I'm dating myself here, but my earliest gaming memories involve Pong in the late 1970s. My dad was so excited to set up this thing, on our tiny black and white tv, for my brother and me. Yes, that Pong — literally two paddles and a ball. My brother and I quickly figured out how to set up the paddles directly across from each other so that the ball would go back and forth indefinitely. We could — and did — walk away and let that silly game play itself. Yawn. A few years later, in the early 1980s, we got a real Atari system and a few cartridges to play. That was better than Pong, but frankly, most of the time I preferred to read a book.
But arcades came along in the '80s too, and they were a whole other story! The colorful lights and sounds, the variety of games from pinball to Pac-Man and so much more. Going to the arcade was a real outing, a social activity. In middle school, my friends and I would save up our allowance and head to the arcade with a pocketful of quarters. This was the golden era of video game arcades. We'd play games and buy snacks until we ran out of money. Maybe we'd even see some cute boys. Not really knowing how to talk to boys at that age, playing video games gave us something to do without having to talk too much.
By the time I got to high school, college, and beyond, I'd pretty much lost interest in gaming, even as video games continued to get more sophisticated. I'd found other social activities I found more engaging. But I'll always look back fondly at my middle school days spent at the arcade.
At-home gaming is definitely king these days, and why not? Home systems, hand-held devices, and even iOS games have advanced leaps and bounds beyond any games I played in my youth. You can barely find a Nintendo Switch in stores these days, they're so popular! Games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons have spawned dedicated online communities.
Gaming on your iPhone or iPad or even your Mac is so easy, and inexpensive. You already own the device, so why not download some games? Some, like Pokemon Go and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, are more social and get you running around outside. You can download games for free, or just a buck or two, and play them over and over. Or, subscribe to Apple Arcade and get access to tons of games for a small monthly fee.
But I still think there's something special about going to an arcade with your buddies. After all, how many songs do you know about playing video games at home? But songs about arcade games have permeated popular culture, with classics like The Who's Pinball Wizard and Buckner & Garcia's Pac-Man Fever. "Grown-up arcades" like Dave & Buster's and Beercade have popped up all over, combining nostalgia for arcades with adult beverages and food. You can drink beer, eat real food, and play pinball and retro video games to your hearts' content.
Granted, the coronavirus has put a damper on these outings, but I think once the virus is in the past, people are going to be anxious to socialize with their friends again. Indulging in a popular pastime from your youth will be a lot of fun. We'd love to hear your favorite arcade memories in the comments below.
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