Author’s Note: People’s names and the locations in this story have been changed to protect the innocent. Also, I’m relying upon my memory of events from nearly 25 years ago, so God help us all. Enjoy.
I miss the days of hanging out at video game arcades because there was a certain joy I experienced walking into an arcade and hearing all of those electronic beeps coming from the games. A certain rush hit your body as you dropped a quarter or a token into an arcade game. The game started, and you were in your own little world. Those were the days.
A majority of my pre-teen and teenage years were spent in arcades, and one of my favorite spots was the arcade at the Birchland Swim Club, which was twenty miles from my hometown of New Ravenwood, Ohio. Birchland was a nice place to spend your summer as a family because they had two giant swimming pools, three diving boards, a water slide, tennis courts, volleyball courts, mini-golf, frisbee golf, basketball courts, and a giant playground. I didn’t need all of that stuff due to the fact that all I cared about at the time, circa 1982 or 1983, was video games.
The arcade at Birchland was a wooden red barn with a concrete floor that had about thirteen or fourteen arcade games, two pinball machines, a pool table, a foosball table, a jukebox, and two picnic tables. I would always stop by the arcade when he went to Birchland, and I enjoyed watching the older kids do their best to get the high scores on Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Track & Field, Defender, and Zaxxon. There were a few kids at the arcade who would always have a crowd around them when they played video games because they were really good and some of us wanted to see them beat their own high scores.
I wanted to be one of those video game players who had a crowd. At the time, I didn’t have a game that I was great at to get a crowd. I was one of those players who would play a game and my crowd would be two younger kids telling me what I was doing wrong strategy-wise. They’d get pissed when I messed up, and walk away.
Things took a turn for the better circa 1985 when Birchland took out some unpopular games and brought in some new games to the arcade. The first was the stand-up version of Atari’s Star Wars arcade game. I loved all of the Star Wars movies and I owned a bunch of action figures and toys, so this game was right up my alley. I don’t remember getting the high score on Star Wars, but I always did well. As I got better, a small crowd would watch me play. I was on my way to Birchland stardom.
It might have been the summer of ’86 when I was playing Star Wars and this fat kid with a buzz cut and his blond little buddy with a mullet walked into the arcade. They watched me play Star Wars and I was not having a good game for some reason. I don’t remember what happened, but Fat Kid put a quarter on the game to show he had the next game, and that didn’t sit well with me. Some kids would put a quarter on the game while I was in my zone playing a video game and it didn’t bother me at all. Whatever Fat Kid did that day was something that took me to the temporary dark side. Fat Kid and Mullet Boy took off while I was playing Star Wars. My game ended quickly and I was totally pissed. I knew I could do better and get the high score, so I took Fat Kid’s quarter and played another game.
Fat Kid and Mullet Boy returned from their game of grab ass or whatever it was they were doing (which was, for some reason, more important than waiting for their turn to play Star Wars). It didn’t take Fat Kid long to realize his quarter was missing. He asked me what happened and I told him some kid walked up to the game and swiped his quarter. For a brief moment the Fat Kid was on the verge of getting a posse together and getting the mystery quarter thief. He looked at my screen closely and the gears were turning in his big ol’ head. One and one became two and Fat Kid blamed me for taking his quarter. I denied it, so Fat Kid and Mullet Boy walked away in anger.
That was the only time I committed a lowly act in an arcade. It’s hard to explain why we do dumb things as pre-teens and teenagers, but taking Fat Kid’s quarter that day seemed like a good idea at the time.
I ran into Fat Kid and Mullet Boy and few more times after the quarter incident at the Birchland arcade. There was some unspoken things between us because I pulled a major dick move, but for some reason all was forgiven. We started hanging out at the arcade. Sometimes I’d go head-to-head against Fat Kid or Mullet Boy at Track & Field or they would watch me play Mat Mania. All arcade players want to have their game, and Mat Mania was my game.
Not only did I love arcade games, but I was a huge pro wrestling fan. Combining the two was a brilliant move. Thank you, Taito, for giving us a 1985 masterpiece.
The objective to Mat Mania was pretty simple. You were a fan favorite, or “face” as they say in the industry, and it was your goal to win the heavyweight championship. You had to defeat the likes of Insane Warrior, Karate Fighter, Coco Savage, and The Piranha to get a shot at Golden Hulk’s title. When you won the belt, you became champ and had to defend your title against the aforementioned goons. It was a great game, and I played it every time I went to Birchland.
My Mat Mania dedication earned me the high score and a crowd that included Fat Kid and Mullet Boy. I don’t remember my high score, but I recall one day when I was in the zone and beat my own high score, which was awesome. Fat Kid and Mullet Boy were thrilled. There is nothing like having a high score on a video game and having people impressed with that feat. The reason I earned a high score was due to my strategy. I would pummel my opponent with punches and then get them close to one of the corners of the ring. I would deliver two piledrivers and send them into the ropes for clotheslines or kicks. Once they were down, I would climb the turnbuckles in the corner and do three knee drops. It was money in the bank.
Fat Kid started playing Mat Mania after I earned the high, but he struggled to find a strategy. I talked him through some matches and he got better at the game. My high score was still up and there was a three-day period when I didn’t visit the Birchland arcade. When I arrived back at the arcade, Fat Kid was smiling and told me that he had crushed my high score. I was dumbfounded. His high score was impressive, which meant I had to work hard to reclaim my title.
I didn’t beat Fat Kid’s high score. My attempts came close at times, but I couldn’t figure out how Fat Kid destroyed my high score. When I asked him about his strategy he shrugged it off as luck. I never beat his high score and as the years went by, I didn’t hang out at Birchland that much and lost touch with Fat Kid and Mullet Boy. There was one weekend when I decided to stop by Birchland, but the arcade wasn’t the same. It was pretty much empty and there was only a handful of games. Mat Mania was gone and I didn’t see Fat Kid or Mullet Boy hanging out anywhere at Birchland. I didn’t go back to Birchland after that visit. It wasn’t about the arcade, but about the fact that I was getting older and was working most of the summer.
The arcade was a great place to hang out when I was younger. There are arcade places today, but it’s not the same. I have not come across a Mat Mania arcade game since the Birchland days. The whereabouts of Mullet Boy are a mystery to me, but I did see Fat Kid in a department store about six years ago. He was older and didn’t look all that different. I made a half-hearted wave in his direction. He looked at me for a moment and gave me a half-hearted nod as a response.
Four or five years ago I started writing a novel based on my arcade experiences. I’ve thought about turning it into a graphic novel, but I would need an artist for that project. Any takers? I’ve even debated posting some pages of the novel to the THN site. Who knows what will happen, but it’s a pretty damn good story.
TonyDoug Wright is the owner and head writer at Champion City Comics, a webcomics community, and at The Lost Soul of Rock and Roll, a weekday rock music blog. He is also a proud father and is married to the coolest and most beautiful girl on the planet.