Editorial #07: The downtrodden arcades of Columbia

Lyndsey Mosley

Lyndsey Mosley, editor

You know, it isn’t enough that arcades have fallen off the face of the earth. No, we’ve got to get personal by throwing in beautiful accessories that mimic that once-in-a-lifetime experience of going to the arcades in our homes.

You used to be able to head out to your local gathering hole of smoke-filled debauchery where young men and women used to grope machines until they had their fill. I often wondered what an arcade crime feature would play out like when I had downtime away from the games that soaked up my young imagination and spit out a seasoned gamer. Nowadays … there is no place to head out to, unless you count GameStop, and that doesn’t really count.

GameStop is a retailer, and an annoying one at that. Having spent time receiving household income from them makes my dislike meter go way up, but that’s another story for another time. What we’re here to talk about is the demise of the arcades, and why someone let this travesty occur.

If I could take a time-traveling machine back to any point in my life that has already happened, it would be to when various family members were still alive and when I was able to traverse the wild of Decker Boulevard to Aladdin’s Castle in what used to be Columbia Mall in Columbia, S.C. Today, that spot is just a memory and grease-hole food court in the chameleon Columbia Place. Some jump-off no-name restaurant that I refuse to patronize – probably a Subway – occupies the spot where my dreams of becoming a social gamer were made, where I spent far too much money and where I learned how to kill a man digitally. It was there I made the leap from kiddie to big time, from a childlike innocence of Ski-ball to simulated murder-death-kill mode with Mortal Kombat II.

I held my 11th birthday party there in 1992, and the same year attended a bubblegum blowing contest held on a Saturday afternoon. Managing to blow the equivalent of $50 in tokens on Smash TV was the highlight of my life or so I thought. It wasn’t until later in the year when I first heard the words “Finish Him!” bellowing across the room that I even noticed there were more things to do than collect tickets. Then there was Kombat. After that, there was nothing else to do but play games against sweaty, hot young men – more than enough for my pre-teen hormone-fueled mind to handle. It was a good time to be female and a teenager. There was no shortage of guys to flirt with and, despite never getting dates, I always thought of the weekends and weeknights spent crowded around MK1 and MK2 as a good time.

Then I grew up.

Once life hits you in the stomach and takes your money like a bully on the playground, you start to realize a couple of things.

First, you don’t have time to run to the arcade like you used to. There’s homework to be done, projects to take care of, significant others to pay attention to. Then, there’s jobs. And once you acquire that newfangled thing called employment, there goes any kind of free time you will ever want to have.

Second, the need to go out is replaced by the significantly improved equipment you’ve got laying around the house. Why go to the arcade and drop $5 when you have a $300 machine sitting in your living room that basically is a miniature version of that? Eventually, that machine will pay for itself and the gas money you’ve spent and the money you’ve lost getting your ass kicked by some pimply faced snot-nosed brat with the same thing in his bedroom.

Finally, I’m not getting any younger. The hand and eye coordination is nowhere near what it used to be. Thus, I’m getting old and I’m in no mood to deal with what comes with aging and losing. My expiration date came up a long time ago.

But then I say to myself, “Lyndsey, stop it. You know better and it doesn’t matter how old you are.” And then I look up, and arcades are gone. Suddenly, I remember the doors being shut across the country, the once-thriving scene of machine dens relegated to movie theaters and back-alley parlors. And there are tears in my eyes because it wasn’t supposed to come to this. It’s not supposed to end like this.

There should be a place I can take my kids and show them that mama and daddy once roamed through here, making friends and learning etiquette along the way. It’s also the place where we met, a common ground that became something special because of our shared interest. But I can’t. And I won’t because by the time they’re old enough to understand, there will be nothing left. Not a brick of memory, but just a solitary ethernet cable sitting by their crib waiting to plug in and reach out to punch someone over Xbox Live.

Lyndsey Mosley, editor

Gaming Insurrection

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03 2011

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