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Walmart is selling $299 arcade games because we have a weird fetish for crappy graphics

September 27, 2018
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This holiday season, Walmart is selling $299 versions of stand-up Showbiz Pizza-style cabinet video games like Galaga, Asteroids, Centipede, Street Fighter II and Rampage. We would now like to pause and relate your thought process upon reading that news:

Of course you want to do this! Old-school video games are the best video games, no matter what your Doritos dust-fingered Clash Royale-obsessed 12-year-old nephew tells you while he’s listening to “Post Malone” on his AirBudPods and putting dog-face filters on his Snaps.

Modern video game technology can essentially let you stand in against Clayton Kershaw, explore the actual reaches of outer space and simulate a line of scrimmage so immersive and real that you can almost feel yourself getting a debilitating concussion. But plant a 1983-era thrift-shop video game in front of a Gamer of a Certain Age (read: the ages that think Post Malone is a slurry face-tattooed pudding cup, about 22-98), and watch his/her/mostly his eyes light up with nostalgic glee. And then watch Walmart lineup to happily snag some of his disposable income.

Before we go any further, we should note that Walmart’s $299 is a pretty good price! Old cabinet games are expensive, even bad ones that require you to merely mash the FIRE button over and over while indiscriminately pointing your spaceship in an up-ish direction. Each comes with multiple games: The Street Fighter II cabinet includes Street Fighter II Champion Edition, Super Street Fighter II and Super Street Fighter II Turbo,which are, interestingly, all different games. And the Rampage cabinet, for instance, also features Defender, Joust and Gauntlet. Which is nice and all, but your phone has 256GB of memory on it. They could have probably thrown a fifth or even sixth 173KB game on there, but whatever.

But still, $299 is $299, which brings up the question: What kind of person would put themselves through the thought process referenced above? The answer involves the same reason we middle-aged nerds shop for vinyl and spend $20 on notebooks: We thirst for expensive inconvenience. These games now, they’re simply too readily available. We have instant access to basically every song, movie, TV show or shitty ‘80s Star Wars non-canon cartoon ever produced, we can essentially stream Office reruns straight through until the hour of our deaths, all for the approximate monthly cost of a Qdoba burrito, and what do we do? Dig up dusty vinyl shops to spend $30 on albums that we have not only purchased already, repeatedly, but which we could listen to at ANY POINT EVER by talking to a cigarette-pack sized magic robot in our pants pockets. Play games we mastered in high school. Try to trick ourselves into reliving a life before mortgage refinancing and Twitter and Brett Kavanaugh.

Happily, video game companies keep plumbing the gold mine they’ve tapped reissuing things they released in 1994. Nintendo keeps releasing dropping versions of its NES and SNES. Sony’s reissuing the PlayStation One. If you’re a little handy with coding, you can build a Raspberry Pi, an unofficial and vaguely legal-ish way to play every game released for the NES, Atari, Commodore 64, Colecovision, TurboGrafx16 and N64 between 1974-2005; it’s definitely not easy and inexpensive to build at home. And I’ve played all of them. These blocky graphics and aged sounds make us feel like we did back when we had clear skin and unbroken dreams. It’s as though instant access and bottomless diversion are unsatisfying somehow.

That’s one reason, anyway. The other is that Fortnite is hard and Star Wars: Battlefront requires 13 fingers to appropriately use and video games, in general, have outpaced our withering skills. I haven’t beaten my 14-year-old at Mario Kart in two solid years. But I’ll be damned if that kid will beat me at Galaga.