Aaron and I arrived in Chicago less than two hours ago and are spending the weekend visiting our friend Jimmy from college. We had promised to come up for awhile and he wanted to show us the city. We’re having dinner at an Italian restaurant called Tocco in the Wicker Park district.
Afterward, we walked down the street because he said there was this place that had authentic 1970’s and 1980’s arcade machines like the ones that were around when we were kids – games that people have forgotten but instantly would cause memories to flood back from childhood; Burger Chef, The Simpsons, Q*bert, Super Mario Bros., Paper Boy, Contra, Mortal Kombat, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and a lot more. When we went to get in, this weird man who looked very disheveled wanted to see my driver’s license. For a moment, I started to freak out and become a little indignant that some stranger would approach me and ask me such a weird question and then I suddenly realized … this was a bar and he wanted to see photo I.D. for age verification. I’m almost 33 years old and I’ve never been in a place that required something like that. Aaron did the same thing.
Once inside, there were two rooms (the one on the right, from the entrance (not pictured) is cooler). We had forgotten how “bad” (read: terribly awesome), the video game industry was when it was a new genre and you could produce content for next to nothing. These were the days before the great video game collapse in the 1980’s that was so horrific, it bankrupted nearly every content publisher and caused Nintendo in Japan to become so conservative that it keeps enough cash on the balance sheet to operate for 100 years even if sales went to zero overnight as they were practically the only firm to survive. Games were created that made no sense. Some were so difficult, the final levels weren’t even programmed because the studio behind it didn’t think anyone would ever make it to the end.
We came across one such game. It was – wait for it – Michael Jackson Moonwalker. Yes, this game actually exists. No, it’s not a joke nor intended to be ironic. It was really a thing. All three of us put in tokens and suddenly we were three dancing Michaels on a screen doing moonwalks and twirls as gangsters chased us and we had to rescue little kids they had tied up (funny how history put that in a new, much different light). Weird machines attacked us, too, and we had magical dance moves to destroy them while yelling, “Woo Hoo”. When things got really desperate, Bubbles the chimp showed up and turned Michael into a powerhouse robot with lasers that could destroy almost anything. It was bizarre. If you ever step in there, our initials are on the high score list (we ranked twice but I didn’t get my initials in on time so it was discarded then Aaron and I combined on his).
The experience made us realize that, all in all, our arcade skills have atrophied horrifically in the past 25 years.