Videogame arcade ethics
AWhenever a videogame discussion breaks out (especially if it even touches on the classic videogames), I inadvertently and inexcapably drift off into a lecture about either home systems or the arcades of the 90s. Growing up in Romania, access to up-to-date home systems was difficult. I did know about Nintendo, Sega, and Atari's systems, but could only afford Chinese knock-offs, such as the Ending Man (NES clone with a Terminator image on the box). And even so, it wasn't cheap to maintain a nice, growing library of pirated cartridges.

The local arcades is how I accessed modern games. They were frequented by some of the worst the city had to offer. Parents frowned at the idea of their child going to an arcade. Alcohol was often consumed by the adults playing the gambling machines (electronic slots machines, video poker machines). The air was absolutely always heavy with cigarette smoke. The older kids often picked on the younger. Tokens were few, and until you became a regular and began knowing people, it wasn't uncommon to have to give up some of your tokens in order to be left alone.

We had some pretty strict unwritten rules in the arcade. When they were broken, people got angry, and sometimes fights started.

Never, EVER challenge in one on one fighting games unless the current player agrees to it. You see, when money's short, one must get as much play time as possible from each token. If you've just begun a Street Fighter 2 single player game, and someone challenges you and beats you, you've definitely not gotten your money's worth. This is probably the biggest faux-pas.

However, if a player decides to allow another to challenge, it is always done to "save" the current player. In short, the challenging player inserts a token but doesn't press Start right away. Instead, he waits for the current player to almost lose, and then he presses Start. What this accomplishes is that the current player gets to play as much as possible in his single player game, before he faces the challenger.

One on one challenges sometimes had rules of their own. Let's say player A wins round one. If it's obvious that player A will also win round two, player A will let player B win round two, just so that they both get to play a third round. Of course this is under the condition that player B will not attempt to finish off player A in the third round, so that player A still wins overall.

In side-scrolling beat'em up games, joining in was also frowned upon. As soon as the second player joins in, the game increases significantly in difficulty. The initial player runs the risk of playing a much shorter game if the second player is unskilled.

Avoid accepting "help" from others. They may be better than you, and able to defeat a harder boss with which you have trouble, but this is usually a bad idea because of two things: he'll probably claim there's more hard fights up ahead and try to play as much as possible on your money, and secondly, you're not really getting any better by just watching.

Don't continue; always start from the beginning. This is true for all types of games. If you start from the beginning with every token you play, you end up playing more. Now that I think about it, nobody even mentioned beating a game, unless it was done on one token. Through the years, I've beaten five games with one token:

  • Street Fighter 2 (World Warrior)
  • Samurai Shodown 1
  • Aggressors of Dark Kombat
  • Knights of the Round
  • X-Men vs. Street Fighter

Kids who continued were regarded as schmucks with too much money.

Older and stronger kids could play many, many tokens in a row, and there was nothing you could do about it, unless you were a regular and could talk them into letting you take a turn. Otherwise, they could literally play for hours before you got a turn.

When someone beat a game with one token, everyone found out about it. When joysticks broke off, people used chestnuts as joystick balls. Arcade operators sometimes felt generous (especially if they knew you), and offered free tokens. Adults, who played the gambling machines, would sometimes pay you a few tokens if you went to the nearby store and buy cigarettes and beer for them (on their money, of course).

The more tokens you had in your pocket, the more likely you were to be asked for hand-outs. Or be forced to give them. Folly would have been bringing a lot of money at once.

These seem harsh, and they were. However, there was a sort of a weird community built around these places. The regulars were known, and somewhat respected, as they were the most skilled. Mostly everyone could tell when a player was not from around there. Many times on Saturday, kids could visit the arcade right after the end of the circus show (the arcade was close to a large circus) and you could tell by how they spoke (used quaint words for the games and game-related terms) that they were unfamiliar. While I didn't do it myself, I watched the regulars swindle the poor newbies with too much money from their parents.

Speaking of special terms we used, I found it cool how each game had its own name, often related to its subject matter, but also often far away from the actual name. 1942, a plane shoot'em up was simply called Planes. Knights of the Round, a side-scrolling beat'em up set in the Arthurian times was called Sword.

All in all an interesting experience. There are definitely fundamental differences between what I saw in Canadian arcades and what I remember from my childhood from the Romanian ones. It's a setting which has all but disappeared. It was a fun era, when games brought people together more than ever, catering to our innate competitive spirits. It was an era when smack talking could be validated on the spot, and in front of everyone. We have now moved on to competition over the Internet, almost never with face-to-face competition, and always shielded by monitors or TVs.