Atari. Nintendo. Sega. If you grew up in the 70s, 80s or 90s, chances are you played one of, if not all, of these systems. Whether you passed the ball back and forth on "Pong", guided Mario through Bowser's castle in "Super Mario Brothers", or zipped around loops in "Sonic", these earliest video games were a part of our childhoods.
Perhaps you were fortunate enough to have one of the home console systems and played it ad nauseum, as I did as a child. If not, you may have frequented a local arcade, begging your parents for a quarter so you could try your hand at "Pac-Man" or "Centipede". For a while, these classics seemed to have passed by the wayside, overshadowed by newer, seemingly better systems with higher quality graphics and more elaborate game-play. These earliest games were overlooked by most (except for die-hard gamers) as relics of a bygone era. Today's kids would rather sit in front of "Call of Duty" for hours on end than pick up a classic Nintendo gamepad and tap out a few levels on "Donkey Kong". It's progress; each generation has something new to claim as their own, and items from the past are generally left to memory.
With the recent nostalgia boom, there's been an increasing interest among young and old fans alike in bringing back things we've long since relegated to "retro" status. Be it movies, television shows, or games, what was old is now new again as we see countless titled being given new life with reboots, revivals, and re-releases. Classic games are no exception, and due to the increasing demand, there have been a number of arcades popping up across the country that are dedicated to these first forms of gaming entertainment. I'm fortunate enough to have one in my own backyard, YESTERcades of Somerville, NJ. Having gone a handful of times already, I can easily say that it's one of my favorite local spots for retro fun. More than that though, it serves as a standing monument to the history of gaming, allowing fans across numerous generations to come together and reminisce about their childhood.
A Blast From the Past
Walk into YESTERcades and immediately feel a wave of nostalgia. Classic gaming accoutrements fill the cases as you walk in, instantly transporting you back to the numerous hours spend on the floor in front of your tv, desperately trying to beat your favorite game. The lights are dimmed, reminiscent of the basements where you invariably spent your time huddled around a tv set with your friends, passing the controller back and forth. A mix of classic and modern pinball machines line the far right wall, while an impressive variety of arcade cabinets taking up the bulk of the floor space. Along the left wall are a host of flatscreen tvs, couches, and virtually every gaming system ever made with a plethora of games ripe for the picking. It is a veritable treasure trove for gamers. One of my favorite spots? A floor-stand television in the front corner, complete with bean bag chairs, a lava lamp, an Atari 2600, and a massive number of some of the very first video games ever made. Even though I wasn't alive for the first wave of gaming that followed the release of Atari, I can still appreciate its significance, and walking into this arcade feels like a trip down memory lane; who cares if they're not all necessarily my memories?
Bridging the Generation Gap
Trips to this arcade aren't just about the nostalgia factor. It's a great opportunity for those of us that grew up with these games to relive the joy of standing in front of a machine and trying our best to get as far as possible, only this time as adults. It's like making new memories with old friends.
I recently took my parents and my boyfriend on an excursion to this arcade. I knew it would go well. My dad is from the first generation of gaming (he still has his original Atari and all the games, along with virtually every other system made in the subsequent thirty years), and my boyfriend and I grew up in the height of the Nintendo era, and still play games on a regular basis. I shouldn't have been surprised then when I watched my boyfriend stare on in disbelief as my dad quickly DOUBLED the high score on the Galaga machine. My dad, ever modest, brushed it off like it was no big deal, but we wound up talking about it for days. It was a unique bonding moment that would never have happened otherwise. The overall nostalgic feel of the arcade brought back so many memories for all of us - all from a different generation, yet each able to find something in that arcade to help us relive the magic of our childhood. Most forms of entertainment are readily accessible, even decades after their initial release. Movies, television shows, music - they are all available to most of us, thanks to DVDs and digital media. Gaming is a lot more difficult to relive, especially if you're hoping for that original gaming experience. Few of us are fortunate enough to have an arcade cabinet in our possession, and they're pretty rare nowadays. Vintage arcades are one of the only places you can still find them, and certainly the only place you can find them en masse. It's a sad reality that there just isn't as much of a demand for this style of gaming as there used to be, and without that demand these games and their consoles drop off into obscurity. Watching my dad play the same games he grew up with gave me a rare glimpse into his own childhood. We so often forget that our parents were kids once too, and have their own memories to look back on fondly. I felt like I was able to peek into his mind and see how he would have felt back then, standing in front of a machine, racking up a high score on a single quarter as he tries to beat his previous best. In the same way that watching "Star Wars" or listening to an old Beatles album might bring you closer to your parents, so too does this arcade help close the gap between generations, making everyone feel like a kid again.
Preserving Gaming History
Unlike other forms of entertainment, vintage games and game consoles are far more difficult to come by, and require a much higher monetary output. Unless you're a lifelong gaming fan, would you really be willing to shell out hundreds of dollars for a classic system and a handful of games? Probably not. Without places like YESTERcades, arcades that serve double duty as interactive museums, how else would we be able to relive our childhoods while also introducing younger generations to the games we cut our teeth on? I don't have children, but whenever I walk into this arcade I'm hit with the image of one day bringing my own children here and showing them the original "Duck Hunt" or "Super Mario Bros", games I played for hours on end when I was younger. These games are a part of who I am, and arcades like this will help me pass those memories on to the next generation, and allow them to peer into my own childhood the way I did with my dad. If that's not reason enough to keep arcades like this around, I don't know what is.
What classic game system did you grow up with?
**Note: I was not compensated for this post, nor am I affiliated in any way with YESTERcades. I just really friggin' love this place.