New Hampshire might not have much in relation to the video game industry, but we have a few things: Ralph Baer, the acknowledged Father Of All Video Games, used to live next to my brother-in-law’s mom in Manchester, Richard Garriott wrote at least one Ultima game somewhere in the state, and we apparently have the World’s Largest Arcade. I’m a bit dubious of that last one because let’s face it: if you’re going to house a lot of arcade machines, why NH?
I visited Funspot, the facility which makes this claim, last week while on vacation. It’s located in Laconia, which is considered to be epicenter of the Lakes Region, our prime tourist spot for the state. Laconia is mostly known as the host of Motorcycle Weekend. NH was #2 in the people-to-motorcycle ratio in 2011 which isn’t something that really concerns me except to know when to avoid the highways. Needless to say, most people do not visit Laconia to visit the American Classic Arcade Museum (ACAM) unless they’re really super serious about their arcade cabinets, or because they live local and have nothing else to do that day because the weather is crappy. Some people’s Mecca is other people’s activity of last resort, I guess.
ACAM usually has a presence at PAX East, which coincidentally was held the weekend before I visited the ACAM Actual. We usually stop by the PAXE arcade room to kill an hour or two, but their mobile exhibit is nothing compared to what they have ensconced at Funspot. The entire ACAM wing has nothing but classic arcade games, which means practically no games with plastic guns, and only a scant few that require you to sit inside something. And no zombies. Nothing with zombies, or rather nothing that’s instantly recognizable as zombies. Maybe if you squint…
I spent a lot of time playing After Burner, Space Harrier, and Spy Hunter. I also dug some Dig-Dug, smashed through some Smash TV, and…troned some Robotron 2084. I played a whole lot of games I’d not played in decades, and several I’d never played at all, ever. Oddly enough, I was never a big arcade visitor when I was younger. By the time I was old enough to get to the arcade, I had an Atari 2600 at home, then the Sega 8-bit, Genesis, and eventually a C64 and an Amiga. Arcades were for the unwashed who couldn’t be bothered to stay at home and play video games in their pajamas. Maybe the unwashed was another reason I stayed away.
There was something kind of nice in playing those old games, though. $20 got me 100 tokens, and pretty much all of those ACAM games retained their one coin, one play exchange rate which allowed me to cram a whole lot of coins into a few of the games to keep the momentum going — those older games are notoriously brutal, so take that, Dark Souls franchise! We were getting our assed kicked by our games before it was cool. Better yet, there was no ohhhing or ahhhhing over graphics, no lag or latency, no always-on multiplayer to complain about, and thank gawd no map-chat. It was just me (and a few others), a bitchin’ 80’s soundtrack piped over the audio system, and a few hundred old school video game cabinets. It was very cathartic, very zen, and very organic.
I know there’s no way that Kids These Days will “get it”, although I’m sure they can appreciate an old style arcade the way I can appreciate the Spanish Inquisition. It’s still just not the same to dig out the original Xbox or a PS2 in 20 years time because the act of sitting on the couch to play it will be just like sitting on the couch to play games on the Playstation 12 or the Xbox Infinity, although “sitting on the couch” might be replaced with “interfacing directing with the neural cortex” at that point, making those original dusty relics quaint by comparison. Visiting the ACAM was like getting back to root: my roots, of course, but also the roots of gaming as a whole. All of the complaints and arguments and tragedy that is spawned because someone can or can’t have their hobby the way they like it just falls away when everyone has to stand side by side at the row of cabinets. We can’t fight progress, but we really did lose a lot by sequestering our gaming habit to our individual living rooms.