What is LRM’s Save Station? A series looking at all things video game related. Regardless of where we embark on this adventure, please gear up and join me. Save Station will not be a piece dealing with current video game news but could venture into that territory at times. Some articles may be heavy on nostalgia. Others may feature a different look at the past. Shall we start?
When did your love of gaming start? Maybe there is a better question. When did you realize gaming would be a way of life for you? For me, it began in the early 80s. Around 1980 I can remember having a Coleco Telstar Colormatic. It hit the market in 1977, but we did not own one until later. The Colormatic featured four video games, each in its color. One could play an exciting game of tennis, hockey, handball, or jai alai. Attached to the system were two paddles you could hold in your hands, a cutting-edge dynamic for home gaming systems. Competitors could get bragging rights for winning since the game tracked their score. These features were not enough to draw me into thinking video games could become a way of life. It did give me a fundamental understanding of how to play a video game.
Most stores in my hometown had the same arcade cabinet. The year was 1981 and Pac-Man was all the rage for video games. On numerous occasions, my mom went on a shopping trip. My reward for behaving was a chance to play, but this still was not the moment for me. That moment came two years later. Friday nights were spent with cousins at my grandparent’s house. One cousin convinced my grandfather to take us to Flickers, the arcade at our local mall. This encounter turned video games into a way of life. When we arrived, there were arcade cabinets everywhere. All the sights and sounds overloaded my senses, and I loved it. Only one thing was missing for this trip. There was no money in my pockets.
Flickers’ games only operated on tokens. Granddad donated five dollars to my need. His instructions were to bring back the change. Once I inserted the five-dollar bill into the token machine, there was immediate clanging in a tray. Twenty tokens dropped for me to gather. So much for granddad’s request to bring change back. We were both surprised, but games were needing my attention. My grandfather had me read the rules first. Every arcade had its own set of posted rules. Foul language was not allowed. Arcade owners did not want anyone tilting the machines. Players could not take out their frustration on a cabinet due to a bad play session. Since food and especially drinks could damage the machines, they were not allowed in the arcade. Along with the rules, instructions were given on what to do if a machine stopped working or ate your token.
The Unwritten Rules
My grandfather told my cousin to show me the ropes. He taught me the unwritten rules. Players want personal space while playing their video games. Crowding a player might cause an undesired game move. Breaking this unwritten rule only happens in two situations. First, if someone beats a long-standing high score. Second, something legendary happens like winning a particular game. Even then, a certain distance was maintained. Another important rule involved placing a token on the screen’s bottom lip to claim the next play. Specifically, it helped keep people from hogging a particular game. Modification of this rule could happen. My turn to play is next, but a young child put his token after mine. As a courtesy, let the younger child in front of me. Parents were typically thankful since both the player and parent knew the child would probably not take long at the cabinet.
The First Mission
Finally, my cousin set me loose to find whatever video game I wanted to play. Flickers set their cabinets up back-to-back for a center row. They also had a row of games lining each wall. About three-fourths of the way in were two steps up to another platform of mostly pinball games. Star Wars would be my first game. It was amazing because I could play the movie. My mission was to conquer this game. It did not happen. Check someone making a full run through the video game.
The Second Mission
My mind was racing. What else could expand my video game experience? What games were going to eat up my tokens, like Pac-Man eating dots? After two highly unsuccessful turns at playing Star Wars, it was time to move on. Some video games are as synonymous with their music as they are with the actual gameplay. One such tune caught my ear. I needed to seek out the source. It seemed louder than any other game in the arcade. As I started down one row, I realized the sound was on the other side. On that side, I slowly moved until I came to the one and only Spy Hunter. It sported a futuristic steering wheel, a flashy button to mash, and a gas pedal along with the classic theme. Those who have played this video game know its music well.
A few rounds of Spy Hunter, then off to the next game. Walking around, a worker caught my eye because he was working on one of the cabinets. Natural curiosity took over, so patiently I watched as he tinkered. Once finished, he noticed me and informed me the game was ready to go. The completed work reset the machine. This action allowed me to set the high score for Galaga. It did not take long for my bubble to be busted. Other players pushed my high score off the machine. Some of you may have been there just like me. Setting a high score sometimes creates a desire to chase high scores on another game. My objective for the rest of my time was to set another high score. Centipede, Crystal Castles, Tempest, Zaxxon, Tron, and Xevious were next without setting any high scores.
We left that evening with my grandfather, still wondering why he did not get any change back. My personal experience shaped my future for gaming. Any visit to the mall required a trip to Flickers. Eventually, my love of gaming grew as I discovered more games. You probably have a story too. When given the opportunity, I always like finding out how others began their gaming journey. Now is the time for player two to take over and share their story. Would you be willing to share your memories?
What started gaming as a way of life for you? If you are old enough to have ventured into an arcade, what is your favorite memory from the arcade?