I love games – always have, and probably always will.
I can still remember some of the first games I played growing up. There was Pong (but then again, who DIDN’T play pong? Oh wait….there are younger people reading this). I also remember when Combat/Tank was a fun game – just two tanks in a maze, and you scored points each time you blew your friend away – it was innocent fun. Then there were games like Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Zaxxon, Mr. Do!, and Tempest. As games got progressively more complex, they put in more and more features and options. You had vector-based games, which were very clean, but usually spartan in appearance – raster games, which most of them were – the usual variety – you also had laserdisc games, which ranged in control from just choosing a direction or action to actually interacting with the full gameplay on the screen.
These games had a common theme though. You put in your 25-50 cents and you had so many lives to play to get as high of a score as you could before the final video avatar bit the digital dust – of course, you could earn extra lives in most of these, unless the arcade owner was masochistic and changed the settings – they did that a lot after a while. The point is, the game would end at that point, and you could either put in more money to try again, or you could walk away.
Then came the first new innovation – the CONTINUE option. Yes, you could jam in some more money within the time limit allotted and be allowed to continue on your quest – or you walked away, and some sultry person would run up and put money in to continue where you left off (or your buddy asked you and helped you out). This was a clever way for people to get sucked in further into the game at the cost of their lunch money or allowance.
After a while, game companies decided to actually put endings on games – a point where you had a climactic battle, after which you had the end story, credits, and other goodies. Some had great endings – others, not so much, but it was a way to get the gamer to relinquish control of the game and let some other player have a go at it to see if they could do as well as you did.
Ever since then, the major advances are lengthening the story and improving the graphics. Once in a while a new play mechanic will come along, but sadly, any new innovations will never be seen in an arcade, as the home consoles have pretty much overtaken any of the arcade giants, and the days of hearing the cacophony of noise from a room filled with dozens of machines has faded into mostly obscurity, with the rare exception of the “retro-cade”, which you have to be pretty much blessed with living in a huge city to even have a hope of seeing one of these meccas dedicated to games of the past. There is the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, that is reputed to having a plethora of balls-of-steel greats from years past that you can enjoy and relive some of those teenage years that you spent playing rather than studying.
In some ways, I think home consoles are worse for kids than arcades ever were for a very important reason. With arcades, you actually had to leave the house, get out in the fresh air and sunshine in order to get TO the arcade, and then you usually interacted with other people who were also playing. With home consoles, kids don’t even have to leave the house – they can become couch vegetables and never want to leave the house when they can just slap in a game and go numb for hours at a time. Parents – are you reading this? Yes, I am just as guilty of spending some days sitting in front of the tube playing inFamous or some other story-driven game, but it’s not an every day thing for me.
As far as the arcades of today go, at least you have a DDR-style game you can dance to – although how that would translate to going to a dance club eludes me at the moment, but at least it’s exercise of a sort.