The Nostalgia Cabinet

Even today, an arcade system can really capture the eye.

Andrew Johnston

--

Photo by Ben Neale on Unsplash

Was that a Galaga cabinet?

I did an earnest double take as I crossed in front of the pizza place. It was my usual joint, one I patronized at least once a week and passed by so frequently that it blurred neatly into its surroundings. Any other day, I’d only have acknowledged it as a minor landmark on my walk home, barely perceived over the pages of my latest library acquisition.

It was the new addition that wrenched my eyes away from the text. Sure enough — Galaga, the arcade classic in its harshly radiant glory.

There was a time when any pizzeria worth its salt contained a collection of arcade cabinets…he says, as though he had any personal recollection of that age. It’s true — I didn’t misspend any of my youth or my quarters in a makeshift pizza joint arcade. However, I do remember when arcade machines were a regular fixture inside buildings and business of various types, and I especially remember that pizza place in Colorado with the broken cocktail cabinet, the one I insisted on using as my table at every visit.

Galaga also happens to be one of my personal favorites among the arcade classics — a triumph of design simplicity, demanding equal parts tactical awareness and skill. I am not the lord of Galaga, I’m sorry to say, but I have some feel for the game. Perhaps that’s why I noticed the machine: It called to me.

Even today, the arcade cabinet has a special kind of appeal — this I observed first-hand on my next visit. People pause as they walk by to size the thing up, eyes filled with this spark of wonderment that’s some distant echo of what another generation saw when these things were new. Children flock to them and pretend to play; strangers pull in a little bit closer in hopes of seeing some new record broken. For most, though, the cabinet is an icon of nostalgia best observed from a comfortable distance with beer and slice in hand.

Where’s the fun in sitting idly by, though? It is an interactive device, after all — and merely a quarter a play, easily obtained in change after ordering the week’s slice. The coin makes that satisfying mechanical dink as it passes through the slot, a sound with an arcane character that lets it produce…

--

--

Andrew Johnston

Writer of fiction, documentarian, currently stranded in Asia. Learn more at www.findthefabulist.com.