Testing Games 5/7/22

Memories with Richard Bleil

Some of my readers will get this, some won’t.  Many years ago, oh say about forty or so, people did not have cell phones, computers, game consoles and the like that you young punk kids have today with your fancy shmancy electronics and gimmicks and GET OFF OF MY LAWN!

Oh, sorry, went off on a tangent there.

Somewhere between game night involving boards and cards and the advent of the personal home computers, which was actually a fairly narrow sliver of time, there were the video arcades.  Arcades had become a thing many decades prior and usually involved pinball machines, and perhaps a pool table or two.  Video arcades, on the other hand, were just like game consoles, but very large and only single games.  This is where Pac-Man, and The Mario Brothers and the like got their start.  Some of the more popular games lived on to become part of the home video game console, others, like my personal favorite The Red Barron disappeared into obscurity.  These games were all collected in rooms called “arcades”, not unlike the arcade rooms you’ll still find in some malls, along with pinball machines, maybe skee ball, crane games and a few more.  Back around 1980, these were usually separate buildings or spaces in strip malls.  Some were so fancy that they even had mini race tracks or some other outdoor entertainment. 

My friend Mitch and I rarely went to these things.  My mom used to call the machines “one-arm bandits”, meaning you could pump money into it all day long and get nothing in return.  Apparently, my mother didn’t find value in entertainment for the day.  Some of them would give tickets as you win, but the value of the prizes would be far less than the cost to accumulate enough tickets to actually buy something. 

A new arcade was opening in our town (a suburb of Dayton, Ohio), and we were bored.  We often spent time together, at least until we became seniors, and he found a girlfriend, but that’s another story altogether.  We weren’t quite sure when it was slated to be open, but we knew it would be soon.  Or recently.  Or something like that.  Well, we were bored, so we thought we’d check it out.

When we got there, there was nobody around, but the doors were propped open.  We thought it wasn’t open yet since we didn’t see any staff or customers but walked in to check.  We called out, but there was no answer.  The games were plugged in and lit up, though, so we thought, heck, let’s try them out.  Maybe it’s just a slow day.  And we started playing games.

Somebody finally came out from the back.  “What are you doing?” he asked.  “Playing games,” one of us answered.  “How?” he asked.

We didn’t get that.  As it turns out, the machines required tokens.  We never should have been able to start them with quarters, but heck, we had no problems.  We had stumbled on our first glitch for the arcade owner. 

I think this was a good thing.  When we realized that the arcade hadn’t actually opened yet, we apologized and turned to leave when he stopped us.  He realized that we found a problem, one that he could fix before the arcade actually opened rather than rushing after it was found while busy.  He gave us a handful of tokens and invited us to keep playing with the provision that we report any further problems we identified.

It was a beautiful example of everybody wins.  Technically, we were trespassing.  He had the right to call the cops (or shoot us), and they say that any press is good press, but instead he realized that we had done him a favor and kind of hired us to look for more trouble.  It was definitely a good time and is to this day one of my favorite high school memories.  Of course, the fact that we were polite, and apologetic might have had something to do with it as well.  If we became defensive and started trying to avoid blame, I’m sure it could have gone very differently indeed. 

There are advantages to having a bit of courage.  We didn’t do anything that could have damaged the arcade (at least not intentionally unless one of our quarters got stuck and took a game off-line, but that was not our intention), and had no ill will.  When we realized the error, we apologized and offered to leave.  It’s okay to make mistakes, but own them.  Sometimes the rewards are outstanding.


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