Arcades as the Cathedrals of Our Youth

PHOTO: Flashbacks arcade, Seaside Heights, NJ, 7/22/08 - 2 of 5 on Flickr by goodrob13 CC BY-ND

Utterli, the service I use to record my morning podcast is refusing to take my calls, so I figured I’d just write up a quick post on what I was going to talk about this morning in its place. Today’s topic was going to be “Arcades as the Cathedrals of Our Youth,” and it was going to be a good one. I’m never as impromptu and improvisational when I write as I am when I speak, but here goes.

My friend Leslie sent out a tweet over the weekend about a meet-up she was planning at an arcade on the New Hampshire seacoast. As I’d been geeking out about video games all weekend, I got really excited about this, pitching the idea of this family-friendly meet-up to my own family straight away. It took us a little while to decide that we were definitely going—our weekends get filled up so fast and so frequently that every once in a while we crave a break—but we finally decided that, “Yep, we’re gonna go.”

This morning, thinking about the meet-up, I got around to thinking about past adventures to the arcade. There was a time, when I was young, when the arcade really was a sort of cathedral for my generation. I recall quite clearly afternoons when me and my friends made pilgrimages to arcades, actual pilgrimages, to worship at the altars of X-Men, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Mortal Kombat. I remember begging my parents for change to play The Simpsons game with my brother at the boardwalk arcades we visited most summers. And I can still see myself walking into Funworld in Nashua that last time, a few years back, and it making me quite sad to see how badly it had fallen into disrepair.

Listen: the arrival of awesome video game consoles for the home has destroyed the arcades of the past. I don’t think there’s any denying that. But I would take things one step further. I would say that our obsession with bringing everything into our homes is isolating us and contributing to the development of a culture obsessed with the self above all else. We can play video games in our houses by ourselves, only connecting to friends via Internet-enabled gaming when we really feel like it. We can rent movies from our couch, or download them from our computers, and never have to go to the theater. I feel like lots of the things that we’re getting all excited about now are actually dividing us as a people. We don’t ever have to interact with other people anymore, unless we really want to. And that’s a problem, because sometimes we need to be forced to interact with other people. At least I think so.

Me, I want to get back to going to arcades. I want to get back to hanging out at the movie theater, or the Roller Kingdom, or at the bowling alley. I don’t want to sit in my house anymore.

How about you?