Because I work at a super cool place, one of my team’s side projects was to design and build an arcade cabinet shaped like one of the products my company is famous for. Once it was ready, we started using it to work out some of the kinks in the system we had set up to act as the software for our cabinet. It was a desktop computer and a large TV, so it was nothing complicated, but the version of windows was leftover from a computer two company operating system upgrades ago and the computer itself was something basically built out of salvaged parts the company was throwing away. Needless to say, it did not work very well. We had it mostly working for a while, aside from an occasional crash, but someone tried to fix that and it wound up getting bricked.
For a short period of time, though, the entire team competed at Galaga. Mortal Kombat was popular, but almost everyone played Galaga at some point or another. Or at least we tried to get everyone to play it. Whether or not they actually did it has yet to be determined because, after a few weeks, a couple of front-runners emerged.
Galaga isn’t a terribly complicated game. The levels always happen the same way, the mechanics work the same from game to game, and it is possible to win by simply memorizing the game’s patterns. If you know where everything is going to be and how long it will take your bullets to get there, you can easily get your score super high. If you know the trick to get two ships and are confident in your ability to kill everything before it can kill you, it gets even easier to get up there. Unfortunately, new levels kind of kill your ability to remember your way into victory, so your high score tends to increase slowly unless you’ve got amazing instincts. Sure, all the levels are different, but the patterns are similar enough that you shouldn’t be caught entirely unaware.
Myself and two coworkers competed for the top spots. One, Competitive, of them took it very seriously, and the other, Infrequent, only occasionally played. Competitive liked to get me to take turns with him, since our scores were close and we’d trade top spot every week. Infrequent would have been the clear leader if he’d played consistently since he almost doubled our scores the first time he played and then set the leaderboard solidly in the six-digit range. It took me a week to figure out how to get my score that high, but I eventually got there. A week later, Competitive did as well. Infrequent stopped playing at that point, so it was mostly just me and Competitive taking turns.
I have nothing against a healthy rivalry, but it was getting frustrating. Competitive wanted to play every day and he’d just walk up behind me, grab me by the shoulders, and say “How about some Galaga?” or brag about the fact that he held the high score. It got to the point where I didn’t even want to play anymore, despite the game’s comforting repetition and engaging simplicity. Galaga is a lot of fun and I can see why people loved arcade games, now more than ever, but it wasn’t worth the amount of disruption Competitive brought to my daily life, especially when he started wanting to play twice a day.
The entire dynamic felt weird to me. Both Infrequent and Competitive had played Galaga when it first came out. Competitive seemed to just enjoy having someone to play against while Infrequent seemed like he was disappointed in his stellar performance. The first time I played it was in a combo arcade at a pizza place, while my family waited for a seat. I was six or seven, I think. The next time I played it was at work last year. I pick up games quickly, especially ones that rely on repetitive mechanics, and I’m stubborn enough to put in the time it takes to get decent at something. If I’d kept at it, I’m certain I’d have gotten quite good at it.
These days, no one plays. The computer that once held the games was bricked and now the arcade cabinet sits cold and empty. Competitive stays in his office and I need no longer worried about being accosted by a man looking to feed his competitive spirit. I kind of miss it, though. The game wasn’t amazing and the controls kind of sucked, but it was simple, it was fun, and it was a puzzle just waiting for me to figure it out. I hope we get the cabinet fixed again soon. I’d like to get my high scores back.