Remember when you didn’t have a PC or a console or even a phone to play your video games on and you had to go to the local gaming parlour which housed all your favourite games, from Street Fighter to Contra? Those days are no more, but that doesn’t mean that such parlours have been wiped off the face of the Earth. I recently went on a holiday to Nainital, a hill-station in North India and while I was walking beside its famed lake, I spotted two gaming parlours side-by-side. There were quite a few children outside it and so I thought that I’d go take a look at it. I peeped inside and saw that there were no computers or large flat-screen T.V.s connected to modern consoles, but large, hunky machines that could play one game each. At the counter, there was a man distributing tokens to the children. This sight and that wonderful noise of a dozen games running together at full volume brought back some really treasured memories.
I was having a really bad case of nostalgia. The place had all my favourite games – the aforementioned ones, Bomberman, Mario, Tanks, Excite Bike, Pacman and Road Fighter. I really don’t know how many of you will recognize these names, but to those of you who do, I’m sure they hold a special place in your heart. A long time ago, my tutor, a very nice, old man by the name of Mr. Edmunds told me that since I’d done well in a test, he would give me a treat. So after our class was over, we left my house and started walking towards the car service centre. I was quite confused by this because I had no clue as to what we were going to do there. Then, he suddenly took a sharp right turn and entered a small, dark room barely visible from the brightly-lit road. My eyes took a while adapting to the darker environment, but when they finally did so, I was pleasantly surprised. All around me were the large, gaming machines I just spoke of and without me even realizing it, Mr. Edmunds had slipped about 20 tokens into my small palms. My eyes lit up and I darted from one machine to another. I had lived in this locality for all my life and I was astounded to discover that I had never heard of this place.
Sadly, we were the only people there and it kind of puzzled me how such a gem of a place could go unnoticed by the numerous children that lived in the surrounding area. I continued going to the place every week, sometimes by myself and sometimes with my cousin; we both thoroughly enjoyed our one and a half hour stints there. However, every single time I went there, it was empty with the exception of myself, sometimes my cousin and of course, the owner (I can’t recall his name for some reason). The owner was an old man who was a friend of Mr. Edmunds and he was very kind and generous; often he would give me tokens without me having to pay for them. One day, I decided that my curiosity had to be satisfied and so I went up to the owner and asked him why this place didn’t see more people. He began by explaining to me that a long time ago, he had twenty or so gaming parlours spewed around the city and each of them was extremely popular; children flooded into these parlours all day; they would wait outside the parlours before opening time and stay till after closing time. However, as computers got more and more powerful and consoles more popular, they started replacing these machines and people started staying at home and gaming. Soon, his twenty parlours, reduced to fifteen, then to ten, then five, until this was the only one left. He used a a very appropriate simile that I didn’t really understand at the time, but I can’t seem to get it out of my head now – “Gaming is like fashion. What seems to be popular this year, may be considered to be outdated the next year. And there will always be more takers for the newer, more popular fashion. Yes, there will always be some people who will continue to sport “last year’s fashion”, but those are only a handful. And a handful isn’t enough to keep it popular.”
He was at the ripe old age of 72 at the time and told me that he would keep the place open for a few more months and then join his children in Australia. This news broke my heart. Even though I had a much more powerful computer at home with the latest games, I decided to do all my gaming for the next few months at the parlour. I even took some friends, family and Mr. Edmunds along sometimes to get the place to fill up a little more. When, the owner finally pulled down the shutter on the parlour and left the country, I wasn’t just saying goodbye to him, but also to those precious games. Back to the present, seeing those two gaming parlours doing well, attracting the children of the area warmed my heart. I hadn’t played any of those games since the parlour near my house closed down and I finally had a chance to do it again. Describing the feeling of sitting on those wooden chairs and grabbing hold of those knob-like joysticks, pulling off impressive combos in Street Fighter is very difficult to express. It’s like when a long time car enthusiast sees a grand old car that he once owned many decades ago and then gets a chance to drive it. That euphoria, that excitement, those memories make you forget all your worries and just enjoy the moment.