Whatever Happened To...

Whatever Happened To...
The Back O' The Arcade

Spanner | 27 Sep 2005 12:01
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Traditionally, in England, an arcade was the kind of place where delinquents could get out of their council flats for a few hours a day (well, 16 to 20 hours) without leaving their beloved TV drug too far behind. There were two distinct flavors of arcade. The first of these were large, well-funded, noisy, neon-soaked temples to the Japanese God of Joysticks and Buttons, with all the latest titles in tight regiment and brand spanking new uniforms (or cabinets, anyway). These magnificent establishments generated their light and thunder at the epitome of the British working-class holiday locations; sea front resorts, such as Blackpool and Scarborough. Families were welcomed, the staff in the change booths were only mildly belligerent, and a five pound note would buy you a ten minute digital fix. Regrettably, the average English joystick junkie only saw these sea front retreats once or twice a year; nowhere near enough for a dedicated, addicted player.

The mid-week alternative to Blackpool's Central Pier was the seedy, dank, back-alley-hole-of-a-crime-den that could be found in any town center in England boasting an unemployment figure in excess of 75,000 (which, since the late 70s, is a good 85% of the country). Here you could find last years machines; beaten and abused, retired from the glory of the Golden Mile to live out their lives in a decadent, smoke-filled lair.

When school kids bunked off for the afternoon, this is where they would go. And quite rightly, too, because despite the sticky floors and weeping walls, England's back alley arcades were a thing of horrid beauty. Here you could find the games that were made by the smaller, less successful publishers - who were nothing but a lonely arrow head frog in Nintendo's vast coin-operated jungle - but they made games that were meant to be played. These were also the machines that Uncle Ronnie in the downtown Yorkshire ghettos could afford to buy, and we could afford to play; the lowly, devoted, arcade creepers. We had very little money, but what we had, we shared with the iniquitous operator.

Every so often, a new machine would be brought to this digital knacker's yard and placed in the doorway to entice young urchins and their 10p pieces. At the back of the room, however, would be the old faithful campaigners - that constantly and reliably took money, so were never replaced - where only local yokels and the bravest of the stupid would venture. Their cabinets were crumbling, the coin return buttons didn't work and the joysticks were, quite literally, sticky, but these were the machines we visited more often than our own grandparents, spending not only pocket money with them, but heart felt, quality time.

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