I was born in 1986, so I came of gaming age just toward the tail end of the “Golden Age of Arcade Games“. Growing up in a large family means growing up with the hand-me-downs of the oldest generation of cousins who grew up with the hand-me-downs of the youngest of the previous generation, with new items sporadically entering circulation. It’s the circle of stuff.
I was am lucky. I have an older cousin who is a video game fanatic. My aunt would often take us to the local arcades that my brother and I weren’t old enough to go to on our own, and when my cousin got Super-NES, I got his old NES. With these experiences came an appreciation for the older games. Sure I loved Sonic the Hedgehog and Mortal Kombat, but while the chunky graphics of Super Mario Bros. for NES were totally outdated by the time the console found its way to my house, I still played the hell out of it every afternoon. Time passed and the NES was swapped out for a 64 and eventually I found myself in high school. I know, can’t you just see that as a montage at the beginning of a Pixar movie, a la Up?
When I was in high school there was a cafe that us no-good kids would hang out in that had an arcade attached to it. The games were all of a 70’s-80’s vintage and were mostly there for kitsch instead of play, part of the reason the place went out of business. I was familiar with most of the games, some of them, like Rampage and Paperboy, I had on my old NES at home. There was one game, however, that was a stranger to me. It didn’t have a joystick, but a trackball instead. It was called Missile Command.
From the first quarter I dropped in the machine, Missile Command became my favorite game in the whole arcade. The graphics looked straight out of War Games and it was absolutely drenched with Reagan-era Cold War paranoia. I heard that the enemy in the game was supposed to be an invading alien army. Yeah, right! An invading alien army with MiG-29’s and Sputniks? I think not! This was all out war with the Russians and I was controlling a Star Wars-esque defense system, the last hope for the land of the free. This game is about fighting aliens like M.A.S.H. is about the Korean War.
An invading alien army with MiG-29’s and Sputniks? I think not!
Another thing was happening at the time I was in high school also. While my parents had the Cold War to worry about, I had the war on terror. You know how I grew up with hand-me-downs from the previous generation? Well I guess I got their paranoia. Looking back, it was impossible not to be paranoid. The new was always talking about terrorists, the government was coming up with color coded threat levels, people with SUVs were funding terrorism. I was constantly being terrorized, not by terrorism, but by everyone else who couldn’t shut up about it. Looking back, the one place where I wasn’t constantly bombarded by terrorism was the arcade, where I chose to play out the doomsday scenario of my parent’s war of paranoia. At least that war was over, and at least with Missile Command, I was in control. It’s funny the things we do for comfort, and it’s also funny that I never saw the irony in my actions until just now. I guess it was just a really good game.