I remember having a serious quarter addiction.
Years after my introduction to PONG aka 'two lines and a dot', I found myself with a bit of a dilemma. Home gaming systems had never really caught on in the 70s and 80s. But America's obsession with video games continued to grow. Thankfully, they had found new life in the cabinet models that began to creep into about every convenient, grocery and drug store in the nation. This became a trap that the kids could NOT help stepping into. The flashing lights and mesmerizing sounds pulled them in, but the cheap price, only a quarter, made them a sure bet when assaulting their parents for mild distractions.
Earlier in my retrospective concerning our romance with the comic book rack, I reminisced about my attempts to convince my parents (usually my mother) to buy me another mild distraction, comic books. Back in the 60s, comic books had been as cheap as 5-10-15 cents. As time rampaged on, comics shot up to anywhere from 75 cents to a full dollar by the 80s! So, a quarter for a game began to make more sense. That and it seconded as a nice baby sitter while mom shopped. But, as you well know, a quarter was only the beginning.
Games back then were more crash and burn and learn than they are now. And it makes sense actually. For the most part, this was all built to grease the wheels of the machine. Why make a game that a kid could play forever for a quarter? That made no fiscal sense. If you were going to make money at it, you would develop it for the build up to a penultimate challenge! Thus the birth of the BOSS level was upon us. The round would begin simple enough, teaching the game mechanics. It would ramp up in difficulty as it went, making sure the player was ready for the challenge ahead. Then, BAM! Boss challenge!
It all makes so much sense now. You don't know how many times I've screamed and ranted over those old school games as I crash and burn and have to start the level ALL OVER AGAIN!! It drove me out of my freakin' mind! But, now I see it for what it really is. It was all about the trap and the addiction. If you could pull the kids in and get them started with that quarter, then, they would be back with more quarters later. Mom would run out or just defy us to ask to play the damned game ever again. It was, then, that the addiction would set in AND the addicted generation began to get old enough to earn their own quarters.
THAT'S when the industry got wise and ramped up their efforts. Just like a dealer and a junkie, they made the first one cheap, but the addiction drove us to spend more and more quarters. And, to do that, they built the perfect trap: the Arcade! What better way to build a trap that can allure many a prey? With LOTS of cheese. In this case, it was with more games. In the stores, they couldn't get room for more than a handful of consoles. The new burgeoning industry called for a place for ten, twenty or more of the consoles; a store of games. It was genius. There were so many flashing lights and mesmerizing sounds that the prey couldn't resist. Every mall in the nation, built one of these seductive traps. It was necessary to pull the families in. And, once again, they were the perfect baby sitter. Momma could go shop the mall and the kids could have their fun.
By the time I was in college, I was a full on addict. I remember, after classes, going down to the local arcade and blowing 10-20$ easy on the standup devils! I was hooked and I wasn't alone. And the industry knew. They could see the addiction in full swing and began to feed it, big time! The original games were simple lines and dots like PONG. But now the graphics were going to actual recognizable figures and structures. Compared to today’s amazing life like graphics, it was crap. BUT, then, it was amazing. It had such an impact on the generation that they still sell trinkets to the recovering addicts in 8 bit art of their favorite game candy.
Of course, the rest was history. The addiction had ramped into a full fledged obsession and the industry was finally ready for home consoles. By 1985, the NES exploded onto the scene with Mario and his wondrous plumbing adventures. From there, the dealer upped the cost to the addict to buy their own personal game system and to do it gladly. For although there were many attempts to break into the home market before, it was Nintendo who changed the game and the way we play them. From there, the arcades faded away, for the most part. There are still some awesome ones scattered throughout the nation. But the malls pretty much abandoned them as the relics they were. The kids, after all, weren't falling for the trap so much any more. No, their trap was now hooked into their TV at home.
No, I remember standing in front of an empty store front where my favorite arcade used to be with a sense of sadness. We all moved on, of course. But, even after all these years, I can't help but pause in front of the occasional game cabinet in some random store and reach deep into my pockets for that one last quarter. I find myself like the true addict; feeding my addiction just one more time. I mean, I can quit any time I want, right?
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