Blackpool, the most insalubrious working-class retreat in Britain, is probably best known for its sheer unabashed dedication to gratuitous pleasure seeking. There is no lust that cannot be slaked at England’s North-West capital, and I’m not talking about drugs, crime or deviancy (although these temptations can all be found in a certain measure). It is wholesome, family based debauchery that beats the heart of The Front. Let me walk you down the promenade and show you a place of unique exquisiteness, a sprawling temple to the malevolent God of the Lost Consumer.
Located just north of Liverpool (famous for its beetles), Blackpool’s own tourist board describes it as “a Mecca for family fun.” A careful choice of words, I feel, since Mecca is synonymous with devout, fanatical worship – and the last western resort is a harsh, unforgiving divinity who accepts nothing short of complete and unabridged veneration. Choose (or be chosen by) your god from the powerful Blackpool Pantheon; be it the mighty Tower that connects heaven and earth by audaciously skewering the sky with its vicious, dominating spike; the cruel Sea that has grown three legs and beckons its congregation out into the bitter murkiness of its violent realm; the surreal dominion of the Pleasure Beach, tempting the lost, the weary and the deviant to kneel at the alter of fear and fast thrills; or the affluent Golden Mile who grows swollen and fat by ravenously devouring all who wander onto the desolate tract of the promenade. It is here where we, the Penitent Gamer, shall take our unholy communion.
A straight line drawn along the sea wall from south pier to north, the Golden Mile is swarming with Blackpool’s repository of gambling dens and amusement arcades – vast, powerful, magnificent and overwhelming to stand in the presence of. They are places where solitary worship is forbidden – impossible, in fact – and a cycle of forged, broken and renewed companionship is in perpetual, dizzying motion. Just as many towns and cities across the world have developed red light districts, the Golden Mile is Blackpool’s answer to digital love-on-demand.
The front of the Mile’s arcades put on an enticing fa
Still not a single word had passed between them, yet as Player One turned to leave after his initial defeat, Player Two’s look of mildly insulted surprise brought him back to the control board, and Ryu was given another opportunity to win back the machine. Silently, the two players fought, laughed, shared, despaired and ultimately parted, as Player Two won each time. He never pulled his punches or took particular mercy on the man whose game he had taken from him, but he shared an ephemeral, vital experience with someone he never even spoke to and probably never saw again. A lifetime’s worth of emotional encounters – that many a married couple have never known – compacted into the space of 15 street fighting minutes at one of the thousands of alters on the Golden Mile. Both acted as lover and leaver, pimp and prostitute, saint and sinner; until the inevitable time came to part company and find another companion.
And this type of videogame-induced unity isn’t an unusual occurrence. Take a look around any arcade and this brand of digital promiscuity is rampant among game playing strangers – dancers plug into the music and unite in rhythm, drivers face-off against each other from either end of long rows of racing machines, and sharp shooters race to the draw and fill a criminal or an alien with imaginary lead. It also goes beyond videogames and touches every compulsion a gambler or player is looking to sate in the arcade’s red, green and blue light district; the donkey derby, the penny roulette, the Hillbilly shooting range, miniature horse racing. These are all games that suffer greatly for want of likeminded companionship.
Visitors to England who only get the chance to hang around London (which is as alien to 95% of the British as it is to the Japanese tourists) have missed out on that most intrinsic, liberated, fun-loving aspect of the British psyche by not sampling Blackpool. It is impossible to be alone in Blackpool, and even the most solitary gamer would quickly find themselves craving this simple, intense, financially acquired (and yes, perhaps a little seedy) union when walking the Golden Mile.
Will you find love on The Front? No. But visit the arcades and you will find lust at its finest.
Spanner has written articles for several publications, including Retro Gamer. He is a self-proclaimed horror junkie, with a deep appreciation for all things Romero.