Dear Arcade

Ho Kun Xian

Dear Arcade,

I first visited you when I was 7 years old. I had only just started playing video games the year before, but I was already in love.

That’s me, age 7.

There were a lot of rules back then. There were no rulebooks or signs to display them, but there were a lot of rules. 

The rules applied to everyone, even a little kid like me.

The first rule of the arcade is the rules still apply, no matter who you are.

The second rule of the arcade is, putting your token down on the machine means, you’ve got next.

I quickly learned that the third rule of the arcade is that throws are considered cheap.

I will always remember the first game I fell in love with, King of Fighters ’99. I remember challenging an opponent twice my size by putting my token down next to him. Back then, I could only afford to play one or two games each visit, so all I thought about was winning so that I could keep playing.

Credit: SNK

When the game started, I threw him a few times. The machines were side-by-side and I could see the rage in his face every time I used the throw. The next thing I knew he shouted at me and warned me not to throw again. I didn’t understand why he was so mad. The move is in the game so why couldn’t I use it? Because I was just a kid, I stopped using the throw and he beat me, and I walked away after my loss.

While I was discouraged, I did not quit. For the next two months, I decided to develop a more defensive playstyle since throws are not allowed. I became really good at blocking, and since no-one could throw there was nothing an opponent could do against me.

One time I was playing a different opponent and had a small health lead. I spent the entire rest of the round just blocking until time ran out. I was so desperate to win to save my 50 cents, I knew there was no way he could win without throwing me.

I won the game and the guy got so angry he hit the machine so hard it ended up resetting. My mum used to tell me not to go to the arcade, and this moment made me realize why. Did it stop me from going? No, I loved it too much.

Playing Street Fighter IV in an arcade in Shinjuku.

Today, things are very different. 

Fighting games are better balanced, and even if you think a move is cheap, it probably isn’t. If you can beat an opponent using the same move over and over again, it’s their fault for not learning how to defend against it, not yours.

People understand now that throws are a part of the game. Grabbing your opponent five times in a row will get you thousands of retweets on Twitter, not yelled at.

While I’m happy that more playstyles are accepted now, I still miss the arcade. Sometimes it was scary, and sometimes the rules made no sense, but nothing feels better than having a crowd stand behind you watching as you rack up win after win.

Love, Xian

READ MORE: The decade that felt like a lifetime by Ho Kun Xian