1980’s culture is widely reminisced about for good reason; the music, the fashion (or lack of it), the movies, the toys, the TV shows and movies… they all rekindle great memories.  Memories and associated senses; the smell of the bowling alley, the taste sensation of Space Dust (popping candy to you youngsters)… but one of the greatest nostalgic journeys of my youth takes me back to the 1980’s video arcade – a sadly long lost denizen of adventure, challenge, awe, fun and in many cases frustration.

I can remember, with great fondness, spending hours upon hours on Worthing Pier playing Asteroids, Pac-Man, Space Battle, Track & Field, Q*Bert, Space Invaders, Tron and Star Wars (to name just a few). Teaming up with friends to play the 4-player Gauntlet, watching in awe as my brother played Defender (a game I could never get the hang of) and then being mentored by him in the ways of saving princess Daphne from the evil dragon in Dragon’s Lair.  If you had enough money to play 2-player in DL, and one of the players completed the game (can’t remember if it had to be player 1 or 2), the other player got infinite lives; an ideal opportunity for my brother to instill in me the correct choreography of right, left, forward, back, jump, duck and attack to defeat the Lizard King, Black Knight and other evil foes on the journey to the center of the lair.

I remember a family outing to Hastings one summer when my brother and I were in the seaside arcade playing DL.  The arcade had a large screen on which they would show one of the games on a random basis; on another successful saving of Princess Daphne we turned around to see a huge crowd of people watching our endeavours in silence and we got the impression they’d never seen the challenge completed before.

Each stand-up machine (or sit down in the case of Star Wars) had its own unique soundtrack – nothing spectacular as only 16-bit sounds were the limits of capabilities, but the slowly increasing “dum” of the Space Invaders as they moved left and right then down to attack the base, or the mechanical munching sound of Pac-Man as he devoured the dots on the way to the power pill drew you in to a magical world of escapism and fantasy.  The symphony created by all of the sounds in the arcade together as one created an ever-changing soundtrack of my childhood.

Compared to today’s’ standards the graphics (and soundtracks) back then were extremely primitive, but we didn’t know any better and it didn’t matter to us anyway as we were hooked into getting the high score or further in the game than we had before to care.

There were some games I was good at, some I was terrible at and some I would have loved to be good at; Q*Bert and Defender I was terrible at and was okay with that… Track & Field I was terrible at but oh so wish I were better, similarly Star Wars was another I barely dented the surface of the Death Star at… but it didn’t matter; just being present and watching the magic of hand/eye coordination of another player setting a high score was a thrill.  It wasn’t only about the playing the games… it was experiencing them.

Where else could you get the same level of challenge, achievement and entertainment for 10p a go ?  When Dragon’s Lair (and its counterpart laser-disc game; Firefox) came out, you knew they were something special as they cost 50p per play; perhaps another reason why not many people had completed DL.

When Disney released Tron in 1983 The arcade machine became my favourite –offering four different challenges (Light Cycles, Tanks, Grid Bugs and finally infiltrating the MCP), and with a “flight stick” and dial to control the action all housed in an appropriately branded neon lit Tron cabinet – it doesn’t get more 80’s than that.

I miss the arcades… what I wouldn’t give to be transported back to Worthing Pier in 1983 to experience it all again… that’s pretty much where my brother and I bonded most, spent most of our quality time together and formed a bond that is still just as strong today as we reminisce about Valkyrie losing health, the correct angle of take-off in the long jump or the predestined route Pac-Man needed to take to eat all the dots.