I grew up on arcades, video games and pinball machines. I always played sports too, but there was just something about going to the roller rink or Circus Pizza for a birthday party or any other location that had games. Something about video games just clicked with me. I was always good at them and I really liked doing things I was good at. We would ride our bikes for miles to go to the local store or bowling alley and play games. Back then if you had $5 you were a virtual millionaire. We would pump quarter after quarter into whatever game was there. I have fond memories of Shinobi at the local Tom Thumb and games like; Gladiator, Street Fighter I, Ninja Warriors, Toobin and Cyclone pinball at the local bowling alley in the late 80's. Elevator Action and Galaga are still a couple of my favorites to this day. Our family went to Floria every year and I remember finding the arcades in the malls there and at the hotels. Disney's Contemporary Resort had the most amazing arcade I had ever seen in 1987. It had a shooting gallery and all sorts of games I had never seen before like Super Punchout. The local attraction, The Mystery Fun House also had a huge selection of games and was like heaven on Earth for a kid like me with a fun house, mini golf, lazer tag and huge arcade. We would also stay at the Disney resort, Dixie Landings (now Port Orleans), and my brother and I would spend more time in the arcade than in the pool. Mad Dog McCree, Sunset Riders and the numerous pinball machines they had saw plenty of quarters from us. It couldn't have been much better back in those days.
In the early 90's Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat came on the scene and I was hooked on the competitive gameplay. Something about beating a live opponent standing right next to you was so fulfilling. We would go after school to the local competitive spot and play live players for as long as we could. I still remember getting 56 wins in a row on Mortal Kombat II against live opponents. I didn't have my license as soon as my friends did, so I would go wherever they would drive. The Mall of America opened right around the time the original Mortal Kombat came out and I remember going to the mall the first 5 days it was open and doing almost nothing but playing games. It was our life. In fact, I remember the day I finally got my driver's license. I drove to Circus Pizza in Maplewood Mall and played Indiana Jones pinball...what a rebel I was.
After high school I went to the University of Minnesota and their Coffman Union Gameroom was amazing! All the latest games and pinball machines. Street Fighter II, Primal Rage, Killer Instinct and Mortal Kombat competition was off the charts. It was the place to be if you were any good. I had gone there a couple times on a Friday night when I was still in high school, and it was so intimidating waiting to play all the college kids, but now I was one of them. I spent more time in that game room than I did in class. It was this time that I got heavily into pinball machines as well. They had them all in the mid to late 90's. I spent hours on Star Trek: The Next Generation, World Cup Soccer and many more. They had about 15 pins and 20 classic to current arcade games. When I wasn't there playing, there were two pool halls near my house that had pins and games too. Once again, STTNG, WCS, Who Dunnit, The Shadow, Big Hurt, Funhouse. In addition to the University and the pool halls, the Mall of America still had 4 arcades as well, loaded with games and players. Action was to be had everywhere and times were good!
Fast forward to today. The Mall of America now has a single arcade that is virtually void of any real arcade game and no pinball machines. Coffman Union is a shell of it's former self, down to a couple broken down pins and games. The pool halls that were near me are both closed. Circus Pizza is long gone, now part of a department store. The Mystery Fun House in Florida is now a real estate company building and the hotel we used to stay at alot down the road has been torn down. The bowling alley I grew up in is now a doctor's office and the Tom Thumb is an Indian restaurant. All I have left is my memories, but they are great memories. I have been keeping the dream alive though. I have purchased several games from my youth such as; STTNG pinball, Galaga, Toobin', MK3, KI2 and more to setup my own gameroom in my basement...which is moving forward slowly but surely. I have networked and found several like minded people who loves arcade games and pins and met many new friends. I have found new places to play pinball like; SS Billiards, Blainbrook Bowl, Mortimer's and Spring Lake Amusement. And I have gotten heavily into competitive pinball tournaments and have been very successful at it, winning dozens of them in the last few years. It will be interesting to look back on this story years down the road and see how things continue to change. Location play is still a very much dying breed, so who knows how long any of this new fun will last, but I am going to enjoy it while I can every step of the way.