Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Meaning of "Arcade"

I had very little contact with arcades growing up but, from what little I did, I must say I don't much like the use of the word for these console "Arcade" games. The feel just isn't there.

Let me explain.
According to Wiktionary:
arcade (plural arcades)
  1. (architecture) A row of arches.
  2. (architecture) A covered passage, usually with shops on both sides.
  3. Establishment running coin-operated games.
But, to me, the meaning is simpler because to me there were ever only two arcades in the world, the one near my high school and that other one on the second floor of an inconspicuous building lost in the less walked streets of Tokyo. This will be a long one.

One is the loneliest number
 When I visited Japan a few years back I got to visit the afore mentioned salon(salon as in "a gathering of people for a social or intellectual meeting"). Me and my boyfriend at the time were touring the country with some japanese friends we'd made. Once we got to Tokyo we both immediately started pestering them to take us to an arcade, any arcade. Contrary to popular belief, or maybe just our own, not every japanese teenager is into that kind of thing. So they took us wandering about town for a while, trying to look like they knew where they were going. Eventually they found a gaming arcade running in the top floor of a small comercial building. They herded us inside and our eyes twinkled with excitement as they tried to explain that this wasn't really a good example of an arcade, this was just a small place to extort money from the neighbourhood kids. But we didn't care. To us, it was the holy grail.

They released us into the establishment, dividing their forces so they could have one of them translating (and more importantly, watching out) for each of us gaijins. No matter how awestruck we were, we still tried to keep a low profile because we were the foreign party here, me looking a bit more exotic than most. Pretty soon my boyfriend found a machine to play Guilty Gear on but I wasn't (and still am not) interested in that particular game. So I sat (yes sat; you wouldn't believe what a shock it was to actually sit down when playing something other than Daytona) next to him and, as fate would have it, it was a Soul Calibur 2 thingy. 
The proverbial "Kill you with a stick" move

Oh, I love Soul Calibur. I could have counted the ways but I chose not to. Pretty soon after I started dabbling with it lo and behold, a challenger appeared. I was pretty self-conscious already, being the only girl in there actually playing and not just escorting (in the most innocent sense of the word) and I was the only one of african descent. I gulped down hard but decided to pretend there was actually no one there. This is why japanese arcades were so alien for us. You could actually play a game against someone and not have to look at their face, not have to deal with the fact that they were a real person that you'd never met. So the embarrassement of losing or the cockiness of winning didn't ever have to be shared with this element so alien to your private life.

Wouldn't you know it? I won; Kilik never disappoints. I let out an excited girly giggle because that's what I do and I saw a face looking down at me from above the bench/machine thing. He was clearly amazed but he was japanese enough to not say anything even though he assumed I wouldn't get it if he did.
One other thing I found fascinating about it was a job I had never known existed. There was this young man, his back already hunched by the weight of his lot in life that was going around just emptying ashtrays and wiping down an arcade machine immediately after it was done being used. This was beyond everything I know and soon you'll get why.

My only other term for comparison was MC (wittingly spelled Émecê because that's how you actually say it), an arcade near the school I went to and, strangely, even closer to the maternity hospital where I was born. To a layman, MC was just a small hole in a wall that led straight down to a dark hole in the ground. It's a place that gets all its business from word of mouth but, if I'm not mistaken, its still open for business.

It was a dark place with little lighting and no windows which, in retrospect, isn't surprising because it was underground. At the bottom of the stairs the space opened up to a be a low-ceilinged jobbie with 3 pool tables and 2 table football ones to one side, watched closely by the dubious owner behind his counter where he supplied dubious candy and smokes. To the other side, behind the stairs, sat the dusty arcades with games that weren't upgraded in years. These were scarred by cigarette burns and the buttons had faded after countless years of mashing by grimy fingers. The centre piece of the establishment was, at least for us, the Daytona USA machine. Sporting two pseudo racing car seats and big yet-untarnished screens, it was where we the girls (all two of us) retreated to eat our dubious candy when the boys went to massacre the foosball. It must be noted that our foosball tables are made of sturdy wood, the dummies of solid iron and the rods are covered in an eye-sorish black grease. It's a manly game where boys become men and we would rather stay clear of it.
We would pop in a few coins from time to time, always resorting to the same cars and the same track. To this day she still nags me about that one time when she was winning and, at the last minute, I rammed her into the pit stop and came in first.

"Let's go away!"

This was a magic place. The smoke-filled cave to where we retreated when going to class was simply out of the question and we had no joints to smoke. We would lose ourselves there, hours we would never get back but would never regret because magical things happened there. Impossible shots in the pool table where you hadn't enough space to even place the queue and had to sit up on the green and worn cloth; bouncing, murderous balls from the feet of the iron foosball players. One of these magical events involved a hole in the far wall near a derelict pool table.

Me and a friend of mine were chasing a rogue ball and, once we found it and straightened our backs, we noticed a hole in the wall right at eye level. He looked at me and I looked at him. I'm squeamish about strange holes that may contain strange bugs so he went ahead and looked inside. He smiled back at me and placed his hand inside the wall. When it came back out he was holding a pack of cigarettes. It was full. For the longest time we were lost in debate about whether or not to smoke them. We were active smokers, quite professional at it and the prospect of free smokes was tempting. But what if they were spiked with something? Well, I was never one to believe people would waste drugs on random objects they would then deploy into the world without any certaitny where they would end up or sticking around to find out. What would be the point? Someone must've just stashed them there to smoke them later.

So that's the story of how I ended up smoking the most suspicious carton of smokes I ever came across.

And that, my friends, is why I take offense on all these variants of "arcade" games. Where's the japanese man wiping my controller when I'm done using it? Where's the hole in the wall with a pack of cigarettes? There's little arcade in them, except for the fact that you waste money on something not very deep. Which is not to say I don't like these types of games. But that's a story for another day.

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