I spend a lot of time remembering and writing about the video games I played while growing up, mostly because it's the closest I can come to actually playing them, until the magical day arrives when I have an entire room in my house dedicated to housing a classic arcade and console collection.
I've written before about books and games as time machines and portals, but I've recently realized that the father away I get from the times those things transport me, the more important they both become. Maybe it's a geek's midlife crisis, or something, but I've really missed arcades recently.
Whenever I play any classic arcade or console game, it's like I'm flipping very rapidly through a book with different places and years on each page; I see just enough to make an emotional connection, but it never enough to capture any details. I don't know what it's like for anyone else, but for me, when I pick up a joystick controller today, I pick it up in 1979, 1980, 1983, 1985. When I played Pitfall! at PAX, I played it in my living room in Sunland, my bedroom in La Crescenta, at Joey's house, at Josh's house, at Bobby's house.
It's awesome that I can play every Atari game ever written using Stella, and it's a lot of fun to plug in an Atari Flashback for a quick Combat battle (I'm still training for our Thunderdome showdown, Shawn Powers), but those experiences aren't quite the same as playing an actual vintage Atari. It's pretty easy to walk into a Target or a Best Buy these days and get one of those joysticks that has a dozen or so games in it, and being able to play them in some form is always better than not being able to play them at all, but the joy I feel when I get to play on an actual console just can't be emulated. There's something about searching a box for exactly the right game, flipping the switches, and picking up an actual joystick to play Yar's Revenge or Keystone Kapers or Air Sea Battle that emulation just can't capture.
It will be unsurprising, then, to learn that my favorite rooms at PAX were the Classic Arcade room, and the Classic Console Freeplay room. They were exactly what they sound like: the Arcade room had about a dozen games, including Sinistar, Dragon's Lair, Frogger, and a prototype game called Crazy Otto that eventually became Ms. Pac Man. The Classic Console Freeplay room had everything from Atari to Colecovision to NES to PSX to Intellivision to Sega Genesis.
They also had one of my favorite consoles of all time, Vectrex, which I played with Storm. BEHOLD:
While we played, Storm and I channeled our inner 12 year-olds with such classic phrases as, "No way! I shot him!" and "It cheated! The computer cheated!" and "MMMMOOOOOOOMMMMM!!!!"
I remember when I got my Vectrex in 1982 or 1983; it felt like I had a miniature arcade game, because – unlike even the best Atari versions – it recreated games like Scramble, Armor Attack, and Star Castle almost perfectly. Minestorm was like Advanced Asteroids, and Starhawk was pretty much Luke Skywalker's attack on the Death Star, brought directly into my bedroom, under my control. I may have played the Star Wars soundtrack on my record player while I assumed the role of Red Five. Many times. I'm just saying.
Storm and I got a little misty-eyed when we watched a father teach his son how to play, and I noticed that both of them were having an incredibly fun time, for entirely different reasons. Storm said that the picture I took of them was like a geek's version of the Norman Rockwell painting where the dad is teaching his son to fish. I thought that was awesome.
But I think the best thing Storm said was in reply to an e-mail I sent him and Paul with a link to those pictures: "Ponce de Leon was completely wrong about the fountain of youth."