Sometimes when I'm working on a writing assignment, I get to a point with it where I have no idea if it's any good, if it makes any sense, and if the idea that I had when I sat down to write it has come across clearly. I've learned over the years that when I get too close to something and these doubts and concerns arise, it means that I'm done writing it, and if I keep messing with it, it's just going to screw it all up. At that point, it's time to just walk away for a day or two before I come back to it for as close to an objective look at it as I can take.
If I don't plan wisely, though, and . . . let's say I find myself in this place at 2am, when my column is due ten hours later, all I can do is hope that it doesn't completely suck, turn it in, and pass out.
Which brings me to this week's Geek in Review, which is all about the fall and decline of video arcades, and its impact on the current generation of video gamers:
I was born in 1972, and came of age in the 1980s, which means that I am of the video game generation. Though my family started with the Odyssey2, before moving to the Atari 2600 and Atari 400 (membrane keyboards FTW!) much of my gaming took place in various arcades, or local businesses -- pizza parlors, drug stores, bowling alleys, liquor stores and even a head shop -- and they played such an important role in my life, I still have all kinds of very clear and powerful memories associated with certain games and the places I played them. It's good that I do, because arcades in America are vanishing like rainforest.
[. . .]
I really miss those days when I could find arcade games wherever I went, and every mall worth visiting had both a video arcade and an ice skating rink. But the video arcade's days were numbered as soon as home computers and consoles started to catch up to a cabinet system's computing power, and in their efforts to just keep quarters flowing, I believe arcade owners and video game manufacturers hastened their own demise.
[. . .]
In my local arcade, which was called The Enterprise (no relation) and then The Cone Factory (when waffle cones ruled the world around 1985) it started when the sit-down Spy Hunter and Mach 3 were pulled out and replaced with two identical Mortal Kombat machines. Don't get me wrong; those games were fun and I'll still drop the occasional quarter into MKII and see how far I can get, but did we really need an arcade full of them? Where's my Bump-n-Jump? Where's my Wizard of Wor? And who let the damn dogs out? Who? Who? Who?!
As arcades became neglected and the games all blurred together into a beige collection of copycats, home consoles and PCs outpaced their cabinet cousins, and I had a hard time coming up with a good reason to even bother leaving the house. Who wants to go spend a dollar a minute on some fighting game when you can spend forty dollars once for a hundred hours of well-developed story and characters you can get emotionally attached to right at home? I'm bored out of my mind with FPS games now, but when they came out, Doom and Quake were new, and different, and fun. After I grew tired of them, I moved on to RPGs like Fallout 2 and Planescape: Torment, and I didn't miss the arcade experience at all; by the time Vice City came along, quarters were, for the first time in a decade, primarily used in parking meters.
[. . .]
My kids' generation, with their online gaming and its associated sense of anonymity and unaccountability, aren't getting the same social workout that we all got when we were kids. When I played a two player game against another kid and I beat him, if I taunted him mercilessly and made explicit references to his mother's sex life and my role in it, he would have justifiably kicked the everliving shit out of me; so I learned that it was always a good idea to be gracious in victory and defeat. Contrast that with the foul and profane behavior exhibited in today's online gaming worlds, by players who are old enough to know better, or young enough not to care. It takes a lot of fun out of the gaming experience, and eventually results in something out of Lord of the Flies. This type of anti-social behavior spills over onto online communities and has been the subject of funny-because-it's-true comics by Penny Arcade and xkcd.
I'm not sure if my point was made as clearly as I hoped to make it, but I have to shoot some InDigital packages today (about wireless controllers for Guitar Hero II, amusingly enough) so I don't have the luxury of rewriting this over and over again or showing it to my friends for feedback before turning it in. However, when I read it aloud it all seemed to logically flow together, so I hope that my instincts didn't lead me astray.
The newswire is SFW today, though I've heard from a few people that the SG domain is blocked by a lot of IT departments, so if you work at a place where you'll be logged and whacked on the head with a spatula if they think you're surfing porn, you should probably wait until you get home.