I just assume that it's all about 1982, so I put on a white shirt, skinny black tie and my clubmans Falling Down style and headed to the bar EightyTwo in DTLA.
I got the high score on PacMan and three replays on Centaur. I had an Oban. I puffed a little vapor and I sorta dug the music which was and was not retro, but it was certainly loud. I met my brothers and Pops and for the time we weren't somewhat peeved that nobody in the joint cared a whit about putting the UConn game on, we had a ball at EightyTwo, the new 'barcade'.
What's strange at this moment is that although I feel like I could talk for hours about pinball and arcade videogames, I really don't feel like it. I mean basically the chick who owns the pinball machines kinda put me right in my place. I know I'm never going to step up and buy a pinball machine, even my favorite of all time, Bow & Arrow. And I know I'm never going to know more than 80% of what's worth knowing about what I kinda know. Like I eyeballed a machine that was built circa 1977 and I nailed that, but as she said, I was mostly right but wrong on the details. When I was 20 years old, I could have written a disertation of electromechanical pinball and arcade video games. I'm sure that I have spent something on the order of $2500 a year in quarters when I was in my Virtua Fighter championship form. But..
I'm out of joint and feeling somewhat weird about my relationships to the machines now that it has come around to this upscale hip joint that looks like it could have fallen off the back porch of the Standard Hotel. I popped at a million points on Centaur and turned to say, "At least machines have paid me more than I've paid them", which is true. Computers have been very very good to me. But I had several of those unbelievably low scoring balls and my typical movement of disgust was all there in muscle memory - never striking the glass, spinning around in place with my arms flailing in agony, but not wide enough to strike the next pinballer over, and never tilting in anger. It was the familiar frustration made unfamiliar by the whiskey. I never used to drink and game.
I'm all ready to drink and game if I can find the right friend to come with me. But I never have. I've always been, with very few exceptions, the lone gamer, the pickup gamer. It was never me and my crew, it was always me meeting the regulars at the arcade. Young men like myself known only by first name, if that, and their reputations as foosballers, or fighters. Whether it was Holiday Bowl on Crenshaw or Mr. Motos right across the street, or Sega Center at the Fox Hills Mall. Maybe it was Shatto Bowl or the legendary on Woody's on Figueroa. Midtown Bowl had a pretty good lineup but there was a great arcade across the street from LACC. Down on Broadway, I dropped a lot of quads, especially on Defender, yike.
My love affair with the arcades of the city is bittersweet of course. The social rules and rewards of arcade fighting games like Mortal Combat was a later phenomenon. I already was bathed in the solitude of pinball and of the digital cabinet games. It matters to get a high score on PacMan and there is that retro cinematic moment when you could stand back and have a few admirers, but as sad and lonely as it seemed in the movie Tron it was more desolate in life. We are the Tron generation and it is not entirely a happy thing to see the popularity of our old obsessions brought to life. It's a little bit shameful, at least for someone my age. There's no such baggage for the XBox generation, and I hope they enjoy and discover what joy we knew from those moments of finding treasure in Gauntlet, dodging sprites in Robotron or jumping that bridge correctly in Dragon's Lair. The social experience of an arcade has changed with the advent of Dave & Busters and now these new upscale hip joints. It's a lot less depressing than it used to be when arcades were on the outskirts of society.
Gaming is now a huge industry beyond the dreams of us older kids. I am amazed. EightyTwo. I'll be back.