline.
  • Mortgage your house to play until you completely run out of money (usually in about ten minutes or so).
This game is your God!

Sadly, arcades used to mean something very different to me.  As a kid, they meant escape and laughter; they meant playing with friends with the unlikely hope that I’d finally make it to that last level of the Ninja Turtles game, even though I damn well knew that it wouldn’t happen.  In short, they meant something akin to what I saw when I walked into The Quarters.

Of course, to most people in the room, these game were little more than kitsch: something to do while they drank and ate fries.  But, to me, these games were my memories.  I remembered playing The Simpson‘s Game, never being able to beat it, and not really caring.  I remembered pouring quarters in 1943, hoping that I would somehow make it past that one giant destroyer, which seemed to be cast from some otherworldly material in the fires of hell!  In fact, I spent most of my time playing 1943, hoping that age and experience would somehow make the controls less wonky and my plane more impervious to bullets.  Sadly, this did not happen.

Instead, I found myself just as frustrated as I ever was, but for varying reasons.  I found myself frustrated with both the difficulty of the game and with the obsolete graphics.  I was simultaneously screaming for a power-up and hoping that I could throw on some VR glasses and climb into the cockpit.  It was as if there were two of us playing, and I couldn’t decide which of us got the upper hand.


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