Viewport width =
games
May 8, 2016 | by  | in Features |
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestTweet about this on Twitter

Guns, Cars, and Fights in Handjob Alley

We made feature writer Finn spend four hours in that modern day hell hole—though once a world of pleasure and indulgence—a video game arcade. Here is the result.

 

In a concrete storage bunker tucked deep beneath commercial Wellington, a single uniformed employee patiently waits behind a counter. It’s quiet for now. Actually it’s not quiet at all, thanks to the dozens of loud polyphonic arcade consoles with their flashing screens and blinking lightbulb displays, but for the moment there are no bodies around to absorb their repetitive melodies. It’s a few minutes before six o’clock on a beautiful midweek evening, and I’ve come down to the bunker for something I’ve dreamed of doing since I was a kid: whiling away a whole night indoors, playing laser tag and arcade games for as long as I can handle.

I dressed up for the event. I wore a new black sweater I’d recently bought, because it was a special occasion and I didn’t want people to think that spending four hours alone at the arcade was something that I did regularly. It wasn’t the kind of place I wanted to fit in. As I paid my cover charge at the counter, I got out my camera and asked if it would be alright to take some photos of the place. I also displayed the red exercise book I’d brought to take notes in, and I made a show of putting a pen over my ear. I hoped the employee had got the message. “I’m not just here for the arcade and laser tag,” I was shouting to her in body language. “I’m actually here for something really important. Did you see my camera?” She told me, “we close at ten o’clock.”

And by “we,” I found out she meant “me.” Over the course of the night she seemed to cover the work of three or four employees, running the till, setting up rounds of laser tag, and selling drinks out of a Coke fridge at the café. Not to mention the constant vacuuming, mopping, spraying, and wiping needed anywhere that deals with kids’ birthday parties on the industrial scale that laser tag joints tend to. When I asked if I could get a receipt, she told me she couldn’t print one because she hadn’t been shown how to yet. I said it was OK, but I was quietly annoyed I wouldn’t be able to get the editors of Salient to expense my fifteen dollars. I stowed my stuff in a couple of cubbies, and walked into the electric light, following the call of the games.

The arcade occupies the western wing of the bunker, which splits off like a T into two dead-end alleys. It looks like late in the game, maybe when they were wheeling the consoles inside from the carpark, someone had the idea to roughly group the attractions according to their natural categories, namely transport and guns (which itself splits into a number of subgroups that exist on a spectrum of fantasy-adventure-guns to gritty-realism-guns), with the miscellaneous sport ones (miniature basketball hoops, air hockey) sitting uneasily in the demilitarised zone between them. I picked the transport arm of the T, aka circa-2001 frustrated boy racer heaven, to warm me up for the night ahead.

 

Transport

My first game of the evening was a speedway racer in the corner, called Daytona USA 2. In a row of four, the consoles consisted of a hard plastic seat on a dais, that faced a curved cathode ray screen with flickering pixels the size of rice grains. Two foot pedals provided braking and acceleration (no clutch), and a degraded steering wheel, stripped down to its metal core in places from years of sweaty palms and violent Fast and the Furious-style drift turns, jutted out from a fake dashboard. After seeing if I was racing alone, the machine helped me tailor a uniquely personal race experience by asking for my preferences of track (“intermediate”), car (“normal”), and transmission (“manual”—I need the practice). After a short countdown, the race started. I was off. I hooned my normal car around the track at speeds well over 300km/h, without a passing thought for my or anyone else’s safety. Corners proved basically impossible to survive without crashing out spectacularly (I wasn’t convinced the brake pedal actually worked) and I finished twelfth. I played another round on an easy track, in an automatic, and came eighth, which put me in slightly better spirits.

Meanwhile the dings and whacks of the air hockey table alerted me to the presence of some more arcaders, and I looked over my shoulder to see a family—two parents, maybe three or four kids—giggling as they smacked a puck back and forth across the table, and explored the flashing rows of consoles. The arrival of other people brought a wincing self-consciousness down on me, and as I moved between games I shielded myself from their imaginary judgement with my camera and my exercise book.

Warmed up, I climbed into the cockpit of the Sega Strike Fighter for a go in a real-life F/A-18 simulator. The display was split across three angled screens, which made for a pretty uncanny illusion of dimensionality. The plane was controlled by a simple accelerating/decelerating lever, in concert with a faulty and deeply flawed joystick, the operational logic of which appeared to directly contradict the wiring of the human brain. I was only trying to harmlessly cruise around pre-9/11 New York when I felt the true power of the 3D effect and nearly threw up. A well-rendered but uncontrolled barrel-roll had made the world spin for a few seconds before I crashed into an anonymous office block. I failed training, and my strict flight commander wouldn’t let me out again, even though I’d paid fifteen dollars to do whatever I wanted with his plane. Apparently he didn’t have much faith in my ability to fly it without endangering people’s lives. I didn’t care.

So I climbed onto a game called Motocross Go!, but my heart wasn’t in it. Halfway around the track I was on my phone, messaging someone on Facebook trying to get her to come join me. When I looked back up, I’d lost the race. I came thirteenth. An announcement on the screen told me “look behind you before getting off your bike.” For some reason I actually did. I wondered what chaos had broken out behind the bikes at Motocross Go! before they put that warning in.

 

Guns

I got bored of the transport zone after an hour. I left and started a round on Time Crisis 4, which was no dumb shoot-‘em-up. It was telling a story, and even appeared to be making some point about America’s military industrial complex (and in a subtle Anarcho-Marxist touch, the game also has you murder a ‘boss’ at the end of each stage). The rest of my crack team of computer-generated mercenaries probably had me pegged as something of a loose unit, but I turned out pretty handy with a gun. I killed the odd guy from my own side and lost 1000 points, but then I’d shoot an enemy jeep and get 5000 points, so it ended up balancing out. After forty-minutes of murder and quickfire resurrection, I finished the game. I even got to programme my name into the leaderboard because I’d earned the eleventh highest score in the computer’s memory. I refused to be disheartened by the fact that only ten other people had got to the end of Time Crisis 4 since the machine was last turned off and turned back on again.

At the top of gun town are three elaborate consoles with plastic enclosures, that require you duck into the seat of a jeep, or a submarine, and take control of a mounted machine gun pointed at a large flat screen. It was a relief to be sheltered from the rest of the arcade, but sitting under the canopy of Let’s Go Jungle: Lost in the Island of Spice, it occurred to me that one of these enclosures, with their privacy curtains and tinted windows, probably serves as the nook of choice for a sneaky arcade handjob. That realisation, and the off-putting casual racism of Let’s Go Jungle, got me out of that one pretty quickly.

 

Fights

I got out and wandered around the other end of the arcade, where the gun games eventually made way for a couple of fight games. None of them appealed to me. It had only been an hour and a half, but I already wanted to leave. The arcade had become a weirdly sad and lonely place. Getting shrieked at by dozens of bright flashing screens and tinny speakers made me long for the company of other human people. But this was the arcade, not a disco, and I wasn’t here to socialise. I started a fight in a game called Street Fighter 2. I was a boxer, and the computer pitted me against some kind of ultraviolent yogi, who seemed extraordinarily adept at beating the crap out of people for a Buddhist. (“I will meditate then destroy you,” he said.) My hands slipped into the button-mashing muscle memory of my youth, and even though my rippling boxer was throwing out some seriously clobbering haymakers, they were no match for my opponent, who began shooting fire at me, floating, and slapping me around with his inexplicably extendable arms. It was too much for me. I couldn’t take any more screens.

 

Laser tag

I headed to the entrance of the laser force zone. I joined a few others who were waiting in the armoury, watching the TV screen that displayed the accuracy and proficiency stats of the players currently running around in the maze. When the round finished, the players inside all spilled out—a bit sweaty, a bit out of breath. A kid looked for his name, Ninja, on the leaderboard, and found out he’d come last. The omnipresent employee though—you can add counselling to her job description—reassured him it was still a very good score he’d racked up, and it seemed to do the trick for his little ego. I suited myself in the chunky plastic minivest of Scorpion and, along with Ninja and his family, as well as a group of posturing pubescent boys, headed into the black maze.

The first round we played was a free-for-all. It was chaos. The maze, ingeniously devoid of any truly safe sniping spots, left you open to attack from pretty much every angle. And without teammates to coordinate, it became a bloodfest. In the midst of the slaughter I negotiated an alliance with two kids in the red base. They were brothers, from the family that was playing air hockey earlier, and we brokered a deal to cover each other’s back in the name of trying to not get shot basically non-stop. Our truce had given us a certain stability, and my anxiety had waned somewhat by the time the round finished, with a fuzzy recording of that bit from Aliens where one of the space marines goes: “Game over, man! Game over!”

We regrouped outside and checked our stats (Scorpion came in around the middle of the pack, with a notable accuracy of 34%), before going straight back in. This time though, hoping to put the barbarism of the free-for-all behind us, we split into two teams. I found myself with the pubescents in Team Green, and we suited up to wage war against the healthy-looking blonde family composed of Ninja, his brother Gladiator, and their exasperated parents. Moments after round two kicked off we realised our teams were grotesquely imbalanced. Ninja and Gladiator made slow, doddering targets, like dodos, and their parents, while enthusiastic enough, lacked the unironic intensity of my hormonal teammates. Gladiator’s gun stopped working completely. I tried to help him out—I thought maybe he was holding it wrong—but it really was broken. He was living a nightmare, but remained in good enough spirits, annoyed more than scared. With his gun hanging down by his side he walked around Team Green’s base cheerfully suggesting “you can use me as a hostage!” He had no takers.

Ninja, meanwhile, was growing increasingly frustrated with his mortality. I felt bad for him, and I let him shoot me. When we met down a side corridor, I pretended to lose my bearings and went “Oh! Oh!” while Ninja eventually took me out. He started laughing at me and shouted over the thumping techno, “Shame! You suck!” He walked off with his head held high, and as soon as my gun went live again, I shot him in the back.

 

Lonesome no more

I opted out of the next round and, disillusioned with war, disarmed myself. I left the arena to go back to the arcade, and found that while I was inside my prayers had been answered. In the birthday area, near the life-sized statue of Darth Maul, the Lady Samaritan I’d been messaging was passing time on her phone, waiting for me. It was, thankfully, the end of my solo arcading. Drained and depressed, I filled the LS in on the couple of hours I’d spent so far in the arcade—god, was it only two hours?—and flipped back and forth between thanking her for coming, and apologising in advance for what would be, no doubt, a terrible two hours of her life to come. I needn’t have though, because I found that for the second half of my night, surprisingly, time slipped by without really troubling me at all.

Hanging around the arcade became something else all together. With a generous suspension of disbelief, I could even experience something like fun. Watching others play was better than playing myself, and I was more than happy to stand back and observe the LS at work in Gun Town. She had commandeered both pistols of a two-player shooting game and was horrified, but nonetheless transfixed by all the action on screen. She gasped, a gun in each hand, “Oh no I’ve killed the woman! I’m contributing to the high death rate of women in society!” as she squeezed off a couple more shots at the screen.

We played a game called The Ocean Hunter, one of the sit-in consoles of handjob alley, and spent half an hour finishing the whole adventure. In that game you and a friend play as a couple of mindless assholes who trawl the seven seas in search of rare and ancient sea creatures to kill. (Although the LS, an optimist, described them as more “like police for The Little Mermaid”). While doing battle with an enormous octopus, shouts were heard of, “I am shooting the motherfucking tentacles!” and later, while fighting off an infestation of giant sea lice, “Oh my god! Look at those little twerking bugs!” Our mounted underwater machine guns were slightly sticky, and the LS groaned as I told her my theory, but couldn’t convincingly refute it.

The rest of our time was taken up with air hockey, competitive basketball shooting, and a weird game that puts you in control of Homer Simpson as he stumbles around Springfield beating strangers to death. And before I knew it, our time was up. It was ten o’clock, and the employee was all but shooing us out with a vacuum cleaner (to be fair, I had warned her at the beginning of the night that I planned on sticking out the entire four hours, though maybe she thought I was just excited, not serious). We were the only ones left. With a sigh I grabbed my stuff out of the cubby, and me and the LS headed out. I thanked the employee, and sighed, “what a thrill,” as we stepped out into the cold night air.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestTweet about this on Twitter

About the Author ()

Add Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent posts

  1. “It doesn’t have to be boring”: Chlöe Swarbrick vs. status quo
  2. Work
  3. Editorial—Issue 22, 2016
  4. I, Daniel Blake and the Welfare State
  5. Young Voters: Waking the Sleeping Giants
  6. The Sky Is Falling
  7. Tell us about Talis
  8. Vic group launch their Reclaim-munist Manifesto
  9. Bye Bye Little Karori (in two years time)
  10. Students seize opportunity to rant at Grant
i-daniel-blake

Editor's Pick

I, Daniel Blake and the Welfare State

: Recently at the NZIFF I was fortunate enough to see Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, this year’s winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes. By the end of the film nearly everybody seemed to be in mourning and most of the people seated around me were sniffling and wiping their eyes. I,