The Disappearing Arcades.

I had a bit of fun with my daughter a couple of days ago. No, I don't mean I did anything to cause her anguish (mental or otherwise) or do anything to make her take a disliking to me. I mean that we both had a little fun. Here's what happened. I had a work meeting to go to a couple of nights ago so, like any good father would, I decided to drag her along. How is this not mental anguish, you ask? But she's only 12 you say. Shouldn't you at least wait until she was a couple of years older before pushing work on her? Relax, it was in a bowling alley. The company was generous enough to throw in free bowling and pizza as an incentive to come, and the kids were invited too. Unfortunately for me, I have a bum shoulder, so bowling is out. What else is there to do at a bowling alley? How about the last vestiges of the American arcades?

I know there are still game machines all over. You may find 2 or 3 cabinets in the local pizza joint. You also may see a couple of others in a Wal-Mart. But try to find anything like the arcades of old anywhere today. I was born in the 70's and grew up in the 80's (damn, that makes me sound really old) and I remember the arcade boom of that time. I grew up in Montana, not a place known for it's urban centers, and because of that, we didn't have a lot of places to play games there in the early 80's. In fact, there was only one. Aladdin's Castle in Missoula, Montana. I moved around quite a bit as a kid, all around the western part of the state, but never too far to take a weekend trip to Missoula. I know, I sound like a complete hick saying this, but "going to town" was the highlight of the week. We would always go out to dinner, see a movie, pick up some groceries, and go to the mall. Whenever we hit Southgate Mall, I would take the direct route to my favorite place with quarters in hand.

Aladdin's Castle was twice as big as the regular shops beside it, but only had half as many lights inside. Looking in from the outside, it was a dark, very noisy cave. My kind of place. Upon walking in I'd scout the games to see what the new ones were, no use spending money on an old game. After I made the once over I would check out the newest, flashiest, and loudest game I could find, and promptly begin using those before mentioned quarters. Some games I did pretty well with, others not so much, but I can't say to this day that I wasted any one of the quarters I spent there. Sure, I may have been killed off quickly in a game or two, but I still had a great time doing it. Which is what I hoped I could do at the bowling alley.

When I saw that the bowling alley actually had 7 games there, and one or two I did want to play, I went back to the car and got that handful of change I'd been saving. I didn't know why I was saving it, but I knew, that was the day to use it. I came back in and split that handful of quarters with my daughter. I started out on a newer game, and did pretty well on it, but then my daughter asked to me to play double with her. I looked over at what she was playing. Metal Slug 2. Oh yeah. I didn't hesitate to stick my quarter in and start shooting up the bad guys and mummies, and fighting to rescue the hostages with her. In the heat of the fight she would ask me "Where are you?", not knowing that I'd died or been turned into a mummy. Her usual response to either of those situations would usually be "You're so slow.", but in a joking, competitive way.

See, my kid's a gamer. She loves it almost as much as I do. I see her playing God of War and getting frustrated, in the same spots I did. I see how much fun she had playing at the bowling alley. I see how much she likes reading the gaming news. And I'm sad for her. Not for her love of gaming, but because she couldn't see the place my love of gaming started. Aladdin's Castle isn't there anymore. My favorite place is gone, and chances are, so is yours.

Note: The above image is from a retro arcade built by Peter Hirschberg. Read more about his Luna City Arcade project here.