It has become a cliché to criticize today’s technology in favor of older and simpler activities. How many times have you heard phrases beginning with “kids these days…” or “back in my day…” from your elders? Often, these preludes are followed by some statement, which glorify the simplicity of youth without handheld devices and moan the advent of Instagram, Twitter, or whatever. While I generally try to keep up to date on technological trends, I must admit I was taken aback to see a children’s arcade from my childhood turned into a chamber of flashing bright lights and loud noises.
I grew up in the era when children were glued to Gameboys and Playstations, but also enjoyed boardgames and ran around outside. This was before social media, iPhones, and tablets. While I definitely had computer/ videogame phases, I feel that the technological dependence was nowhere near as strong then as it is now. I don’t want to be someone who uniformly favors her own childhood over that of the younger generation, but I do have a few observations to share….
I recently visited a mall in Pittsburgh that had a little arcade for children. The arcade was huddled in an artificially lit, windowless alcove. All games cost about 50 cents to 1 dollar to play. With this small sum, customers can secure about two minutes of game time. One game I looked at in particular was a shooting game with the “Transformers” movie theme. Players can play alone or compete in pairs to shoot down the enemy robots. I must admit, this game was hard to follow. It seemed that the game was over not so long after we inserted our tokens. The screen moved so quickly between shots it was hard to tell where to aim or whether your shots were even successful. The game ended abruptly as if in the middle of a scene and presented the player with an option to insert a few more coins to continue the game where it left off. Is this actually fun for people?
I ask this, because the arcade did not appear to be very popular at all. The room was mostly empty and the only game that was being played was air hockey. I did visit more than one arcade recently and saw that the flashy arcade games did not appear as interesting to children as more classic games like bowling, basketball, laser tag, among others. If this is the case, there could be many reasons for this. For example, the first arcade I visited was in a movie theatre and the second in a bowling alley. Children at both locations clearly came for movies and bowling rather than to spend their coins rapidly clicking buttons. Another reason could be parents, in my experience, parents are not always willing to hand over wads of cash to allow their offspring to pseudo-gamble away their hard-earned money in a matter of minutes.
A few months ago, I visited a casino in Boston—aka a grown-up arcade. I feel that my experience there was very similar to the one in the children’s arcade. Flashy games line the walls and cover the floor. The lights were dimmed in a way that could fool one into believing that it could be anytime on any day of the year. Again, the games beckon you with their blinking lights and “cha-chings” and “pings.” Once you put some money into the slot machine you are in its grasp for mere seconds, before your game concludes and the machine resets like you were never there.
I’m not much a fan of these games, if you couldn’t already tell. I feel like I am always looking for something more personal and lasting. These games are too transactional for my taste. In the end, children will exchange their tickets for prizes and adults will cash out their receipts. It is almost as if the point of the games is not to enjoy oneself, but to simply come out the biggest winner. How much fun can genuinely be had in two minutes? It’s more like a spike of adrenaline than any sort of real happiness.
I don’t buy into the notion that kids these days are suffering at the hands of such cheap little games. If anything, I think there is a misperception about what people really want. What gets someone’s attention, is not the same thing that sustains someone’s attention. Perhaps, the lights and sounds will draw you in, but they may not keep you there for more than a few minutes. At the end of the day, I feel that we humans all want something a little more meaningful and lasting. I predict that even if virtual reality takes over all arcades across America, games that bring people together like bowling will persist for generations to come.
We all just want to enjoy ourselves and have a good time, Dear Reader, I hope you will find lasting happiness wherever you seek it.