Today’s Readings: Before the Crash: Early video game history (Wolf), Game Analysis: Centipede (Rouse III), Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade (Kocurek)
Today’s game(s): Hang-On, Super Smash Bros.
For this week’s play journal, I went out with friends and colleagues to Oddwood Ales, a brewery near my apartment with both classic arcade cabinets and older gaming consoles set up at communal stations. There were two significant differences between Oddwood and the arcades we studied this week: all games were free to play (with the expectation that a user would purchase either beer or food), and this was not a space specifically intended for children (though, admittedly, there were children present.) Though there is much to speak of regarding how these aspects (as well as the simultaneous broadcast of the UT-LSU football game) changed our perception of the experience, there are also a number of interesting similarities and comparisons to be made with the readings for this week.
Growing up, I occasionally played with arcade machines- the machines at a pizza parlor during a classmate’s birthday party, a retro cabinet in the basement of a family friend, maybe even once at a bowling alley. For all of these experiences, the arcade cabinet I have undoubtedly dedicated the most time and effort to has been Hang-On, released by Sega in 1985. With a set of motorcycle handlebars as controller (see above), the player tilts and pulls back on the throttle to propel their racer around a track filled with virtual opponents. The objective of the game is to pass as many checkpoints as possible, with the game ending when the player runs out of time. Each checkpoint adds more time to the in-game clock, allowing for a greater duration of play before an automatic game over. Hang-On meets many of the same requirements Rouse elucidates in his analysis of Centipede as aspects of a ‘classic’ arcade game. Most notably, there is no story to speak of (465), the game-play is simple (465), the “player can play the game forever” (463) (given they are able to keep passing checkpoints, which I am unable to do for more than two minutes at a time- it “[does] not last very long” (461).) Most importantly, the ability to achieve a high score comes not only with “bragging rights” (464), but monetary compensation; any player who makes it on the high score board is awarded a $50 bar tab (see below).
There is something to be said about tying performance in a racing game to free beer. Kocurek addresses the concept of the modern barcade at length in her book, noting that on particular Brooklyn bar is “a children’s play space reimagined as an adult entertainment venue. It is also a place where the history of the video game machine folds back into itself—here, the video game returns to its origins as a bar amusement” (Chapter 6). The aura of the arcade is partially detached from the concept of being family-friendly in this moment, and yet not completely separated from the white, male bias that Kocurek highlights in arcade games. Though craft beer as an industry is continually growing more diverse and central organizations have continually pushed the fact that it is unprofitable and morally bankrupt to “simply sell beer to young white dudes with beards,” the same boy’s club narrative still persists within the industry. A recent example of this boiling over was when Chris Furnari, the editor of perhaps the most trafficked and respected beer blog for nearly nine years, made misogynist remarks casually in his podcast. Furnary asserted that a top list of beer Instagram influencers “[went] to shit” when it transitioned from male beer authors to “chicks who basically take pictures of themselves in like low-cut tops with beer.” Just as there is the presumption that only men can understand and be skilled at classic games, the corollary that women “fake” their interest in and understanding of craft beer seems to run parallel. Though Furnari has since resigned, the Venn diagram of who certain hardcore gamers think they are and who certain craft beer geeks seem to think they are appears to have a great deal of overlap.
A final concept worth considering is the fact that Oddwood Ales does not contain a single game made after the year 2000. This makes it a prime example of what Kocurek calls the “nostalgic arcade”, which “seems to express a longing for an adolescent homosocial space” (Chapter 6). Again, a craft brewery seems the perfect fit for a drinker invested in the technomasculine: drink beer with other boys in the bar while you compete against them in games you used to play.
For all of this, I do not mean to assert that either craft beer or classic arcade games are closed to women, people of color, or other historically marginalized identities. Much like Kocurek’s emphasis on “the inclusion of men and boys” instead of “women’s exclusion from gaming culture,” (Introduction) this critique of the intersection of craft beer and gaming can come off looking hopeless at the end. Yet, recent movements such as #IAmCraftBeer prove that while there are horrible people in the subculture, this narrative is potentially on its way out. One can only hope.