An 80s Arcade Machine – where it all began

An 80s amusement arcade

If that summer day of 35 years ago I had kept on playing in the backyard, rather than accompanying my friend Bonnie and her father to a nearby bar, I would have never discovered the object that changed my lifestyle: an 80s arcade machine!

Neither my parents nor my grandparents would have ever taken me to a bar and – less than ever – allowed me to look at an arcade machine from a playing distance.

– For the few (hopefully) who do not know what an arcade machine or cabinet was, well, it was a game machine that  you could find in public businesses such as restaurants, bars and amusement arcades.
Most of them were video games and were coin-operated (1 coin 1 game, impossible to forget). –

It was because of the obsessive heat and the half hour spent playing football that Bonnie’s father decided to go to the bar to buy ice cream for the kids there.
As he was about to go, he asked me, “Are you coming with us, Andrew? We might need some help.”

I was about to say no, overwhelmed by shyness and the notorious dislike of my family for bars, but my grandmother, even though unhappy, prompted me to go in order to not leave a bad impression. He was going to buy me ice cream, after all.

I never thought that I was 5 minutes away from meeting my first virtual friend…

Just got off a spacecraft – is this an alien?

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No, I am not talking about E.T., I am just summarizing the way it was portrayed that magnificent * 80s arcade machine that I noticed as soon as I entered the bar…

Aliens driving

Aliens driving

Few customers dared to go near it. Most of them stayed far away and preferred to apostrophize it with expressions like: “Martians brought it yesterday” Or: “Where have its antennae gone?”
And again: “Is it not too big for being a coffee machine?”
But I did not care at all, I was already very intrigued, not to say completely attracted to its shape, its design and especially to those strange images that were projected onto the screen…
I thought to myself: “If that is not a TV and if those are not cartoons, what the hell is that object broadcasting?”

With a natural child’s naivety, I addressed the above question directly to the barman, to which he replied:

“It is not a cartoon. It is called video game, because it is a game that you can play through a video, that is, looking at some images. There are sticks and buttons that you can use to move the character and make him perform some actions depending on the game. Anyway, do look at it right now, because if it continues like this I am afraid I will have this machine removed soon. No more than 3 people a day play it, I should not have brought it here.”

I did not understand much of the barman’s explanation and I guess he was probably repeating a definition learned by heart.

Regardless, the more I looked at those scrolling images featuring a little man climbing a building, while trying to avoid being hit by flower pots, the more I wanted to help him.

The video game in question was “Crazy Climber” but maybe, in that very moment, I was crazier than him. 😀

Grounded but happy! – I had to play it!

First stage of Crazy Climber

First stage of Crazy Climber

There were basically two obstacles that stood between me and the video game:

1. Bonnie’s father had just paid for the ice cream tubs and we were set to leave the bar to go home.

2. Playing the video game was not for free. The barman was quick to tell me, as soon as he saw me messing around with the stick and the buttons in the hope of starting a game.

I was only 6 years old and obviously I had no money with me. Bonnie’s father was my only hope, even though it meant sure punishment from my parents!

One of the strictest rules set by them was to never ever ask for money from anyone and for any reason.
I was about to break that very rule, but without regrets… If the barman was really going to have the cabinet removed, I would not have had the opportunity to play Crazy Climber and it was a risk that I did not want to run…

“I will happily be grounded”, I told myself. I therefore decided that I would ask Bonnie’s father for money, adding that my granny would then give it back to him.

I was a small, fearless warrior. 😛

*

Unity is strength – kids’ power!

Kids dressed as superheroesAnd so it was that as we were about to leave the bar, I stopped on the exit door and said in a determined way: “John, would you mind lending me 10 cents? I would like to play that video game. I am talking about that machine over there, this is how the barman called it. ”

He could not even take a breath to answer that I added (in an imploring tone, this time 😀 ): “Please, please, I have never played it and I am sure I will lose immediately, but I have to try it… I cannot resist, it is too good! “Fortunately for me, Bonnie had been equally fascinated by the video game. She was just less cheeky than me. 😀

My request for money to his father gave her the courage to join my “battle”.

At that point, John could just not say “No” to his beloved daughter and so we went back inside.

A proper clarification before continuing: yes, you read that right… 10 cents, incredible, uh? 10 cents were enough to buy a ticket to Toyland.

Those were the days…

Love at first click – a new world opens

Having fun

As real as it gets!

As I was saying, John agreed to the request, but he urged us all the same while he dropped that long-awaited 10 cents coin in his daughter’s hands. He seriously said: “Just make it quick or the ice cream will melt.”

Bonnie inserted the coin, but she let me play first; maybe she was afraid to fail.
I could not care less instead, I just wanted to play and finally, it was time. Right when the first stage was about to begin, I heard John giggling with the barman, with the latter claiming that he had tried to play the game but had quit after 30 seconds. He went on to say that he did not even know how to move the Crazy Climber (I knew he had quoted somebody else’s explanation verbatim). It goes without saying that he predicted the same outcome for us.
He was right, but only partly…

If on one hand my first life lasted 30 seconds (just like his), on the other one I was already completely enraptured by that virtual world.

The first click of the stick was enough for me to understand that I had got into video games.
It was a brand new form of fun but I immediately clicked with it. As I heard the barman regretting that he had not picked a sports game rather than the bizarre “Crazy Climber”, I was picturing myself scoring a bicycle kick goal, scoring a three pointer, getting a try or even hitting a home run… I was going to be the protagonist! I kept repeating to myself: “Whatever I am not able to become in real life, whatever I do not accomplish, I will in video games!”

For the record, Bonnie’s attempt lasted less than 10 seconds, after which she kindly left me the third and last life.

I have never seen her playing a video game again. 😀

My second attempt lasted almost a minute, this time. I managed to climb a few floors, before being hit and sunk by a flower pot.

Anyway, I derived great satisfaction by innocently taunting the barman with a wisecrack. I went: “Buttons are of no use to Crazy Climber, you only need to move the stick. I guess that is the reason why you did not understand how the game worked, Sir.”

After that, we left the bar satisfied (at least I was) and we headed home. The extended stay at the bar had lasted no more than a couple of minutes, after all.

In addition to that, the ice cream had not melted and I was delighted by that short but incredible experience.

Could I ask for more?

Yes, I got grounded – no happy ending… For my parents 😀

The word "freedom" written on the sand.

Knowing that I was going to be grounded for asking money to John, I tried to be proactive in order to get a milder punishment. So, as soon as we got back to the courtyard, I said to my granny: “You have to return 10 cents to John; I borrowed them to play a video game. I know I am wrong. I will immediately go home and to show you that I am aware that I made a mistake, I will not eat ice cream.”

I ran home in the hope that my grandmother would not follow me, but it was a vain hope… She basically entered the house with me and I had to sit through a half-an-hour lecture from her.

She said I had done something really bad, I had embarrassed my family and above all I had embarrassed myself… Long story short, she immediately informed my parents and I was preemptively banned from going out.

Obviously, I could not even taste ice cream on that day. 😀

Unsurprisingly, my parents grounded me for one week – which can be very frustrating during Summer holidays – but unexpectedly, the punishment backfired them.

I spent the whole week obsessively talking about that arcade machine and the Crazy Climber game.

I was like: “Daddy/Mom, will you take me to the bar to play Crazy Climber, when the punishment ends? Will you, will you, will you? Will you take me there? Please, please, please, take me there! ”

When the longest week of their lives ended, my father was dejected, to put it mildly.

The first thing he did was open wide the door and let me out. What a liberation it must have been!
He then went up to my mother and wearily said: “Next time, let us just tell him to not do that again, deal?”

This was my first encounter ever with a gaming machine, what was yours?
Till next retro story!

*

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About Andrew A.

Andrew is the founder and owner of RetroGamingLoft. He considers himself a natural-born gamer and is on a mission to keep our younger gaming years alive through the medium of Retro Stories. His event recount includes hopes, dreams, broken joysticks, magic, nostalgia and another final boss defeated.

26 thoughts on “An 80s Arcade Machine – where it all began

  1. Jeff

    I really enjoyed reading your post, I found your post entertaining as well as informative. You are a very talented writer, I look forward to reading more of your posts very soon.

    Thank You
    Jeff

    Reply
    1. Andrew Post author

      Thank you so much Jeff, I am glad you liked it.
      You know, I realized storytelling is easier when you go with your heart.
      I will do my best to keep entertaining you.

      Reply
  2. Christina ashley

    I love your post here 🙂 I think we can all relate to that penned up feeling when we are grounded but our heart is somewhere else.

    Me and my husband love playing the old games and luckily for us, we have an arcade near us that strictly stocks them.

    Looking forward to learning more .

    Reply
    1. Andrew Post author

      You lucky guys, I am so envious, hehehe.
      Yeah, my heart was somewhere else… Somewhere in the bar. lol
      They eventually took me to the bar… Soon I will talk about it.

      Reply
  3. kevin Johnson

    What a cool article! I really miss those days of going to the local arcade in the mall. I’d spend hours there. Good times!

    Reply
    1. Andrew Post author

      I am with you Kevin, I miss those days every single day… Stay tuned for some more stories, I have just opened the chest in my retroloft.

      Reply
  4. LYNNE

    What a wonderful story about the beginnings of video games and your new life that includes them! The adventures of youth 🙂

    Wonder how much that retro game would be worth today!

    Reply
    1. Andrew Post author

      Hello Lynne,
      Yeah, not only the retro game, the machine itself costs a fortune. I say “cost” because I have been saving money for a while in order to buy one, stuff it with old games and place it in my living room.
      When this happens I will write my best article ever! 😀
      Thank you very much for your kind words, I am glad you liked this retro story.

      Reply
  5. Karin Nauber

    Excellent storytelling! I was right there with you at the bar—scared, but knowing I would have to play the game. I love video games. When growing up we had an Atari and it was great fun when my mom would play a game with us. Love your site!!

    Reply
    1. Andrew Post author

      Hey Karin, I remember you! we exchanged a meaningful look before I started to play. Hehehe, here comes another natural-born gamer, glad to have you here. Like I said, my parents were not really into video games, yet there were times where they would sit and play with me. I remember them fondly.

      Reply
  6. Mong Phan

    Wow, many people here are still excited on the old game. I miss my tape game so much. In my country, very difficult to find the old game machines. They all are in my memory.

    Reply
    1. Andrew Post author

      Hello Mong, thanks for dropping by.
      This is basically happening anywhere sadly, original arcade machines are slowly falling off the face of earth. I envision them succumbing to dust and rust, stocked in some huge, anonymous warehouses.
      This is one of the reasons why I decided to create this blog: our memories will make them immortals.

      Reply
  7. Laura

    Loved all those games, ecspecially atari. The games today have so many buttons to maneuver. I enjoyed your article it was informative and entertaining

    Reply
    1. Andrew Post author

      Agreed Laura. I cannot deny I happen to play today’s games as well – I am an all-round gamer at the end of the day – but they have made things harder for the old generation. All very technical and competitive today, little room for spontaneous approaches.
      I am glad you enjoyed my article, stay around for more Retro Stories.

      Reply
  8. virginia buffett

    What A fabulous site! You remind me of my son! He is a struggling you-tuber. He plays video game endlessly! He has a tee-shirt that I bought him that reads: Internet was down today, thought I would come outside!
    I’m going to show him this site.

    Reply
    1. Andrew Post author

      Hello Virginia, grateful for your comment.
      Thanks for promoting me hehehe, I hope I can live up to your son’s expectations and be able to entertain him.
      Now I also want that shirt though! lol.

      Reply
  9. Fran Kelso

    I thoroughly enjoyed your ’80s arcade game story. Yes, you are a good writer…I was hooked from the first and had to read the rest. This is a great site and I can see many people getting wrapped up in your tales and loving your site. Thanks for sharing with us!

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Fran, thanks for your nice words.
      It is my pleasure to entertain you guys. The 80s were unique! That is when the technological revolution began and we were all so naive.
      We just cannot let those years being forgotten… Stay tuned for more Retro Stories!

      Reply
  10. Lucy

    Hillarious! Great read, thanks! Have times changed? So much stays the same! Arcade machines were viewed with suspicion, just as VR games are now. It takes a while for new technology to take off, and we can’t all see the future of it. But some of us get it from the start. Most people couldn’t see where video games could go, neither did many see the future of mobile phones at the start either!

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Lucy, I am glad that you enjoyed my Retro Story.
      You have got a valid point here and based on it, I am glad I got it from the start… We are proud members of the “far-sighted club”, hehehe.
      You know, I am a natural-born gamer, so VR games are on my radar. They are arcade machines’ grandnephews after all.
      Sky is the limit and maybe one day we will also be able to play retro games through VR… What a mix it would be!!!
      Stay tuned for more Retro Memories!

      Reply
  11. Cory Haasnoot

    Them were the good old days. I remember playing pac man in a pizza joint back in the 80’s. Nothing better then eating some pizza and sitting down at this load big machine and playing the game. I also enjoyed playing tetris and pin ball machines as well. I love those old machines wish there were more of them around these days.

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Cory and thanks for stopping by.
      I do remember those times, even though I did what you described in the early 90s. 🙂
      Sadly most arcades have vanished today, but I salute the ones who opened some “revival bars” both in the States and In Canada. I hope others will follow their examples… Maybe we have still a chance to turn back time. 😉
      That said, in my small way I will try in every way to keep our heydays alive and I hope you will stay tuned for more Retro Stories.

      Reply
  12. Clement

    Such an entertaining article,sorry that you get grounded am so sure your mind was somewhere else all those times, I enjoy reading your post and it was easy to picture the whole scene. Arcade games in the 80’s was like heaven on earth for kids and am so sure you miss those days. I hope you will post more “arcade stories” soon.

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Clement and thanks for your nice comment.
      Do not be sorry, like I said I got grounded for a reason, but it was absolutely worthy. 😀
      I like your definition of those years and yes I miss them a lot, but I created this blog with the intention of keeping them alive.
      Thanks again for your encouragement, I will do my best to provide all of my readers with quality Retro Stories!

      Reply
  13. Hugo

    Thanks for your article down memory lane.  I too remember the early arcade video games, although I was older than six years; the first video game I played was something called PONG, by Atary.  A few years after, Pac-Man came into being, and that was all the rage in terms of video arcade games, at least for a while.  A that time I was the proud owner of an Apple II+, and I soon discovered that I could purchase a Video Game on disk, take it home, insert it into the floppy disk drive, and do without having to go to the arcade parlor.  Big step ahead, since it also allowed me to play and loose at will, without the need to drop another coin. No more “one coin one game” for me…!

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Hugo and thanks for your comment,

      I know where you are coming from and I probably felt the same way at some point in the past, but in hindsight, the arcade was a way of life to me.
      As another commenter (Cory) said: “Nothing better than eating a pizza and sitting down at this load big machine and playing the game.” I could not have said it better myself… Yes I could play some of the same games at home, I could host a tournament, invite some friends and have fun together, but arcades were and will always be my favourite haunts.
      Thanks again for stopping by and please stay tuned for more Retro Stories!

      Reply

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