What’s in your fantasy school arcade?

By now you’ve probably worked out I’m a fan of using video-games, and see them as essential to any effort to use digital-media with school children. At the same time games  are “Vegas’ed” — meaning moved off the strip — by many school systems — in favour of media-forms they see as less controversial. This isn’t just software — we’re talking here about physical space — actual walk-in spaces in schools. In an era of open-plan, idea-paint and primary coloured cube-chairs — no ones building arcades.

Imagine you had 20 arcade cabs in a school where kids could go and choose to play one or other game. What would you include on the machines? Why would being able to wander in and play it — be educational or useful?

2 thoughts on “What’s in your fantasy school arcade?

  1. Here’s my list. I spent more hours with these games or their ilk during my school years than any form of studying or homework.

    Sing Along 1966, EM
    Alien Poker 1980, SS
    Tales of the Arabian Nights, 1997 DMD

    Ms.Pac Man
    Donkey Kong
    Tempest (vector)
    Discs of Tron
    Marble Madness
    DDR 4th Mix
    Puzzle Fighter
    Magical Drop 2
    Tetris (modern arcade)
    Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo

  2. OK, now it’s morning and I have to justify why those games. I’ll make a blanket case for all games – they’re one of the best legal windows into subjective time-dilation, which I consider a core part of human fascination. If you haven’t been fascinated, if you haven’t lived a year over the course of 99 seconds, it’s hard to build/develop those experiences in other contexts. Games are built to do that.

    Let’s start from the ends.

    Pinball is an iconic 20th century experience that I think has joy and value for anyone. I chose on EM machine (Sing Along, but that’s just avarice), which are a beautiful examples of pre-computational engineering. Comparing the schematic to the guts of an EM pin is a humbling moment. Using that schematic to make a repair or hack is supremely empowering.
    Alien Poker is an early Solid State pin, and Tales is a beautiful complicated 90s mode-based pin. Both are great markers on pinball’s road towards increasing complexity in scoring and play. While Sing Along, and most EMs, fit safely in the “don’t lose the ball” style of gameplay, once SS machines were established there became clear moments where players had to find the “correct” shots. The best games from the late William’s DMD era go further and present arguable choices about correct play, all bundled up in a complicated valuation of game state, personal skill and nuanced machine condition.

    VF4, Super Turbo and VirtualOn (VO:OT) are some of the best head to head fighters of all time. I’m happy to hear quibbles about particular game selection, but I thought it was important to have a 2D and 3D game, preferably ones that actually existed in arcades. In the odd chance this is becomes reality, it’s pretty easy to swap a Super Turbo cabinet into MvC2 or Samurai Shodown 2* VO:OT is another stretch (the cabinet is kinda large: http://www.mechadamashii.com/features/features-virtual-ontaku/ ) but I love the game and it’s a radical break from the mechanics of other fighters.
    Why fighters? They’re competitive improv. It’s Dueling Banjos with 20 selectable characters. When tied to the physical machine, to a quarter-dropping culture of stay&play, it’s creates one of my favorite learning environments. http://insertcredit.com/2012/04/09/playing-to-win-at-life/

    The puzzle games (Puzzle Fighter, Magical Drop2, Tetris) lay a path from that same competitive mindset (SPF2`) back to the obsessive, high speed logic engine of modern Tetris (let’s say Tetris Grand Masters 3: http://youtu.be/jwC544Z37qo ). No other game genre so blatantly asks players to hold an arbitrary 8×8 of data in their head and perform several hypothetical permutations on it per second. And make it fun.
    If this wasn’t arcade cabinets, I would put Tetris Attack/Panel dePon/Puzzle League instead of Magical Drop.

    DDR was the first fun memorization I’ve ever done, and it’s far better in arcade form than any of the painful arcade ports of GuitarHero. I choose 4th mix for purely selfish nostalgia reasons. http://youtu.be/IQqj74pHYJI

    All of the classics lie somewhere on the continuum between Tetris and Street Fighter. Tempest, Ms. PacMan, Defender, Discs of Tron, Donkey Kong are all blends memorization, improv and response. None of them look alike, but all of them build and reward flow state. Joust is all that PLUS one of the best/first VS modes.

    Rampage, Gauntlet and Trog are enticing social hubs. You could get greedy and look for 6 player Acclaim X-Men, or swap out Rampage for almost any other sidescrolling GoldenAxe-style brawler (Capcom’s D&D games are a personal favorite). But the core experience of standing tight, shoulder packed, with a few other people and working through the patently unfair, arbitrary, and painful challenges of the game designers. . . it’s totally school, right? Blue Chemistry student needs food, badly.

    20 cabinets seems like a lot, but we had arcades for over two decades. No decent arcade was static. At some point a stale game will get swapped out for 720 or Ramparts, and the whole collection will seem new again.


    * Or double SamSho up on the NeoGeo cabinet with Magical Drop and get Metal Slug and Bust-a-Move for “free”. For the purpose of 20 cabinets, I thought that cramming a 16 game NeoGeo cab in would seem like cheating.

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