420: Let’s Get High

Let’s get high, as in a high score. Yes, this is a not so subtle homage to 420 and all you potheads out there. Keep flying that kite while some of us follow another type of high. The high scores on old arcade machines.

The phrase is almost nonsensical in today’s gaming culture but there was a time where people spent endless time and quarters statued in front of a machine, jerking their arms side to side, perfecting a craft, be it Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Asteroids, Millipede, etc. The 80s definition of gamer! Men and women dedicating their time to become the best at something, even something as benign as a singular video game. 2007s The King of Kong: Fist Full of Quarters was an entertaining depiction of yesterday’s gaming culture and the drive and sometimes, addiction to get that high.

There was something so gratifying of entering your 3 letter name at the end and seeing where you stacked up against the rest on the machine. Top 100 was ordinary, top 50 was notable, top 10 was elite and #1 made you a God among mere mortals. RAY was entered many times in arcades across the tri-state area. I was one of the mortals having just a few coins in the bank for recreational use but often an observer to the hardcore stuff. Dudes going at it for hours upon hours, blowing every last quarter to get their name to the top of the list.

Now, this isn’t a nostalgic piece on yesteryear. I’m not the old guy reliving the glory days of his youth and pontificating about how the world has changed for the worse. Fuck that. I’m a grown ass man who gets laid on a regular basis, flies around the world, eats at fine restaurants, and streams my favorite shows on my iPhone. Fuck my acne-filled, forced celibacy, emotionally unstable days of yesteryear. And while this is not a nostalgic fluffy piece normally found on IGN or alike, nor is it a requiem piece.

High chasers are for the most part extinct but there is something to be understood here. Games dependent on scores were usually continuous games with rudimentary controls and gameplay. Whoa! Before your head pops off like a bottle of bubbly at a cheap bachelorette party, let me add that these games took incredible skill and focus to master. The kind of skill I was never privy to. It was a craft that needed to be worked on. With the lack of technological advancements, games were primitive in nature but complex in execution much like the game of golf. One player, one stick, one ball, one hole, get a high score.

Today’s gaming is focused on beating it, completing it, ending it. It’s typically a narrative with a beginning and an end and not the continuous play of the past. This kind of gaming doesn’t lend well to games based on getting high scores. In today’s gaming good gameplay is rewarded with achievements or unlockable content, a good alternative but not one without pitfalls.

With the death of arcade and without a desire to top high scores, gaming has become more and more solipsistic. Revolving around ones personal achievements and further isolating gamers. Sure there’s online gaming and Twitch but does live online play and streaming provide comfort or does it exacerbate the problem? You tell me. Is there a way to get the best of both worlds?

Alas, high score games have made a huge comeback in the mobile gaming market. Millions of people are playing Candy Crush, Angry Birds, Temple Run, PAC-MAN 256, hell, still playing Tetris. Children and women playing games now more than ever. Sure, gaming is possibly lonelier today than it’s ever been but this drug is as addictive as it once was.

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