boy must play with himself
I was born in 1976 on a sheep farm on the Welsh
borders of Shropshire. My family lived on Church Farm for three
years and my earliest memories kick-in during 1978.
I remember I had a pet cat named Cat and that
I had to stand on an upturned bread crate in order to use the
toilet. I remember the night my Mother went into hospital for
my sister to be born. I remember that incident because I had to
sleep in my partially-deaf Father’s bed so I could wake
him up when the telephone rang with news of Mum. I remember helping
Dad milk our two cows, and me drinking the milk straight from
I remember watching our hundreds of sheep being
herded up and then dipped. And I remember Space Invaders being
released, and spending all the money I had at the local chip shop
where I’d compete for the top of the highscore table. That
last memory is strong in my mind, so strong. But, unlike all the
others, it’s not real. It’s a self-deluding lie of
Games became so important to me in my teenage
years that I wanted to imagine what it would have been like to
have been part of them right from the beginning. You see the reality
of my life has meant that arcade games and the arcades themselves
can only ever be places that exist in my head.
Later, and after a short time living in Liverpool,
my family returned to Shropshire. That was 1984 and I knew my
chances of having access to the arcades of Liverpool and Willenhall
were gone. From that point on arcades only existed as words in
magazines and in the mythical "perfect coin-op conversions”
for my Spectrum those mags promised. I did buy the conversions
but I was always disappointed. Sure some of the gameplay was there
and Chase-HQ was a fantastic game but it just wasn't an arcade
game. It didn't feel right. There was no smoke-filled dark-room
atmosphere and there were no names to beat on the highscore tables
except my own.
I passed my driving test when I was 17 and now
freedom beckoned. I could go anywhere I wanted; the cinemas, the
pubs and at last the arcades. Except the arcades weren't right
anymore, something had changed and it wasn't how I imagined it
should feel. Sure the arcades had that mythical smoke-filled dark-room
atmosphere, but where were the games? Where were all those Street
Fighter and Double Dragon cabinets, where was Asteroids Deluxe
and Star Wars? These arcades were full of fruit machines and point-gun-at-screen
games. Yes sometimes I was lucky to find an Afterburner or an
Operation Wolf cabinet but at a quid game? A quid to play a cabinet
with faulty controls that cowered in shadowed corners neglected
like yesterday’s chip wrappers?
With this deep disappointment inside me I felt
I'd been denied access to arcades. But memory and mind are powerful
and strange things; somehow the reality made the mind-invented-arcades
a stronger part of my fictional past. It made the one time I played
Star Wars for two hours in an arcade in Ilfracombe that much more
Just as it strengthened and magnified the moment
of joy I felt when I found an Asteroids cabinet in a country pub.
Even though it had a broken rotate left button it was still only
10p a game and I played it solidly until I went away with my name
blazed across the highscore table. That was real coin-op gaming.
Those memories are real and they have became a stronger and more
important part of my life because they were such unique moments.
The arcades are dead now and through circumstance
and through location I missed their glory days. But what was never
alive for me also cannot die. I will always recall the smell of
sea air and that play of Star Wars. That one-time opportunity
will stay alive as an eternal and utterly real experience.
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