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A New Kind of Arcade

By: onipar


A New Kind of Arcade

By Anthony J. Rapino 

            This isn’t a story. 

At best, it’s a memoir.  At worst, an obituary.  Sadly, I don’t know what name to scroll at the top, and so the memorial for this New Arcade is incomplete.  The lack of a name is perhaps a testament to how fleeting and sometimes obscure our childhoods can be.  That a place of such great importance could have fallen through the cracks of my memory and only live on as a crumbling idol suggests other memories may be completely erased.  But this isn’t about the forgotten memories.  It’s about a cherished one.

            You see, in the early 90’s, in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, there grew from the emerging video game empire a new kind of arcade.  It was the first and last of its kind that I have ever known, and at its peak, a bastion for our childhood summers.  This fortress, this citadel, was a “console-arcade.”  Upon entering this magical realm, we’d find row upon row of big screen television sets, each hooked up to a different console.  There was Nintendo, Super Nintendo, TurboGrafx-16, Genesis, Sega Master System, and more! 

            Each television had a seat and controllers in front of it, and the entire place smelled of new electronics and carpeting.  Unlike its brethren, this arcade was brightly lit, with a comparative antiseptic sheen usually reserved for doctor’s offices and hotel lobbies.  At the head of this digital army, there sat an unassuming man behind a counter.  It was here that we would choose the system and game we’d like to play, and then pay $1 for every 15-minutes. 

            I remember thinking that it was expensive, and at the time, I suppose it was.  This was when most arcade games only cost a quarter, and if you were really good you could stretch that quarter for longer than 15 minutes.  Still, this new arcade offered an experience you could not find anywhere else.  Here, you could play all of the different consoles on the market.  Most of us, if we were lucky, could only own one console.  They were expensive, and we were at the mercy of our parents.  Sure, you sometimes had a friend with a different console, but the main ones were Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and Genesis.  It was rare to find anything else. 

            And so we threw ourselves headfirst into this new arena of gameplay.  It was here I first experienced the shocking speed of Sonic the Hedgehog.  This was also where I first (and last) played Bonk’s Adventure on the TurboGrafx-16 (an elusive machine I had previously only heard about).

            This was a time before the permeation of game-saves, and so 15 minutes was usually more than enough time to play through a couple levels of a game, and perhaps die many times over.  I sometimes think that it was this aspect of early video games that allowed for a summer to consist of both digital and real-world exploits.  One could only play a Nintendo game so long before becoming frustrated with constant death, and decide to incite a game of handball instead. 

            Still, we always came back to our pixelated friends, because they were addicting in their own right.  Even if we couldn’t spend quite as much time grinding levels as we do now, we’d always want to attempt another run at the gold medal.  And sometimes--usually with cheats--we were even able to do it!  In this same way, during that wonderful summer, we found ourselves becoming repeat customers at the console-arcade.

             As awe-inspiring as this towering superpower was, it only lasted the span of a single summer.  Yet somehow the memory has pervaded my entire life in the way childhood memories often do.  It is plucked from the past like grapes from summer vines and preserved forever as wine. 

            Those were golden days that stretched to the horizon of our youth.  Each summer a year; each week a month.  Each and every day a new adventure to be seized, cherished, and finally consumed with wild abandon, as though the journey would never come to an end.

            And perhaps they won’t end as long as we maintain our crumbling monuments.  These memories of summers-gone-by--filled with video games, ice cream, and endless bike rides--they have the ability to keep us young.  And so those of a particular mind come to places like this, and we share our stories, and we stay young together, playing our video games late into a summer evening that perhaps, this time, will never end.

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onipar Posted on Aug 17, 2015 at 02:27 PM

Oh nice! That's kinda of amazing that it actually exists! :-)

Hoju Koolander Posted on Aug 16, 2015 at 03:44 PM

@onipar Actually, I just found a "video game bar" out here in Arizona that has that exact set-up. You must have willed it into existence!

onipar Posted on Aug 14, 2015 at 03:37 AM

Ha, too true. There was a point when I had at least one friend with each system, making the console-arcade fairly obsolete. Still, I can't help but think a tweaked version of this would be a great hangout even today. Kind of Dave and Busters style, only when you get your table, you "order" a console or two to play while you drink and wait for food. :-p

Hoju Koolander Posted on Aug 14, 2015 at 02:25 AM

great topic. We must have had the only one of these on the West Coast when I was 9 or 10 called The Wizard of Games. I only went once because of those high prices you talked about, but that console based arcade concept really was a great concept. Of course if you had a rich buddy with all the games, you could get the same effect, I suppose.

onipar Posted on Aug 10, 2015 at 08:20 PM

That sounds amazing! I wish places like this still existed. Maybe they do somewhere? Maybe if the console arcade in my town had adopted that same business plan of selling the games as well, they would have lasted longer. I wish they had.

Vaporman87 Posted on Aug 10, 2015 at 06:03 PM

This reminds me a fairly unique place that I sometimes frequented around this same time. It was actually a video game retailer, but an independent one. Unlike the Electronic Boutiques and Gamestops of the world, this was just a little Mom and Pop place in a small strip mall area.

There, you could not only buy the latest games, consoles, and accessories... you could TRY them before you committed your hard-earned cash toward them.

Several TVs with a different console at each lined the tables in the back room. You paid for a certain amount of time, picked the game you wished to have a go with (though not all new releases were immediately available for trying), paid the fee, and off you went to the back room.

In a closet-sized room behind the demo tables, they hid the most technologically advanced console of the day. A big screen TV and premium surround sound system huddled around a single recliner was all that sat in there. THAT was the place to be. It might cost you a little more, but you had the chance to experience those games the way they were meant to be experienced.

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