Although there are many things to recommend the place where I live, “number of things to do” isn’t one of them. So when you consider that, and the fact that I memorized all of the patterns in Ms. Pacman decades ago, when “Flashback Games” opened up in Loganville, I was thrilled to pieces.
There’s big money in nostalgia. Now that I’m in my 40s, it is my generation that is in charge of most things and fuels the economy. Which means that nostalgia for the 80s fuels a lot of commercial engines. This is why there are legwarmers for sale completely without irony at Claire’s, and neon nail polish is all the rage, and all the purses are metallic leather with fringe. And also why a place that is filled with vintage video and arcade games from the 80s had a line of people waiting last Sunday for it to open.
You wouldn’t really think that the simple graphics would appeal to the younger generation, but somehow they do. I’ve brought my children – and their friends to this arcade a few times, and I get tired before they do. Which, of course, is the usual course of these things, but just like they tolerate the XM radio channel for a song or two, they are ready to flip it to SkankRadio or whatever it is that plays Ke$ha songs.
I love this place. It reminds me of the Pizza Machine arcade on Long Beach Road in Oceanside, NY. I spent hours there in the 1980s, and dozens upon dozens of quarters figuring out when exactly Donkey Kong was going to throw those barrels and when to pick up the hammer.
Aside from the nostalgia, I still really like playing these games. I like simple games with one joystick and one, maybe two buttons, if any. I like uncomplicated rules. I don’t want to think too much or have to do anything that requires any form of physical coordination. I like Ms. Pacman. I like Centipede. I like Dig Dug. I like Space Invaders.
We went last weekend and stayed almost three hours. They have a great system there, where you pay one price and get a wristband, and then can just play whatever you want as long as you want so you don’t need to use quarters. I admit I found myself getting a little crazy. We got there when it opened, and apparently they reset the high scores every day. So I could go machine to machine and get the high score. Only sometimes I’d come back to a machine and found out someone – probably one of the three balding guys who were the only other grownups playing – had beaten my high score. So I had to try again. I turned into a competitive crazy person. I had to beat RLS, whoever he was, and no hand cramp or sweaty palm or repetitive stress disorder or full bladder was going to stop me. I OWNED those games. I could BEAT those games. Every time I succeeded I had to drag my son and his friend over to witness my glory. At first they thought it was cool. Then they thought it was funny. Then they thought I had just lost it.
It got a little ridiculous.
Galaga was my undoing. I played a lot of Galaga in my day, even beyond the 80s, when I was in law school and there was a Galaga machine in the Laundromat where I did my laundry. I would carefully figure out how many quarters I needed to get my clothes mostly dry and use the rest to play Galaga, leaving my law books lonely and unread on the table. There are two Galaga machines at Flashback Games, and for a brief, shining moment I had the high score on both machines.
And then some guy came by. I never saw his face, because he was leaning into the machine. His hair was thinning, and had a few gray streaks, but his arms and legs sticking out from his garden variety polo shirt and khaki shorts didn’t seem to have any age spots or sagging skin. In other words, he was about my age. He was intense. He played a long time. And when he walked away, there was a score I couldn’t beat. I tried, Lord knows I tried, but I couldn’t do it. And then, when I looked at the Centipede machine, I had been knocked down to numbers three, four, seven and ten. This was horrible! I played again. And again. And again. I supplanted my own third place score a few times, but couldn’t get higher than that. I slapped my hand down on the console every time I foolishly ran into the spider thingie. And when I was in final reach of RLS’s score, the little guy that drops down pooping out mushrooms slammed me, and I was done. I yelled. It was a guttural sound, no words, just the vocal version of frustration. My son was playing some Kickboxing game behind me and he turned around. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I just can’t beat this dude’s score.”
He patted my head like you might do a small child or a puppy or a lunatic, and turned around to go back to playing his own game.
Right about then I decided it was time to go.
But I’ll be back. I MUST save the world from alien invasion.
Lori B. Duff is the author of the Amazon ‘Hot New Release’ Mismatched Shoes and Upside Down Pizza, a collection of autobiographical humor essays. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/loribduffauthor