In 1993 when Mortal Kombat released, I can remember the sense of comradery that the MK players had. We knew where every Mortal Kombat machine was in town. Every now and then weíd travel from our favorite arcade and go check out the bowling alley or roller rink; just to see if there was any fresh blood in the pool for us to sink our teeth into.
One night in particular, I remember walking into the local bowling alley with a few friends. We could see the Mortal Kombat machine from the door and some people we didnít recognize were throwing down. We didnít need to say anything to each other, but the four of us all had smiles on our faces.
We walked up to the machine where a small crowd was huddled around. Winner was called a few men deep so we had a wait on our hands. It gave us time to scout the competition. One man in particular was running wild on everyone who stepped up to the challenge. His Kano was solid, no doubt about it. He knew how to use him and he knew the fatalities. We were impressed, it wasnít often you saw someone of his caliber not playing at the arcade.
After disposing of maybe three people, it finally came to Sean.
One could argue that Sean was in the upper echelon of Mortal Kombat players in the area. Everyone from the arcade was solid, donít get me wrong. Holding a 500 record against each other wasnít bad, but we all knew Sean probably was closer to 550.
Sean stepped up to the machine and lined his quarters up along the monitor; the game was on.
The first round was close, the current champion was playing the defensive and it worked. Jump kicks, leg sweeps, and uppercuts he countered almost every time. He changed up his style from what we observed just minutes ago. The guy was pretty good. He won the first round, trash talking ensued, but Sean kept his cool. Heís faced this kind of thing before, and he just needed to adjust and he did. Sean slowed his play down, and forced the bowling alley hero off his game. Time was running close, but Sean was able to wear down Kanoís health enough by the time the timer hit zero to take the round.
One round a piece.
By now there was a large crowd of people around us. Kids, teens, adults; people see a crowd and they are drawn to it. Iím sure most of them didnít even know what Mortal Kombat was, but they knew whatever was happening was epic.
Round three started. Both kombatants were poised and ready. Sean even said ďgood luckĒ to the unnamed prodigy, which was acknowledged by a nod.
Kano versus Scorpion in the battle of the bowling alley.
Seanís Scorpion stood in place, seconds running off the clock. Kano was moving in, throwing a few high punches which were effectively blocked and countered with an uppercut. Recognizing an opening, Sean moved quickly with a leg sweep coupled with a jumping kick. It was a classic combo before combos were cool. Kanoís health was just over a quarter of the way down. Sean knew that any player worth their salt would know what to do to stop the fourth move in the original combo, so he waited. Sean obviously had respect for the new competitor. Scorpion moved back across the screen watching his distance. Kano was slower to move in, being cautious, he was smart. Moving towards Scorpion, than stepping back, rinse and repeat for a few seconds which felt like an eternity. Sean threw Scorpionís spear at him as a feeler, knowing it would be blocked; however it was a poorly calculated move. Kano blocked quickly and countered with a cannonball uppercut combo, which was his bread and butter. The prodigy in one fell swoop had effectively put the arcadeís all-star at about half health.
Everyone around the machine was silent. Aside from the distant sounds of bowling, button mashing was all that could be heard.
The fight ended in what seemed like an instant after the big combo.
Sean reacted to what happen perfectly. As soon as he could, he threw Scorpionís spear to counter what was coming next. Leg sweep, uppercut, jumping kick. Fatality.
The contender threw his hands up, let out a groan and some laughter. ďGood fightĒ was exchanged and they shook hands. Everyone around the machine was buzzing, the crowd quickly dispersed except for us Gamers. Sean picked his quarters off the monitor, we talked to the opponent for a little while, invited him to the arcade to play with us and parted ways.
That night was easily the coolest experience Iíve ever had gaming. But what does it have to do with the theme of this monthís musing?
The majority of up and coming gamers wonít be able to experience these kind of events anymore. The days of the arcade are long gone. Every arcade that was in town has since closed up shop. The arcade machines that are still around are contrived and boring, itís about winning the prize now. Not playing the game.
Iím not one to put the blame on anything specific. The advancements weíve made in multiplayer gaming are phenomenal. I love the social network available because of the internet and online gaming. The experience and atmosphere is still there, it is just presented in a different fashion.
Since the days of trolling the local Mortal Kombat machines, Iíve participated in many different gaming communities. From playing Counter Strike on a competitive level to being addicted to WoW for three years Ė Iíve had the sense of community and Iíve enjoyed my experiences, but it never even comes close to what it was like in that bowling alley.
LAN centers are the new arcades in some areas, in others they canít even get off the ground. Arcades were everywhere in the eighties and early nineties and now they are few and far between. The community is still there, but it isnít how it used to be. Maybe Iím just getting old and bitter. Maybe I just love my nostalgia. Maybe I think people need to appreciate what once was and support their local arcade. Donít let it fade out. Do not forget about it. Show up, have fun, enjoy it while you can.
Arcades are forgotten by many, not even known by some. Take advantage of them while you still can. I met some of my best friends in an arcade, and have had some of my best gaming experiences because of the arcade. I can only hope that another generation of gamers will have that same opportunity.