Don’t ask me why, but I went ten pin bowling over Christmas. A friend I haven’t seen for a long while rang me and asked if I fancied it. Why he didn’t propose going for a quiet beer in town I’ve no idea, but nevertheless I agreed and that night found myself handing over my shoes in exchange for the classic red and blue velcro bowling clogs, also known as clown shoes.
After strapping them on we wandered over to our alley, laughed at the member of our group who chose the lightest ball, had an unspoken competition to see who could deal with the heaviest ball, put humorous names into the overhead scoring computer and then settled in for a night of bowling whilst we all silently wondered why we hadn’t just gone for a beer.
Naturally the bumpers stayed down and we embarked upon a seriously poor quality game, with only one strike secured between five of us. Meanwhile, I sat in my rock hard plastic chair wondering just why a grown adult had suggested going ten pin bowling for the night. Thankfully, the game didn’t last especially long. I was distinctly average, finishing a solid third, but then another game was proposed, something right out of my childhood – a race on the driving arcade game sat in the corner.
Ahh yes you must remember these? You sit in a ‘proper’ racing car seat, with a gear stick to your left, three pedals by your feet and a big, grainy screen in front of you. All you need to do is pay one whole pound for the privilege and off you go, with the options of the ‘Mountain’, ‘Track’, or ‘Desert’ stage and then the ‘Big’, ‘Small’, or ‘Race’ car.
Once you begin racing, you quickly realise that any input you try to impose upon the controls is utterly pointless – the ‘car’ will either react five seconds later or not at all and you quickly find yourself at the back of the pack, scrabbling around (delete as appropriate) against/in, the cliff/gravel trap/sand dune and then you fail to make the next checkpoint in time. A huge ‘GAME OVER’ appears on the screen in red letters and after barely a minute of action you realise you have totally and utterly wasted your pound.
When I got home that night I had something of an epiphany. The reason for the terminal decline of seaside towns along the coast right around Britain isn’t because of coastal erosion or the rise of cheap air travel. It’s because the standard of arcade games has gone through the floor, or rather, hasn’t improved at all for twenty years. When I got home that night, I turned my high definition television on, picked up my PlayStation controller, placed Gran Turismo in the disk drive and immersed myself in its crystal clear brilliance for an hour. And I didn’t even have to put a pound in it to turn it on.