Movies were an obsession of mine as a kid and Grandma made sure I got to see as many as possible. My brother and I would spend every weekend we could with Granny and she would spend every dime she could taking us to movie theaters, sometimes at the mall. Living in Missouri, there were two cities within driving distance of Grandma’s that had malls: Jefferson City and Columbia. Other things, beyond the movie theaters, found at the malls back then: Disc Jockey and Sam Goodey music stores, Sbarro’s pizza, an elderly lady who wore so much makeup her face was orange, and video game arcades.
We would check out the arcades when Grandma took us to the movies and often enough she’d give us the moolah to exchange in there for prize tickets. Yes, most of my time in the arcade was spent playing Skee Ball to earn tickets which we then turned in for prizes such as little hands on strings, all made of goo, and perfectly designed for slapping against car windows or your sibling’s face. I’m sure Grandma was real proud of our ability to turn five bucks into a toy also found in the quarter gumball machines.
By going into the arcades to play Skee Ball, I’d also see what the latest video games were, and on occasion would “waste” precious ticket money on one or two. The newer games would also be more of a “look and don’t play” relationship due to their pricey cost in tokens. However, depending on how my tokens got spent, whether just Skee Ball, or I risked some on a game, the classic arcade machines generally got at least one token out of me. Games such as Pac-Man and Space Invaders would usually cost a token or two less than the newer games.
Eventually the arcade in the Columbia mall went out of business and was converted into an eyeglass store. The movie theater there also closed up shop, being added on to and converted into a large chain bookstore. I couldn’t complain about a giant book store being built and on top of that the theater closed because a new one was being built. The new Columbia theater was pretty impressive and in the upstairs portion of it they created a little corner with an arcade!
Arcades and theaters go together well, but theater hot dogs and popcorn weren’t a very good replacement for the mall food court. The problem with most movie theater arcades I have been to is that they have the arcade cabinets that they have and they never get new ones. The new Columbia theater arcade was not so much a place I’d go to play video games, but it did become the place to go to for air hockey. I never lose at air hockey, even if I lose. There were a few occasions that I remember traveling to the Columbia and Jefferson City malls with friends just for video games though. We would team up to beat gun games such as Time Crisis or Area 51. There was some time spent trying to beat a Gauntlet game as well. I guess I missed the hey-day when arcades were really popular though. Maybe I missed being born in the right country altogether, as I’m betting the US never reached the heights of the Japanese market.
The old theater in the town of Fulton, Missouri was another place Grandma would take us to watch moving picture shows. I have a lot of memories of that place because it had a special atmosphere with VHS rental store inside and popcorn sold in long tubes. Actually, if you rented enough movies they gave you the popcorn for free. The Fulton theater had a small “arcade” area, but I can only remember one of the games I played there: Time Traveler. You would remember this Sega released video game if you had come across it as a kid as well. It held all the same mysterious and wonder of the genie booth from the Tom Hanks movie Big. Why? Because the game was played out through 3D holograms! Even if I was not trying to play the game, I would stand there and watch others, because the little cowboy character was a magical being, as he stood, looking like a real dude (in a movie sort of way) and being controlled. I was terrible at the game, but the technology was worth the price every time just to watch.
As I write this I live in a Southern California tourist town and I often daydream about owning an arcade here. I think it would be interesting to incorporate an old school arcade with the popularity of home consoles. You would have the arcade cabinet games, but also areas with televisions and the Internet so that online video gaming tournaments could be held with the latest Call Of Duty or other fad.