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[Comments] (3) : I have been paying only fragmented attention to the ongoing saga of Peter Hirschberg's awesome retro arcade as it garners more and more coverage. I don't have much interest in retro arcades for the same reason I'm not really interested in emulating the ZX Spectrum: there weren't any where I was growing up.[0] There was Galaga and Rush 'N' Attack at the Safeway, and later on Smash TV at the convenience store near the middle school, and... nothing else! In my day we made our own fun. Using cartridge-based home consoles.

Nonetheless, I really admire Hirschberg's attention to period detail, and so this part of a recent interview caught my eye:

I insist that people use the quarters I provide. The change machines are set to dispense quarters for free. My rules are "don't use your own money" and "don't take my money home with you."

Obviously there are many reasons why you might make those rules. But you'd really want to make those rules if you had gone through a Scrooge McDuck-like bin full of quarters looking for the ones minted before 1985, so that your restored arcade games would feast only on period coins. Then those rules would be the only thing protecting your machines from cross-contamination with quarters from the future, where arcade games are played with "drum kits and full-scale Army tanks" and you pay for them with a magstripe card.

Would this be the most awesome real-life Easter egg ever? My sources say yes. Ordinarily I would have been content to just post this idea as speculation. But Andy Baio's recent forays into investigative journalism have held me to a higher standard. Was it really that hard to just email the dude and ask? As it turns out, no. He does use a spam whitelist, and my client obediently treated the whitelist challenge message as spam, but that's nothing I haven't dealt with before. I was a journalist! Advantage: blogosphere!

Well, it turns out he doesn't use period quarters:

You're partially right. I use quarters instead of tokens because tokens didn't come along until the mid-eighties. But no, I don't use vintage quarters. That would be over the top. Even for me. :-)

I'm not one to say people should do things they think are over the top for them, but... let's look at this in terms of ritual. The original arcades were magic circles: places circumscribed from everyday life where you could perform a sacrifice and achieve the experience of another world. Hirschberg's arcade is a nested magic circle: a place circumscribed from everyday life where the otherworldly experience is you get to visit the sort of magic circle they don't have anymore.

Inside this nested magic circle, the ritual invocation comes without cost: this is why people in comments sections often compare Hirschberg's arcade to heaven. But it's still a real invocation, and since the object of the sacrifice (a quarter) is reusable and durable, the most powerful invocation would come from an object that had been used in similar invocations back when there were real magic circles dotting the landscape. Similar to the logic that sends people after the Holy Grail even when wine transubstantiates just fine in a Dixie Cup. The odds are good that any given pre-1985 quarter has been through an arcade machine at least once, so for maximum ritual impact, period quarters are actually one of the more important details. Advantage: making-stuff-up-sphere!

In case you're wondering, the real reasons behind the quarter rules are about what you'd expect:

The reason I don't have people use their own quarters is because I have to be careful that I do not make money with my gameroom, lest it be labeled a 'commercial' venture, and not covered under my homeowner's policy. Not to mention I want people to be able to play without paying.

Similarly, I don't want people taking my quarters home with them because it's real money.

[0] Last time I was in CA I asked Danny O'Brien how were the games on the Spectrum, and he thought a second and said, "a bit crap really." Yes! Best Commonwealth English phrase ever! I almost wish more things sucked so that Brits would say "a bit crap really" more! But then I remember the lessons of Jet Set Willy.

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Comments:

Posted by Andy Baio at Thu Feb 07 2008 02:11

Hey, you're a journalist! See, wasn't that easy? I wish everyone would do that, no longer content to just sit back and wonder, taking the extra ten minutes to fire off an email to scratch their personal itch and then publish the results.

Anyway, I'm making it a personal mission to visit Hirschberg's mecca before I die. (Though, if there's a heaven, it's probably where I'll end up anyway.)

Posted by Jason Scott at Thu Feb 07 2008 04:28

I was impressed in his old arcade that he had gone through the trouble of having a raised back area with a little wooden fence; this was a mainstay of mall-based arcades.

When going through the photos of stuff he was adding, I saw he had a payphone (working), but it had a late 1990s price panel (the plastic card above where the phone hangs up). I sent him a link to an ebay auction for a late 70s/early 80s one that was $0.10 instead of $0.25 and he was very appreciative.

Now that you put the "period" bug in him, I give it 50-50 he goes for it.

Posted by Leonard at Thu Feb 07 2008 08:42

Oh, I forgot about Gyruss and Golden Axe at the Bear Mountain Pizza, but I rarely got to go there.


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