Beer, Video Games and a Bridge to the Past
At last Friday's Atari party, friends and neighbors filled Dig This with the sounds of eight-bit electronics and old stories.
They came from up the block and across town. They came bearing cardboard boxes of old electronics components. They came with easy smiles, toting their children in hand and helping themselves to a beverage with the other.
There were excited shouts when an old, favorite title resurfaced. Dads nudged their sons, handing down stories about money and time and youth misspent in pursuit of irredeemably high scores.
And for their part, the next generation took to the old titles with gusto.
Despite growing up in the era of high-definition video games, Jesse Teer, 13, said the comparatively simpler Atari games are “still a lot of fun.”
“Playing a game for the graphics is not the same as playing it for the quality,” he said. “What matters is the gameplay.”
Dave Gonzalez said that simple or not, old video games were fantastic for delivering one kind of experience: sheer frustration.
“I think a lot of the older games, the kids today couldn’t take [them],” he said. “You need your instant gratification.”
Gonzalez’s wife, Kristel Arndt, who was trying her hand at Pac-Man, echoed his sentiments.
“Good ol’ Pac-Man. I’m terrible at it, but I love it,” she said. “I get so pissed off. It’s a good anger though. It’s like a stress ball, but in video game form.”
For Gonzalez, old video games are the perfect inspiration for a throwback party because they're a cultural touchstone from childhood, which makes them at once familiar and fun.
Even in the pre-Internet days, he said, "every kid" knew the latest cheat codes. It was something to connect over.
Perhaps the partygoer best suited to comment on the historical significance of memories like those was Kevin Impellizeri of Gloucester Township.
A doctoral candidate in the history department at the University of Delaware, the subject of Impellizeri's upcoming dissertation is the cultural history of video games.
“The way that developers and game companies make [video games] is a response to the way that people look at games,” he said.
What makes classic, one-button arcade games like Space Invaders or Asteroids so compelling, Impellizeri said, is that they are easy to play and increase in difficulty rapidly and almost exponentially, “like a casino.”
“Once they get a quarter out of you, the guys who developed that machine are going to try to get you off that machine as quickly as you can,” he said.
“The game is addictive enough that after you’ve spent that quarter, you’ll do it again, or someone will come up in your place and do that again.”
Megan Orem, co-owner of Dig This, remembered all too well such moments. She said her biggest concern of the night was making sure that everyone got a turn.
“It’s the mom part of video-gaming,” she said.
Orem also helped establish the various furniture vignettes throughout Dig This at which the gaming centers were set up. She said that her plan for the evening's staging was to make the store “feel like it was your living room; your grandparents’ house,” where she remembers sitting "four feet from the TV with the controllers across the floor."
Although he was quietly making a sale here and there in between rounds of Dig Dug, co-owner Reed Orem said that he didn’t care whether he moved any inventory Friday night; for him, the vibe of the party was “just nostalgic enough.”
“It’s enough to have a cheap night out,” Reed Orem said. “It’s a fun, low-key night, doesn’t cost a lot of money. People can go on their way to dinner.”
Still, that didn’t mean he was prepared to let the evening get away from him easily.
“The last time we had one of these, we were here ‘til three in the morning,” he said.