Ah, the modern age of gaming. The graphics, the online connectivity, the movie quality voice work and effects, the post-release content ... the complete soullessness of it all. How I loathe it. How I wish I could go back to "tha good ol' days", as if I'm some old geezer in a rocking chair rambling incoherently as it he were reciting an old epic in his head.
When I think about the past of gaming, being a product of the mid 80s and raised in the early 90s, I'd think about how many coincidences happened to get me in there. I'd probably never have got into gaming (as hard as I did, anyway) had I not randomly won an SNES from my elementary school's raffle before the thing even released. Waiting for that excitedly, my dad just happened to have a friend from his work who let me borrow the NES while I waited. Then I went to a flea market and got Kung Fu - which just happened to be made by the same people who made the original Street Fighter and went on to form SNK.
I can still smell the strong mustard on those sausage dogs they served at that dirt mall...
However, ya know, I can always plug up my NES to the tele and still get most of that experience. My memories of Chrono Trigger can mostly be recreated with the original game or one of the many ports that Square Enix has dumped out over the years in a vain attempt at easy money. But ya know what can't be fully recreated with a port to modern consoles or even owning the original hardware?
Well, I'm sure you can use context clues from the title to see where I'm getting at.
All of my strongest memories of gaming come from those massive wooden monoliths. Those electric smile machines. The modern-day nickelodeons. While the arcade industry still exists - and appears to be doing well enough, despite what many say - it's nothing like what I grew up with. Score boards and direct competition is pretty much a thing of the past now, and now everything in the arcade can pretty much be divided up into three groups: the little bit of shooters, the little bit of drivers, and the large majority of kiddie gambling machines masquerading as games of skill.
No amount of cynicism could keep me from spending more than twice the value on getting this damn Nadia figure though...
The reason you can't recreate this magic just by owning the original hardware (and trust me, I've tried... about 15 times now...) is that it was never just about the game. Certainly that's a big part, but another big part was how it was just about everywhere. One of my favorite memories was going to a Pizza Hut while I was in college with friends, and there just happened to be a Neo Geo with Fatal Fury 3 in it. All we wanted was some pizza, yet we got some impromptu slugfest action going. That was always amazing to me - go to a convenience store, and find a VS Super Mario Bros. I remember going to see some movie at a now bulldozed movie theater and finding a Darkstalkers cabinet for the first time. I DON'T EVEN REMEMBER WHAT MOVIE IT WAS, but I will never forget playing Darkstalkers for the first time. It was just... magic.
My earliest - and fuzziest - memory was of going to this once busy Wal-Mart and mashing buttons on Street Fighter. I didn't even realize it WAS Street Fighter until years later when I'd see this stage, hear the mediocre voice effects and experience the terrible controls on MAME and a flood of memories came back to me.
The other big part of arcades that can't be recreated is how it would connect all the people involved. It could make friends out of strangers. This was especially the case of any sort of co-operative game. I still have some good memories of playing Die Hard Arcade at multiple locations with many strangers coming up and playing along with me. It's just completely different from having some stranger drop in to help you out in Dragon's Crown, where communication is limited at best. No amount of text or voice chat will be able to replicate standing next to a total stranger at the Skateland.
Even with competitive games, while things could often turn ugly, the sense of having a good rival that you could see, talk with, and maybe even exchange strategies with if they weren't a total douche and actually wanted to better the experience is completely different and completely better than the rage quits, hate mail and -best case scenario - delayed "GGs" messages of today.
The old Aladdin's Castle, as it is today. Time Crisis 2, Marvel vs Capcom 2, Street Fighter III: Third Strike, Hydro Thunder and so many others used to reside within... now it's a damn photo hut.
Times change, I'm aware of this. Arcades just can't exist as they used to and the games had to change with the times. Challenge, competition and depth used to be the main draws of arcades but now they alienate the majority of gamers who just want cheap thrills that make them feel good momentarily for no effort. I understand the appeal, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.
I'll continue to say it was better back in the day, because by God, it was better back in the day.