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The Way We Played

The Way We Played

Arcades might seemingly be on the way out, but Daniel Lipscombe fondly remembers his Saturdays spent in the company of games machines and friends in his seaside hometown…

It’s raining outside. Clouds are drowning the sky and the world is swirling in a torrent of people running for cover. They dart here and there while we walk with purpose. The rain doesn’t bother us. We’ll be inside soon.

The warmth of the stale darkness will envelop us and open our eyes to a different world. We left the cables at home, strewn on the floor. Today is a Saturday, and in this “sunny” seaside town we have a plan.

The cacophony of shrill chirps and thudding music does nothing to dampen our spirits. The rattling of metal bounces around our ears as we run our fingers over the loose change in our pockets. We have a destination, and it’s in our sights. We move as one and serpentine back and forth as we check what’s new. There are three of us, our palms itching. Our eyes are wide as we scan the surroundings. There’s man with a dog picking up spilt coins. He was here last week.

This is a Magic City, our Magic City and nobody can take that away. The musty smell of grease wafts throughout, only replaced by a metallic tang as we run our hands over our faces. Our pace quickens as we approach a quiet corner that will soon be full of teenagers. There’s one other person in our area, bouncing a basketball and preparing for a shot. A brief nod is passed between us, and a friend retreads his steps back to the opening of the building. One pound sterling later, he’s with us again. We’re a team.

A pile of 20 pence coins are placed on the top of the machine, to signify that we’ll be here for a while. The whole week has built up to this moment; the freedom from the mundane is here, fresh as the smell of salty sea air kicked up by the rain. We can’t hear the drops anymore. All we hear are the stereo speakers playing the familiar music we know so well.

KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE
The colours and animations flow and play out before us while we mutter something about walking down to the pier afterwards and seeking out the older stuff. Only ten pence per credit The Way We Played - Magic Citynow, those older machines. For now, though, we’re in the Magic City and coins are waiting to be spent. As two of us roll our money into the slot below the screen, we exchange a cursory smile. This is a battle, and one of is guaranteed to lose. There is no friendship for 90 seconds; only a bitter rivalry that is tracked through memory.

Our hands come to rest on the surface before us. The left hand waits patiently; the right taps an unknown rhythm while we wait. It’s his choice first, and I know what his pick will be – regular as clockwork. He knows me well too, and my choice never changes either. The countdown appears, and our hands settle into position.

Someone always jumps at the opening second and is usually followed by a sweeping kick, easily blocked and countered with a Dragon Punch. This is where we belong; this is how we play. As the movement flows across the screen, people are walking past and commenting. Some stop to watch. Someone reaches in and places a pound coin next to a stick, his way of saying that “he’s got next.”

As the match comes to an end, the smiles are back and someone else steps up to put their money where their mouth is. We stay there for hours, watching, or moving from machine to machine. When we’ve lost the taste to fight, we duck behind crates while we reload, or we climb into the seat of a Hornet and drive for as long as it takes.

The rain has stopped and the sun is setting. Our pockets are empty, but we got what we came for. Three friends leave the Magic City to walk down to the pier and throw a javelin, or compete in the long jump for ten pence a go. This is the way we played. No one can take that away.

3 Comments

    This is precisely why I wanted to live by the sea when I was a child. The only arcade machines in my home town were over-priced crowd-pleasers, like light gun games and racing cabinets, situated in the cinema and the bowling alley.

    As a result, my seaside holidays were all about the arcades. Whatever spending money I had would inevitably be converted into change and poured into those wonderful machines. I love that I grew up in an era where “perfect arcade conversion” was the pinnacle of home computer or console achievement. It’s another level of awe and majesty which no longer exists. My son will always have access to current generation consoles and a decent PC and while I know that he loves having a dedicated gamerdad, I wonder if he is missing out on something by having no higher level of gaming to lust after.

  • [...] Lipscombe writes about seaside arcades for Resolution. It’s a lovely, NGJ-esque piece that evokes the wonder of arcade gaming [...]

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