My son, Caleb, LOVES to play the video game system we have in our home. Many a time, I have entered my domicile after putting in a full day’s work and seen him with controller in hand. I do manage to get a brief and almost automated “Hello”. In spite of this warm greeting, his eyes never leave the screen. Sometimes I even stare at him for a couple of extra minutes just to be sure he is blinking at regular intervals. Usually, he is engrossed in a race between a plumber, a mushroom, and a princess. Other times, he is engrossed in the adventures of a blue, hasty hedgehog. Sometimes, the plumber and the hedgehog are playing together in the same game. My wife, daughter, and I have also fallen into the tractor beam thrown out by the ensnaring entertainment system.
Admittedly, for the cost of my family’s weekly food budget, this game system has more than paid for itself. But as I gaze upon my son’s intense game play, my mind goes back to my teenage years. Home video games systems were extremely primitive by today’s standards. The first game system my parents provided was a black and white game system with a very simple theme. You had two white stick objects (one on each side of the TV screen). Using a game controller, you had to hit a square “ball” to the opposite side of the screen forcing your opponent to volley it back to you or miss hitting it with his/her stick. If the opponent missed, you scored a point. Just like Caleb, this could have my sister, brother, or me in front of the TV set for hours on end.
Ultimately, I was drawn toward the video game arcade in my neighborhood. My parents were very gracious to provide me with a couple of bucks at least once a week. This served a two-fold purpose for my parents. Firstly, it provided me with a safe, legal, and inexpensive form of entertainment. Secondly, for two dollars they could get me out of the house for 2-3 hours. In retrospect, with as much money as they “invested” in my teenage years, it’s a wonder why they don’t have a controlling interest in several video game companies.
The arcade was located in a mini-plaza within short driving distance of my house. There were several suites in the mini-plaza. Unfortunately, I only remember the pizzeria and the arcade. Sometimes, my friends and I would pool our money together to have some pizza then go next door to the arcade.
Aside from the numerous pubescent, pimply faced patrons, there were two primary figures that were constant to the environment. The first is the arcade attendant. The arcade attendant is easily recognized by the uniform vest and pouched apron. The pouched apron contained extra tokens for game play and dollar bills for making change. The second is the police officer assigned to the mini-plaza. He was a tall, gentle giant of a man whom we all simply addressed as “Sir”. The officer’s job was simple: keep order and make sure people don’t loiter in the parking lot. Most conversations were simple. “Young man, you have to go inside or leave”. “I am waiting for my mother to pick me up, Sir”. You will have to wait INSIDE or LEAVE, young man”. “Yes, Sir”.
The ritual was simple. You took your dollar bill and placed it into the change machine and received 6 tokens for one dollar. This was a great deal since most games were one token per game credit. I put countless hours over the years playing Berzerk (“Intruder Alert!”), Tempest (“SuperZapper Recharge”), and Bosconian (“Battle Stations”). For two tokens, I could play Dragon’s Lair (“To slay the dragon, use the magic sword”).
There is one night that sticks in my mind very clearly. After, playing all of the aforementioned games, I had one token left and the arcade was closing in ten minutes. I went to my greatest game fixation at that time — Tag Team Wrestling. I figured I could use my last token on a quick game and end my fun night. I sat in the stool and put my token in the coin slot. I started the game and immediately was in my own world. Nothing else around me existed. I was playing my wrestling game with the same intensity that my son guides his hedgehog. I noticed two people standing beside me using my peripheral vision. Steadfast in my game, my eyes were fixated on my wrestling match. Eventually, I lost my final match and my game ended. I stood up and let out a deep cleansing breath. Then I noticed something. All of the other pubescent, pimply faced patrons had left. The two people at my side were the arcade attendant and Officer Sir. I looked at my watch. The arcade had been closed for fifteen minutes. The arcade attendant and Officer Sir had been kind enough to allow me to finish my game without interrupting me. Office Sir even said “Good game, young man.” “Thank you, sir”.
I walked out the door and got into the 1975 Chevy Vega my sister had allowed me to borrow for the evening. In the morning, I would go back to chasing pretty girls (no tokens required) and planning my next arcade outing. But, in that misaligned 1975 Chevy Vega, I was the Ace of the Arcade. That was better than being King of the World (That’s right. I’m talking to YOU, Jack Dawson).