Monday, June 2, 2008

Golden Age of Video Games

I've been touring the arcades in town lately, and it gets to be depressing. I remember growing up in the early 90s; arcade machines everywhere. The grocery store might have a Pac-Man or Donkey Kong machine. Then, the machines started to disappear. Slowly at first, but a few years ago I realized that almost no good arcade machines are still around. It's incredibly curious. There used to be stragglers, machines that seemed to remain timeless in laundry mats, hotels, and restaurants. There used to be people lined up at the mall to play Marvel vs. Capcom 2 after school.

I started thinking more about the arcade when I heard about this documentary: King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. It chronicles two men trying to claim the Donkey Kong world record. It's been rather popular lately, both on the internet, and, oddly, in mainstream media. It's a great film, and I highly recommend it.

The film doesn't just talk about Donkey Kong, it shows classic gamers living in 2007. These guys are out of place, and want to live in 1983, in a perpetual arcade. And who can blame them? The lights, sounds and atmosphere made the arcade seem futuristic, psychedelic, and magical. They were places of pure electricity.

I was born in 1985, and, consequently, missed the entire golden age of video games. But bits and pieces of the 80s trickled down into the early 90s, just late enough for me to remember the arcade. This wasn't my world, but it fascinates me. I identify more with the NES, and started playing video games at 4, in 1989, when I received one. And in a way, the gap is bigger than it seems. The arcade is a social place, where high scores matter. Somewhere along the line, we decided to stay inside rather than go out, and spent our money on carts instead of quarters. We started to play games that could be conquered by mortals.

So I am giving the arcade a personal revival. I played Defender and Robotron: 2084 all day. I am memorizing the Pac-Man patterns. I would have spent 30 bucks on a real Frogger machine.

The second (Golden) age of games was the most crucial in history. Games stopped being science projects and started becoming art, created through hard work by a few people, for entertainment. The pixelated aesthetics and bright colors on a black background can be an amazing site. And to have that built into a giant statues which covered the nation... what a truly impressive spectacle Earth must have seemed to aliens.

There is a certain satisfaction to playing an arcade machine. It's bigger than you are, and if it were alive it would kill you. But it's nice to see that much dedication, the materials to build a huge cabinet, a TV monitor set aside strictly for one game, artwork painted on the side, all surrounding a few thousand lines of code and placed in front of you by some magnificent phenomenon of human ingenuity.

Go see King of Kong, it does a better job of discussing arcades than me. Hopefully Chasing Ghosts, another movie about the arcade scene, will get a DVD release.

And one final note to my readers, Brawl madness has passed, and I am once again a functioning member of the internet community. Expect updates every Monday from now on! I might be a little late to the game, but high scores are forever, and I've got plenty of time.


Benjamin Fennell said...

Good to see you've recovered from Brawl and gotten back to posting again, haha. I know the feeling, too. The arcade scene isn't what it used to be. I ended up spending a good bit of time in the game room on my college campus years ago, since it was the closest we had to an arcade to kill time between classes. For a while, I ruled the Soul Calibur 2 scoreboards. Who knew that'd turn out to be the last really remarkable game in that series. At least it'll live on on my Gamecube and Wii, anyway. We had a Pac-Man and Galaga machine too, as I recall, which was one of the few I played after they took away Soul Calibur 2 and replaced it with some football arcade game. All we had otherwise were Marvel vs. Capcom 2, which was usually dominated by players I had no chance against, and a couple versions of Area 51, a Pump It Up machine, a Time Crisis machine that was often out of order, a Virtua Tennis one, and some Simpsons Bowling game. Definitely not the same as the old days. I particularly remember playing Magic Sword at a Chuck E. Cheese as a kid in the early '90s, and Capcom's D&D arcade game at a Putt-Putt Golf back then too. (Which just makes me wish they'd released the Saturn port stateside and brought that game to consoles here in some form. Though at least Magic Sword, King of Dragons, and Knights of the Round saw SNES ports. Hopefully those'll hit the Virtual Console yet.)

8bitcity said...

I spent tons of hours in my college's arcade, and I wish I had spent more. It had a Soul Calibur 2 machine, Street Fight 3: Third Strike, Metal Slug 5, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Galaga/Mappy/Xevious with arranged versions, Bust-a-move, 6 pinball machines, and 12 or so other machines I can't remember.

Benjamin Fennell said...

Just so you know, I replied to your comment on my recent blog entry, and I'm up for exchanging links.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to know.

mrjordak said...

To say that the arcades of the late 70s to 80s were the 'Golden Age of Video Games' is complete opinion though. I was born in '92, and my first console was a SEGA Mega Drive. Through emulators I have played the NES, and the SNES, and I also have MAME, but the Golden Age of Video Games for me will always be the 16-bit era, up to the 32-bit era. And I even know some people who would say that the PS2 is the Golden Age of Video Games and anything before is boring. But they are morons >_>

What I'm saying is that I think every different person has a different opinion on the 'Golden Age', and where you might say that old arcade titles were the real classics, I would say games such as Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Final Fantasy IV and VII, and Streets of Rage 2 are the true classics.

That isn't to say I don't like arcades, I LOVE arcades. The atmosphere, and especially the feeling of them back in the 90s. And of course how big lightgun games were. You couldn't go in without hearing a Time Crisis machine shout 'ACTION!' :P

I just much prefer home consoles, and I think the Golden Age of Video Games would be from the late 80s up to the late 90s.