Growing up, every other window on my sea front was an arcade. Not the pretty kind with boutique shops and indoor gardens and a violinist for a busker…the other kind.
Going back some decades, when the average Brit could only afford a couple of holidays in a lifetime, (and even then, only within mainland United Kingdom), they chose to spend their downtime in the likes of Whitley Bay; a seaside paradise, known for family beach holidays, and blushing honeymooners. A few of these resorts have survived thanks to the heritage and reputation of their Victorian glory days, such as Brighton, Newport and Blackpool, and up until the late 1990’s Whitley Bay was one of them. People would still flock to the seaside Bed and Breakfast Inns, in search of classical, British grandeur, English cream teas, gold-leafed Wedgewood china and the still-standing tradition of fish and chips on the beach.
For this reason, the entire North East coastline, from South Shields, through my hometown of Cullercoats and up into Whitley Bay, was still illuminated with the lights of arcade galleries and Bingo halls, and the rattle of loose change, jackpots, and one-armed bandits in full swing.
The arcade was very much a babysitter for the working-class child, and me and my friends would spend a couple of hours there every day, from school ending at 3.30 to our parents returning home from work at 6.30, it was a solid anchor on our attention and safety, and the recipient of our squandered lunch money.
Some kids gambled, others watched, but for me, it was always the coin-op videogame cabinets. Street Fighter, Outrun, Mortal Kombat and Puzzle Bobble devoured my time and captured my thoughts for every moment; whether i was playing them, or in school, cruelly kept away from them.
At the time, consoles like the Sega Mega Drive, Neo Geo and SNES (pronounced ‘snezz’ in the North East) were widely considered luxury items, and held only by the wealthy and addicted. For the average kid, it was actually cheaper to play at the arcades; a concept lost in modern gaming.
A couple of arcades still stand, hollow and unattended, with most of the games replaced with more profitable gambling machines. Of the two arcades I regularly garrisoned at, one is now a block of flats, and the other a gourmet, gastro-pub, selling chicken goujons and tapas from the same geographical spot that I would collect my change, and exchange my tickets.
I still crave the noise, the lights and, unbelievably, the smell of these bastions of JAMMA, MAME and retro gaming.
My hope is to someday put arcade gaming back into my local community, but until then, I’m here, attending conventions, blogging and taking part in any fragment of eSports journalism I can find, as it’s the closest ancestor of the nomadic culture of venue-based, head to head, competitive gaming. Hopefully one day, I’ll be able to Insert coin(s) and continue.