Quartering Games

Published 3:31 pm Thursday, September 6, 2012

I know video games-well, as a teenager growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, I was there witnessing the birth of the gaming industry, one quarter at a time. Education, as I've often said, is expensive.

But for a teenager, there was something about the promise of the next quarter, a new high score, bragging rights among your friends. Those old games involved both skill and fueled a competitive nature.

Yes, yes, we know a teen is much better off tossing a real ball outside, but that's a debate (and list) for another day.

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So here's my list for top arcade games of all time and you'll see I'm not just old school, I'm old. But I must admit it was rather fun dredging up the memories. If only I had all those quarters back.

For what little an opinion is worth, here are my top picks:

It may not be the first blockbuster arcade game, but Pac-Man is the all-time king. I remember Par-Bil's had such a machine and, of course, later Oscar's Rec down on Main Street. My brother-and I'm not quite sure how he came about it-cracked the pattern code and could play and play and play-to the point the “ghosts” never changed color. Me, well, I never made it that far.

It was crazy simple, but I'd have to put Asteroids in the number two spot. A triangle space ship stationed in the middle of the screen (unless you felt bold enough to use the thrusters and risk smashing into something off screen), jagged outlined in white rocks that you had to break apart with a peashooter. Wow, it's really taking me back. High tech for its day; a laugher now.

Up on Third Street is probably where I first got indoctrinated into the video game game. Yes, it seems an out-dated term to refer to them as “video” games since videos are all but gone, but what's an anachronism like me to do? It was at the Hop-In I slipped my first quarter into Space Invaders. Shoot the alien bug-like creatures before they landed and destroyed a series of bases and you'd live to die on another screen. It was always a thrill and a challenge to get the last one as he flew across the screen, line-by-line, aiming to land and destroy your protective bases. And those aliens were rather ugly, too.

Mario is, of course, king of the home games, but he was also quite impressive in those early days in the arcade. Super Mario Bros. revolutionized video games and introduced the game-playing world to never-ending theme music that plays in one's head long after the life of the quarter, introduced game-players to eight challenging worlds, and the goal of a humble little character with a bushy mustache-a plumber at that-to rescue a princess. It was, of course, addicting. And, though I got tantalizingly close, was never quite able to get to the end.

At least I think there was an end.

These, of course, make up my top four but we could throw in a bunch of other memorable machines: Punch-Out and Super Punch Out (the best boxing games ever), Track And Field (had a hard time with the hammer throw), Crazy Climber (working two joy sticks to scale a building, avoiding closing windows and dropped plants), Dig Dug (exploding the Pookas and Fygars with an air hose), Phoenix, Frogger, Missile Command, Pole Position…

Oh, well, you get the picture. It seems there was a never-ending list of great arcade games-all of them dating to the 1980s. Little did we know then that it was the golden age of the arcade.

A big plus was that those early games weren't graphically violent and you could find one in most every mom and pop convenience store, skating rink and bowling alley. But teens have quite a home collection these days, making those quarter machines about as rare as pay telephones.

Leaving old guys like me with nostalgia and a silly list.