My first memories of arcade games were when I was probably around 10 or so. A sit down, two player version of Space Invaders at the local pub. Later it was Ghosts n Goblins and Trojan at my grandparents fish and chip store. To a kid of that age they were boxes of magic, complete with a very particular sort of look and sound.
I played more Street Fighter 2 as a teenager than I can remember, failing miserably at playing Ken, Ryu and Guile, who were the crowd favorites at the time, and instead going the round-about route of Blanka. About that time, there were more gaming arcades in my home town than I see these days in Auckland. That wall of sound and smell of burnt dust when you entered was something that burned into my memory.
Since then I’ve tinkered about with MAME and wondered about the more robust projects of bringing an arcade cabinet back to life. Recently there have been two new additions to my workplaces lunch room to give me thought on the idea. And also to question all those associations and memories I had growing up.
I looked at these cabinets. Certainly smaller than I remember as a kid, but that could be because I’m a lot taller than I was as a kid. The HD monitor rather than the CRT screens complete with scan lines threw me a lot. When I settled in to playing Street Fighter 2 on this thing masquerading as my childhood memories, the particulars of the differences really hit home. Things didn’t feel quite right. The joystick was different, and the responsiveness wasn’t quite the same.
This could be put down to the box itself. And its not like this thing is the last remaining bastion of arcade gaming. I could track down an upright of Street Fighter 2 if I looked hard enough, and put in my 20c coins. Moreso that this thing represents in my mind the future of arcade gaming, if it continues. Its a machine doing its best to represent hardware through software. MAME does a good job at faking architecture, but it’s not perfect.
I considered that I had this situation previously, in terms of trying to rewire a thing with memory. Making the change from reading stuff on paper, in a book to doing it via something like a Kindle was a similar mindset switch. This thing I’m holding in my hand doesnt have the same physical feelings associated with it. I can’t smell the mustiness of this 20 year old copy of Dune. Much in the same way that Pacman looks wrong in pixel perfect HD.
Eventually, in the case of the Kindle at least, I rewired those associations in my head. I realised that it was the experience of losing myself in a story that was actually the heart of reading. Not so much the format that I was holding in my hands. Not so certain yet that the MAMEbox cabinet is a replacement to the experiences I had growing up as a kid. Those associations might take a while yet before they’re accepted. Playing an arcade box, of course, is a physical action, more than the act of reading a book and using ones imagination.
It’s early days yet … and there are so many more people to school effortlessly in Street Fighter 2 during lunch breaks.