Thursday, 22 August 2013

McLennan’s: Discovering video games

Pac Man
Missile Command
Space Invaders
One of the drawbacks about growing up on the farm was that I did not get to spend a lot of time in town or with my friends.

That all changed when I entered junior high and we started taking shop classes over at the high school once a week. Every Thursday, we had regular classes at St. Joe’s then over lunch hour walked over to Kate Andrews High School.

It was a new freedom for me. A chance to check out Mac’s and Red Rooster and – the arcade. It was called McLennan’s and you could hear the video games even before you entered the building. It was in downtown Coaldale, right beside a butcher shop.

McLennan’s was where I first encountered Pac Man, and Ms. Pac Man, Q*bert, Centipede, its son Millipede, Missile Command, Berzerk and its cousin Frenzy, and my all-time favourite Space Invaders. It’s also where I first feared for my life and my safety.

There is nothing I have seen like the arcade atmosphere of the 1980s. There were players, and people who just crowded around the consoles to watch them.

The currency was the quarter, the goal was to stay alive as long as you could in whatever electronic environment you chose, earning as many points as possible along the way. You could become a man, a gun, a ship, even just a pair of crosshairs. Players lived vicariously through all of this video incarnations and much more.

Because I never really had a lot of money, I didn’t play a lot of video games. Not like some guys I knew who played a lot. That was the only way to get any good though was by practising. Unfortunately, some guys got addicted. They ended up stealing from friends and parents to play just one more game or another.

I can understand that compulsion to play. You kind of go through stages. At first you learn the rules, usually by watching other guys play. Then you get better by developing some sort of pattern. There is a high in going farther and farther, your score continuing to climb. The rush ends just as quickly when you run out of lives or men. Sometimes it is an irresistible urge to play again. Especially a little bit later when, if you plugged in more money before a certain time, you could continue from where you left off as opposed to starting all the way back at the beginning.

There was something different about arcade video games. I had an Intellivision and later a Commodore 64. It may have been the graphics, or the playability, or the atmosphere, but there was just something better about playing a video game in the arcade. Maybe it was standing up, as opposed to sitting or lying down. Or being surrounded by a dozen backseat players.

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