“and I’m headed to the arcade” – Buckner & Garcia
The 80’s helped mainstream the video arcade. These places were usually dark and dim and many times included cigarette smoke wafting through the air. There was typically loud 80’s rock or pop music blaring from the speakers as beeps and boops and blips came from every machine. It was a refuge from the parents. A safe-haven in an alternate universe. It was the ultimate playground for many of us in the early to mid-80’s.
You had your recreational players like me that were on whatever budget the parents would grant. For me, that was usually three or four dollars. And then you had your serious players who were either kids with wealthy parents or summertime mowing jobs. Or you had your adults with jobs that could spare $20 trying to achieve bragging rights on their game of choice. There were patterns to master and friends to impress, but there usually weren’t too many girls. It wasn’t exactly cool to be introduced to the opposite sex like – “Hey, this is my friend John. He’s the best Donkey Kong player in the area.” That was not going to impress the ladies.
“I’m going to fake to the left and move to the right.”
There were always stories to tell and most of them were the equivalent to poker players and their “bad beats.” “Speedy caught me four pellets shy of getting to the ninth key! It sucked man!” or “I totally mistimed my jump in Donkey Kong, and I was only 500 points from getting the high score and now I’m out of quarters!” Yep, everyone that played had some kind of story on one level or another.
Recently, my wife, daughter, and I spent the better part of three hours on Saturday at a local arcade for our nephew’s birthday party. You literally feel like you’re back in the 80’s when you step inside. It’s a totally rad place, and it’s located in Fayetteville, Arkansas. This place of nostalgia is called Arkadia. It has all of the classics – the Pac-Man’s, the Donkey Kong’s, Asteroids, Burgertime, Frogger, Tron, Journey, Joust, and many many more. For a set price you can go in and play as long as you want. There is even a tv set hooked up to an old Atari 2600 if you want sit on a vintage couch and play those old Atari games that you thought were just the coolest thing ever back in the early 80’s.
The old Atari 2600 was a far cry from the actual machine game back then though. Anyone remember the wait for Pac-Man to come out only to realize it was pretty lame? Pac-Man didn’t even eat round pellets. They were square, and Pac-Man didn’t even face north or south. He always faced east or west regardless of what direction he travelled! And Donkey Kong followed but it didn’t have all the levels that the arcade machine had. Another tv in Arkadia played classic episodes of “Scooby Doo” while we were in there.
In 1982-1983 WTBS hosted a game show called “Starcade” and I loved it. I loved it so much that my 11 year old self mailed in a postcard to be a contestant on the show. I was beyond excited when I received one back in the mail weeks later with an invitation to try out. I was, however, less than enthusiastic when I learned I had to figure out my own transportation to Los Angeles just to try out for the show. I was not even guaranteed a spot! Weren’t they aware of my Burgertime prowess? I quickly realized that getting to Los Angeles was going to be a problem, so my dreams of being a tv gameshow superstar on “Starcade” were dashed as quickly as my spaceship in Defender (I was terrible at Defender).
If you don’t remember this show, you can find multiple episodes on youtube. Mark Richards was the original host of the show. Below is just one of the episodes, and if you have a spare 23 minutes to watch it’s worth your time. If not, here are the highlights of the clip: it’s a 30 something-year-old named John with plans to write the great American comedy who gets insulted by Richards (Richards says he looks like Jerry Lewis in “The Nutty Professor”; not exactly an awesome compliment). John goes up against a girl named Heidi probably about 20 years younger who apparently is a back-up on Broadway for the well known production of “Annie.” John dominates the questions but Heidi kicks his tail and even wins her own video game. John may be the stereotypical looking “nerd” but he was not a very good video game player.
“I got all the patterns down, up until the ninth key”
Of course this post has to feature the most popular video game song ever and a song that I owned. Heck, I owned the whole album. Yes, there was a Pac-Man Fever album made up of nothing but classic arcade game songs. The title track made it all the way up to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1982. The game and the song literally swept the nation that year as other Pac-Man games followed (Ms. Pac-Man, Baby Pac-Man, Super Pac-Man) as did Pac-Man cereal and even a Pac-Man cartoon.
My friend Brandon and I would walk a few miles from our houses to the local Wal-Mart in Seminole, OK with some quarters in hand and spend some time playing Pac-Man which was located in the entryway before going into the store. First of all, yes, I just said we walked a couple miles as 10 or 11 year olds. For you youngsters, there were times where you weren’t worried to let your kids roam all over town. But I digress. Secondly, I was no Pac-Man master even though I owned one of those “cheat” books that gave you patterns to beating the game. But, I had neither the desire to study every detail, nor the bankroll to accomplish the feat even I did so desire. I also owned a similar guide to beating Donkey Kong (below), but still ended up with the same results. But more than anything, for Brandon and I, it was just a fun way to kill a few hours on one of those long summer days growing up.
“It’s driving me crazy”
Without further adieu, here is that unique duo of Jerry Buckner and the late Gary Garcia performing on “American Band Stand.” I love that just before the video cuts off at the end, host Dick Clark is heard saying something along the lines of “that’s strange…” Dick was clearly confused at the popularity and success of this song about a video game, but the rest of the nation was not! We all had “Pac-Man Fever”…
Thanks for indulging me on a trip down memory lane. Go check out Arkadia Retrocade in Fayetteville if you’re ever in the area, and as always, thanks for reading.