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Book Review: Arcade Fever

Better than a pile of cow's guts!

Better than a pile of cow's guts!

When I was younger, my dad and I spent a lot of time at the dump. You’d have to ask him why, but I have a lot of memories of us wandering around trash heaps and breaking old TVs with rocks.

I was probably about 10 when the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) came out. I wanted one so badly that I would nearly have a seizure each time I learned that another kid in my class had one.

My dad knew about my mania and offered a solution. At the dump one day, we walked past a pile of cow entrails that came up to about waist height.

“Tell you what, son,” he said. “If you’ll stick your head in that pile of guts, you can have a Nintendo.”

He’s not a cruel man but he does love a joke. He’s generous and kind and I know that he probably would have stopped me from getting into those entrails.

I didn’t get the Nintendo then. But a couple of times a month one of his college friends–a black guy named Charles–would pick me up and we’d go to the arcade and play Kangaroo, Missile Command, and Donkey Kong Jr.

Arcade Fever: The Fan’s Guide To The Golden Age of Video Games

I saw this book at the library and had to grab it. There are few things for me that evoke as much instant nostalgia as music and retro video games.

Arcade Fever is a fun look at the classics. It’s basically a book of trivia. Each page or two contains a profile of one of the canonized heavies like Frogger, Pac Man, and Donkey Kong. There are interviews with programmers, pictures of the original game art, and a very interesting anecdote about one of Steve Jobs’s early projects.

What can I say? As much as I yap about living in the present, I love me some nostalgia. Many of today’s videogames require time commitments of 100 hours or more. I don’t have the time or interest for that anymore.

But when I need to empty my mind for 15 minutes–this often helps with Tourette’s when I can’t calm down any other way–I can sit down and play something like Super Mario Brothers from start to finish. I get some relief and Princess Toadstool gets rescued…yet again.

If you’re a fan of arcade games or you’re appalled by my father’s behavior, Arcade Fever is a fun trip down digital memory lane. It’s too expensive to buy, but if you follow that link you can see the Amazon reviews. Some fanboys are very upset about this book…

And when I got that Nintendo, I went nuts. I used to pause it in the morning before school, leave it on for 8 hours, then come home and pick up where I’d left off.

Any fans here? If you have a favorite retro game or two or any arcade memories, tell us in the comments section. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try and find my copies of Pitfall and Yar’s Revenge.

Josh


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  • Casey August 4, 2009, 7:19 am

    So wait… You didn’t stick your head in a pile of cow guts? Not sure you’re true fan. 🙂

    I was one of those unlucky kids that never had a Nintendo. My brother and I actually had to save our money to buy our first console. Was it the N64? The Playstation? No it was (gasp!)…

    SEGA SATURN.

    Yes I was one of the dozen or so people who bought that hunk of junk. That noise? Oh, thats just weeping, wailing, and nashing of teeth… Owning the Saturn, you get used to it.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 4, 2009, 7:29 am

      Casey, the Saturn is a piece of crap, you’re right. I still wonder how many people dump guts at the landfill.

  • Kathy Casey August 4, 2009, 7:20 am

    My kids can’t believe that you used to have to start over all the way from the very beginning when Mario fell out of the clouds too many times!

    “What? -What? No memory card?”

    On a side note: My father got great pleasure in watching me wash chicken s*** off of the eggs that I had to gather every morning at 6am.

    “What? They don’t come out clean like in the carton? “

  • Casey August 4, 2009, 8:27 am

    Can’t say I’ve ever seen guts, cow or otherwise at the landfill.

    So in your book, does it discuss the origin of the title “Donkey Kong”? It’s hilarious… But then again I’m a nerd.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 4, 2009, 8:36 am

      I can’t remember, Casey. But have you seen “The King of Kong?” Documentary that came out last year. Fantastic. I’m sure it has the origin, but I can’t remember from that either. I’ll go look it up right now.

  • Casey August 4, 2009, 8:43 am

    There are two versions, but basically it comes down to poor translation.

    One version states that it was supposed to be “Monkey Kong” (Kong coming from King Kong) but the guy from Japan had a heavy accent and the phonline was poor so it came out “Donkey Kong”

    The second version states that again, Kong came from King Kong, but that Donkey was mis-translated to mean stubborn, or silly.

    Language barrier strikes again!

  • Casey August 4, 2009, 8:48 am

    Oh , yeah “Fist full of quarters” was hilarious. Mostly because its so honest. There are some truely die hard geeks out there. Pac-man groupies are just as bad.

    FYI: Nowadays most video games don’t have scores, so players compete to see who can finish games the fastest. There are videos out there of guys beating Super Mario Bros in less than a minute.

  • Tim August 4, 2009, 9:01 am

    Josh:

    Great post…I got a big laugh to learn that you paused your Nintento for 8 hours. I never had Nintendo…I was probably the last kid on my block to have Atari 2600. My favorite game had to probably be Enduro, a driving game that you played with the joystick. My favorite memory: going to my friend’s house with the “new” Raiders of the Lost Ark game and watching he and his parents become hysterical because they couldn’t solve the game. Neither could I, but watching the hysterics was more entertaining than the game itself. My all time favorite game: a computer Doom game that I played about 10 years ago. It was involving, but not too involving to play.

    I agree with you about today’s games. Yeah, graphically they are awesome but way too time consuming. I have PS2 and like the GTA games, but I don’t have the patience or time to learn everything. Arcade Fever sounds like an interesting book.

  • Larissa August 4, 2009, 9:20 am

    I have always wanted an old school Nintendo! Now instead of begging my parents for one, I having been trying to convince my husband that we NEED one. This has been going on for about a year!
    One of my friends when I was growing up had one, and I could sit there and play mario brothers and duck hunt for hours. And those controllers aren’t ergonomically correct like the new ones. The sides of my pointer fingers used to just ache after playing for so long! 🙂
    I think this reminds me to revisit the issue with my husband. . . Maybe it’s something that Ethan (son) would like too when he needs a distraction. 🙂
    Oh! I just remembered another favorite game! Kid Icarus (is that how you spell it?) So fun!

    • Josh Hanagarne August 4, 2009, 9:43 am

      Larissa, I loved Kid Icarus. Here’s what you do: get a Wii, pay someone to hack it, and then you have 1000s of games, including Kid Icarus. It’s easy and amazing and you’ll be wasting time like never before.

  • Larissa August 4, 2009, 11:09 am

    That would be so awesome!

    • Josh Hanagarne August 4, 2009, 11:09 am

      Larissa, it is awesome. That’s what I’ve done. Woo woo!

  • Larissa August 4, 2009, 12:46 pm

    I’m jealous!!!!!!!! 🙂 . . . so how do I go about finding a hacker?

  • Jon Owens August 4, 2009, 10:51 pm

    Memories. Wow. When I was in the 4th grade, my family got a brand-new shiny Atari 2600 for Christmas complete with “Pong” and “Air Sea Battle!” My brothers and I use to play that thing for hours on end swapping out the losing player to challenge the current champion. Fast forward to the 8th grade — we still had the same Atari 2600 but with the game to end all games: “Adventure.” Now that was a video game!

    • Josh Hanagarne August 5, 2009, 7:45 am

      Jon, Ben says you guys never let him play. Is that true?

  • Jon Owens August 5, 2009, 10:13 am

    Josh, without admitting or denying Ben’s claim, I will say that there was a certain pecking order with the Atari and Ben happened to fall at the bottom of that order. 🙂 Having said that, “never” is such an absolute word. “Almost never” or “seldom” might be better choices. But Ben is a better man for it.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 5, 2009, 10:47 am

      Jon, I will tell him that. He likes to fuss.

  • Megan Horton August 5, 2009, 12:07 pm

    Josh….Dad will be so thrilled when he reads this one!

  • Richard Conroy August 11, 2009, 2:41 pm

    Paradroid for the Commodore 64. An absolutely incredible game design. So far ahead of its time, and many of its innovations never got reused. Its unusual how a game that used such abstract representations of your droid and the enemies (literally just numbers) could have such an atmosphere. Wandering through a nearly cleared level could be such a tense, scary experience.

    I think you can still get it as part of a cheap games system that you plug directly into your TV.