Oct 18, 2019
When Games Were Everywhere
Golden Axe at Osco Drug
Photo by Michael Galinsky (Rumur)
Published in Malls Across America
When I was growing up in the 80's, it was not at all uncommon to see arcade machines all over town at various places of business. They were in the lobbies of diners and restaurants. They were in bars and laundromats. They were outside convenience stores and gas stations, and in the entrance way of drug stores and grocery stores. Their disappearance was so slow and gradual that I didn't even notice it happening. One day, they were just... gone.
I remember the day that it occurred to me that they had almost all disappeared. It was 2002 and I was driving on I-80 West from Hazleton to Omaha. I stopped at a gas station in Ohio and there was an Arkanoid machine. I stood there for over an hour breaking bricks with the paddle and remembering what it was like to find these games all over town, in every town.
Now, in 2019, arcade cabinets become almost as rare as jukeboxes or pay telephones. Once in a while, I come across a machine out in the wild. Not a lovingly restored cabinet at a retro arcade, but a game that is still in service at a public place, waiting to be played, and periodically emptied of its quarters. I imagine that some of them haven't been moved in decades and have become as much a part of the permanent surroundings as the restaurant booths and cash register that they stand watch over. One day, the last of them will stop working and these once iconic parts of our culture will truly have disappeared. Until then, I will always have a quarter and a few minutes to forget about the modern world and just play.