I moved around quite a bit when I was younger. It seemed like every year we would pack up and head to someplace new and when we did settle in one spot for an extended period of time, there ended up being three other kids in the entire complex. Lucky enough for me though, just a five minute bike ride away was an amazing two story arcade. It is my long time belief that video games are the great unifier. You can stick two people of any nationality, race, creed, or sexual orientation together and put controllers in their hands and all the differences just melt away. This is doubly true in an arcade environment. The arcade is where I spent most of my summer days, making alliances in TMNT or X-Men and taking challengers on in Soul Caliber. In the arcade, everyone was polite and respectful because you were among your own. Despite the stigma of gamers being socially awkward and solitary creatures, if you grew up around an arcade in the 80’s or early 90’s you knew that to be anything but the truth.
With home consoles becoming more and more popular, fewer people thought it necessary to leave the comfort of their homes and go to the arcade. While gaming was still a social concept with many couch co-op games it was on a much smaller scale. Eventually it would lose to technology with homes having high speed internet and the ability to play with others on the other side of the world with a single connection. The need for the arcade become irrelevant as the arcade was now in cyberspace. You’d be hard pressed, at least in my area, to find an arcade these days and large “Barcade” type chains like Dave and Busters largely lack the fun and feel of old school arcades. But as they say, everything is cyclical and video games are no exception. Nostalgia is a powerful thing and its no wonder the gamers of today, many of whom are now parents, yearn for a simpler time. 8 bit graphics are becoming a huge hit again and people are spending hundreds of dollars on MAME machines to try and capture that old feeling from their youth.
Several months ago I was turned on to a special event that happens once a month: a popup arcade in a downtown bar. For one night each month, a slew of arcade games are shipped in and put on free play for all guests. Patrons can then pay a general admission and play to their hearts delight. I was finally able to make some time to head down there this past Saturday with three of my friends, all of whom share a deep storied love of gaming. Walking in, I was ecstatic; it felt just the same as it had all those years ago. It was magic. As I scanned the crowd, you could see different generations of people from all walks of life. Parents brought their kids to experience the event, one dad was even carrying his son in an “Ergo.” It was a group of people with a shared love. One friend and I immediately broke off and got on Final Fight, there we stayed for awhile, checking behind us every so often to make sure no one was waiting. Across the aisle I could see my other two friends going at it in Street Fighter 2, we slowly made our way over and called next. All around us people playing their old favorites or finding new gems, my favorite “new” game of the night was Mapy. Complete strangers joining up in Gauntlet or Altered Beast. I witnessed a heated game of NBA Jam while waiting for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Afterwards the two guys hugged like they were long time friends and said “Good game.” I saw little moments like this all night and the evening highlight was beating The Simpsons arcade game with my four friends. So, thank you to Offworld Arcade for hosting this event. I will be back for more nostalgia of a simpler time in the near future. We are already planning on coming back next month and I can’t wait for that feeling again. If you’re lucky enough to be in Metro Detroit go and check it out. If not I encourage you to go out and find something similar, you won’t regret it.