In the almost surreal-like decade known as the 1980s, when hair styles were questionable and music tastes equally questionable, there were these wonderful places kids and teenagers frequented. There were few adults in the vicinity and those that were there were similar-minded and shared the love of one thing we all had:
It was the 1980s and arcades ruled the earth.
There's still a few arcades around today, but they're far from the hub of youth culture they once were. Kids today will never understand, and now I feel old for typing that.
In many cases, it didn't even have to be an actual "arcade." In my home town there was only one actual arcade, next to the skating rink (now a wasteland of entertainment as well) and the miniature golf course (ditto). Everywhere else were just areas of other establishments, such a pool hall or bowling area that would have a courted-off area for those wonderful machines that would suck up kids and teens' quarters as though they would stop working if we didn't feed them every thirty seconds. There was also a small arcade in the mall, but it was more skee-ball and pinball than actual machines. Come to think of it, there was a "kids zone" type of place near the center of town as well, but it had, maybe, ten machines at most as well as it was more focused on ball-pits and slides.
Almost every one of these places, whether it be an actual arcade or some half-assed attempt at one, there were mainstays. Ms. Pac Man was certainly one. Dig Dug usually another. Later years brought Rampage, Street Fighter II and countless upon countless beat-em-ups like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and X-Men that brought the ideas of playing with three other people and, I'm sure, a ton of revenue for the owners of those machines. During all this, though, there was one mainstay that drew me in every time. If I didn't feel like playing anything else, I would always go to this one game. Considering it was everywhere as well, I was never a moment without it:
All hail the bug-spaceship-blaster-thingies!
Galaga is as straightforward and simplistic of a game you could imagine. One joystick, you moved back and forth at the bottom of the screen and you had one fire button to send out little missiles to kill hordes of insect-like alien spaceships across an ever-perpetual background of stars in space. There was no story or point to it other than the sake of seeing how far you would get, it was simpler time for simpler deviations of the monotony of life. Well, life as a kid growing up in a small town, anyways. The most interesting thing there was television and the mall, so thank god places like the Arcade and Nintendo existed at all.
It was in these arcades where war was waged. Galaga was more than merely a game, it was a fight.
As your screen became more and more infested with these little insect aliens spacecrafts flying into your field of view, progressively getting faster and faster and in greater numbers, the more you start to realize this is a personal war. A battle of attrition. How dare you attempt to take over our planet and enslave our women to become your bearers of child-alien hybrids! How dare you kill our pop stars and replace them with robots, thus explaining how Michael Jackson began to become more and more white as the 1980s continued. How dare you mock my glorious white battleship with your feeble bug-alien ships. There's only one to three of me, good sirs, and a horde of you...I shall meet you on the battlefield of Space!
DIE YOU HIDEOUS BASTARDS!
In other words...you made up stories yourself. It was a time of imagination gained through limitations, something that's been dead for at least fifteen years now since the internet came into the world and shrunk, not only our planet of communication and access to minuscule degree, but our own desires to dream and think on our own.
Oh, damn. I'm going off on a tangent. Maybe those bug-aliens won, afterall.
Simple, clean, one joystick, one button...the purest definition of "pick up and play."
I still can't resist fighting them, though. The call to arms can't be ignored. The battle still continues every time I see a machine with Galaga on it, usually at some dive bar or, most recently, the laundromat. "Just one quarter to teach those bastards a lesson." I think. That eventually evolves into "just one more quarter to teach those bastards more lessons" and after twenty minutes and the dryer is done, I realize I'm a good three or four dollars in. I could have done another load of laundry with that cash...but those alien bastards wanted a fight and damnit, I need to bring it to them.
My first fight against that menace of atrocious women-enslavers wasn't at an arcade, but at a bar, as I recall. A bar not unlike the ones I still find a random Galaga or Ms. Pac Machine at these days. Yes, I was a child and I was in a bar. Don't look down on me. My parents, perhaps, but not me. I wasn't drinking or anything - at least that I remember so who knows. I also wasn't particularly great at videogames either at this time. I enjoyed the arcades and had an Atari 2600 at home, so this was a year or two before the original Nintendo Entertainment System started to give arcades the slow death they would eventually succumb to and started to give me that talent of controlling my thumbs and hands enough to be good at playing videogames in the first place
In the 80s, this is how videogames were advertised. Yes, you can barely see the screen, you had to read and use this thing called "imagination."
I can also recall that I had to get on a stool to play the damn thing, but outside of that I can't recall much else other than that it was an arcade cabinet that was always around and that I always needed to play it. So something special must have happened because I can no longer ignore that magical tune, I like to call it my Death March, that plays when you start up and the scream of dying aliens on the field of battle. Those aliens aren't going to kill themselves, you know, and in between studying, term papers, drinking or doing loads of laundry, I would always find it somehow. Who would have thought that mass genocide would be a good distraction from life?
I've played a lot of arcade games in my time. In actual arcades, mind you. I can objectively say that Galaga is not the best arcade game I've ever played, nor is it my favorite arcade game. It's simply the one that I have an odd sense of love and obligation to. It's nostalgia in twenty five cents and three lives, not to mention a ton of dead alien carcasses at my feet. I get lost in it, moreso than any other game I've played. It's hypnotizing. Cathartic. It's so simple it becomes an extension of myself in this strange dance of button taps and joystick waggles. Even recently I've picked it up, years without ever playing it (there's really no emulating the sense of an actual arcade cabinet with this game) and haven't missed a step, making it as far the third bonus level on just my first quarter and losing count of the levels shortly after that. Second nature to the end.
I have no goal in mind when doing it. I don't plan on getting a high score or reach the highest level. I simply must do when it's around. The call of battle, the squish-sounding explosions of my enemies and my Death March is too much to overcome. It's a mission, a rank I've earned and an assignment I signed up for many years ago, unknowingly drafted I suppose, standing on a footstool to peer into a videogame cabinet in a bar when I was six years old.
Galaga is still a part of pop-culture, such as this recent sweet-ass art by Seven's Heaven