Child of the 80s: the arcade / by Deborah Clague

Last year while staying overnight in downtown Regina, I noticed an arcade that could have timewarped straight from 1986. Named "Wonderland", I imagined a dimly lit room filled with cigarette haze and an electronic orchestra of blips and bleeps; a place where acid-wash jeans and Madonna's True Blue album never went out of style. Time unfortunately prohibited me from entering this nostalgic nirvana, but an article in this week's "Bridges " publication reminded me that I need to make the trip next time I'm in town.

Between the ages of 9 - 12, my father would take me to our local arcade every other Thursday (also known to him as "payday"). The arcade was situated in a mall with anchor tenants K-Mart, SAAN, and Shoppers Drug Mart, all now long gone. There was also an indoor miniature golf. This is usually where our Thursday evenings started. Miniature golf is the great equalizer in the sports world. It takes precision, athletic ability and enough knowledge on the inner workings of a windmill to constitute being an honourary Dutchman. In this regard, I am ontzagwekkend. There was no real theme to this mini-golf course, but while putting those 18 holes I vividly remember optical illusion and M.C. Escher posters hanging on the walls. Despite seeing them every other week, I always thought they were really cool. Still do. 

But the arcade was the highlight of these evenings. I wasn't really into Pacman or Street Fighter or any of that...I was old school before old school was a thing - I LOVE pinball. Whereas traditional video games require good hand-eye coordination, pinball requires good hand-eye coordination AND enough knowledge on the inner workings of a mechanical flipper to constitute being a wizard (according to The Who at least). I haven't played in years, but as a child I was halfway to being the Harry Potter of pinball. My father and I even got our names into the high score records of the badboy pictured below: Funhouse! 

Yup, top 3 of all time at the former south Winnipeg arcade of which I can't remember the name. This shit should be on my resumé. 

Funhouse was colourful, fast-paced and more than a little creepy. That floating head thing would actually start talking to you as you played the game. Taunting. Laughing. It was the stuff of nightmares giving the player the impression that they were conquering an animatronic devil. Unlike traditional video games, you can't pause a pinball machine. You either sweat the pressure out or lose your hard-earned allowance. I remember a few times initiating the multi-ball feature and it nearly left me with vertigo. 

Around this time, home videogame consoles became quite popular and my father bought me a Sega Master System. This signalled the end of our arcade jaunts. I soon became more interested in exploring the digital worlds of Wonderboy and Alex Kidd, etc. As an adult though, the traditional pinball machine still owns a piece of my heart. It brings back good memories of a specific time and place of which I'm sure a lot of people can relate. The 80s - and the 80s style arcade - were pretty damn ontzagwekkend.

The next time I'm in Regina, I am heading to Wonderland with a pocketful of quarters.