I'm in hell.
Family holiday hell, in Queensland, and with no gaming consoles, to be specific. This is the only postcard I've been able to get out to you, the ones that have the games. You are lucky ones. I once was like you. With games.
This communique has been composed in five minutes on the shitty computer that inhabits the Business Centre of this waterpark labyrinth. This terminal makes your average Pip-boy look like the PC from Minority Report. There is a 'turbo' button on the tower that makes the digital readout jump from 33 to 99. Why the fuck would you ever have turbo set to off? We cannot know this.
It doesn't even have Minesweeper. First thing I checked. Ran a hard drive search two days ago. Finished this morning. No results.
I know now that I'm screwed. I honestly don't hold much hope of this email ever reaching you, Mark. Only the subject line data might transmit properly, and so I've chosen it very carefully:
“Liberate me ex infernis.”
Why am I in such dire straits? Early on in this purgatorial trip, my better half “forgot to pack” our phone chargers and my Vita. She is “really” quite “sorry” I have no access to comms or an app store. I can't even download the divorce papers I need as a pdf. Devil woman is two steps ahead of me.
This resort is remote, too. To buy any replacement product in this tourist trap is to surrender RRP x 3.5, and what I'd really be purchasing myself would be an all expenses paid guilt trip to “We Never See You, Why Don't You Love Me and The Kids?”
Fuck. That. Noise.
I just have to accept that life has come full circle for me. I am now my father. Somehow, in this iridescently cheerful resort bursting full of fun, sun, slides, splashes, and delicious junk food, I'm the guy who is on-edge, exhausted, and quicker to aggro than an end-boss.
This place is paradise for any human that isn't a dad. But all I see is an over-abundance of places for my two young boys to [worst case] drown [best case] slip and brain themselves, or gravel graze their skin down to the bone when some scumbag kid trips them over. Where my beloved ones see refreshment and relaxation, I see big overpriced puddles of piss, chock full of little shits, surrounded by half-wit parents I may have to piledrive at some point.
Oh, geez. I'm sorry. I'm usually a sociable guy, but going from every game ever available, all the time, to none... well, it's a cold turkey you just don't want to experience, friend. That shit does things to a man, and also his wallet as it turns out...
My eldest, God bless him, recently spotted a sign to a “Games Room” and my heart leapt. After a perfectly acted shrug to my wife that said, “Wow, how about these kids and their incessant need to play games, amirite?!” I scooped up my brood and took a time-travel trip back to how awful gaming once was.
Hiding behind two pinball machines (Johnny Mnemonic and Super Mario Bros) were the remnants of what might once have been a prized mini-arcade. The game selection was as batshit eclectic as it was expensive and disproportionately priced. $2 equals one credit for any of the following.
- Transformers: Human Alliance (Sega, 2013) an old-fashioned on-rails shooter with two overly-round mounted “guns” that have all the tactile fun of pointing a rusty stage light at something. I remembered a time when arcade graphics would blow my mind, but this thing looks like an up-jumped Dreamcast. Also, the Engrish voice acting is so bad you'll want to twist the light gun around so it shoots you in the face, thereby sparing you from any more quips involving Decepticons “being good at extreme sports”.
- Virtual-On Cyber Troopers (Sega, 1995). Points for sheer nostalgia here, even if it isn't worth 2 bucks a life. Going the tonk with Hajime Katoki's mecha still has novelty-factor, thanks to those quirky twin stick controls (that I never bought for my Saturn). More bonus points are earned here because this arcade is rocking the twin cabinet setup. Downside: there's no 2P to my 1P. The boys are too young to put up much of a fight, and, by the way my wife's looking at me – an increasingly furrowed brow, with a mouth shrinking to look like a cat's arsehole – I can see I'm in for some real gladiatorial combat when we leave this oasis. Why pay good money for the virtual?
- Racing Hero (Sega, 1989). I almost don't recognise this game for two reasons: firstly, because I mistake its sweet motorcycle handle bars for that of its progenitor Hang-On or Super Hang-On. Secondly, some urban prophet has taken a sharpie to the 'c' in the title and changed it to a 'p'. This cabinet promptly eats my $2 and delivers a barely responsive throttle and a half-dead CRT screen that bathes everything in Grimace puke purple. I feel suitably violated, but the writing was on the wall. If humanity ever needs to crown something as a hero of rape, this cabinet’s a shoe in.
- Mario Kart Arcade GP 2 (Nintendo, 2007). Speaking of being unnecessarily bent over, this oddity from the era of Mario Kart Double Dash thinks it's ok to reward my first place podium finish with the demand for more money, then a Game Over. Screen. You can go fist yourself, Mario Kart Arcade GP 2. No coins were fed into anything after this point. Even if it was reasonably priced, the handling is bloody awful to the point where it's massive step down, even from the Wii Wheel.
In the end, this arcade caused more pain than it relieved. You're reading the scribblings of a starving man who has been robbed and thrown several stale crackers.
I tell you all this, because I want you to know how low things have fallen: both for your average arcade out there, and for me as a person who once had dignity. I'm embarrassed to reveal how much money I paid to get my fix. But I paid, and now I'm itching my arms again.
Do not become me. On your next trip, take your 3DS, or your Vita, and a phone charger – two, just in case the first one breaks. Hide them in your carry-on if you must. Because this life without games – or the god-awful replacement of: a games-as-a-service shitshow where there is no credit given where credit is due – it's no life.
As for now, I hope for the world to turn, and for things to get better. But what I hope most of all is that you understand what I mean when I tell you that, even though I do not know you, and even though I may never meet you in an online lobby, accept a friend request from you, level with you, or grief others with you, I love you. With all my heart, I love you, and envy your easy access to 35 years of videogames.
Play something. For me.
This story originally appeared in March 2016.