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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Feature: Arcade ethics

Say the word 'arcade' to anyone, and most likely the first thought that forms is similar to the image above: a dark, dusty room with dark, dusty old games played by dark, dusty people. The arcade is one of the oldest industries in gaming, and over many years has fallen out of favor for many reasons, with two topping the list. One, home gaming. Consoles, PCs and smartphones were convenient, cheaper with less risk involved, and players at home would not have to deal with the second reason: the negative connotation associated with arcade gaming.

For decades the general public have associated arcade gaming with delinquents, gang fights, smoking and many other social ills. Before discovering Taiko no Tatsujin and other delights offered by the current day coin-ops, I was also of the same opinion. From what I've found in Malaysia at least, the situation is not as bad as mass media make it out to be. Even the darker arcades aren't really that scary once you visit the place a few times. Fights and delinquent groups, well I haven't run into any of those yet (thank god), and hopefully won't for the rest of my arcade life. But, manners and play ethics at the arcade could still be improved.

The topic of arcade ethics has always been in my mind, and a recent conversation on Facebook brought it up again. How many times have you tried to play something in the arcade, only to give up because it was too broken to be playable? There are players who do not take care for the functionality of arcade machines. It applies for any game, but I'll use Taiko no Tatsujin as an example.

Taiko is a music game, not a game of hit the drum as hard as you can. I have seen players who literally wind up, with their arm fully tensed, and lashing out at the surface of the Taiko with full force, multiple times, with an almost murderous intent (and even worse, hitting the sides of the drums where the wiring and sensors are). Most of the players who do this are children, which is slightly more understandable, but there are teenagers and adults who are still guilty of this. If anything it shows a lack of consideration for other players, who would not be able to play properly because the Taiko drum has been broken by use of excessive force.

'Who cares if the other person can't play it right? The machine doesn't belong to me.'

This mentality needs to be stopped, not just for arcades but all public property in general. Easier said than done, I know. However (I'm speaking in terms of Taiko again), the main problem here is a lack of proper instruction since the game is in full Japanese. The Malaysian Taiko no Tatsujin fangroup at Facebook have tried many ways to get players to care for the Taiko cabinets, including setting up laminated posters at the side of the Taiko and by informing through word of mouth, and they are doing a great job at it.

I do not know how rampant the problem is in other countries, but I do know one thing; the regular Japanese players take very good care of their favorite arcade cabinets. You would have probably noticed that in some gameplay videos, a cloth is draped over the Taiko drum when they play. It supposedly helps with drumrolling, but also in noise reduction and creates less damage on the actual surface of the drum, preserving its lifespan so other players can enjoy it in the future. Maintenance on the part of the arcade operator is still key, but player attitude and care for the arcade machine plays a very important part in making sure the machine does not break down as often, making the lives of the arcade staff and other players much easier.

The other issue brought up on Facebook was arcade hoggers. The arcade and all its cabinets are shared by all, and everyone should be given a turn to play. It is one of the unspoken rules of the arcade, and one that is frequently broken. It is quite common to see situations where players who are potentially interested on trying a new game get turned away because the player in front of them keeps inserting credits even after he is done, making the queue wait for a long time until he is done. Selfish behavior at its finest. It makes people angry and is a strong deterrent for interested players. At worst, it is a major contributor to the negative social perception towards arcades even today.

Enforcement by the arcade operators is one way to stop arcade hogging, but as players, we can't really do much about it without sparking a potential spat. Notices can be put up to encourage players to let the queue clear before they play again, like the ones for arcade machine care I mentioned earlier. If you're reading this and are a person who frequents the arcade, remember to give the people behind you a chance to play, at all times, after you are finished with one credit. If there is no one, then only you can go for another round. Personally I step away and see if anyone else wants to play Taiko or some other game before going back. If you want to reserve a round for yourself by inserting coins before the current player has finished, make sure you tell the player first before doing it, and insert only ONE credit. Remember, you are not the only one playing!

Rudeness and belittling of newbie players by the more seasoned ones is another problem, though I have not encountered it myself (yet) and thus do not know much to talk about on the issue, but the main thing here is not to talk highly of yourself and intimidating other players. It's easy to get carried away and show strong emotions while playing a game at the arcade, but don't make yourself look like an arse, and do not be a showoff. It's okay if you want to display your skills, but shoving that in other people's faces and calling them unskilled is not.

Arcade gaming is dying out, but it still has a charm which console games cannot replicate, and is still worth something in the videogame industry. The important thing is the players' attitude to it. If everyone are good, considerate players who are friendly with one another, I'm pretty sure we will still see arcades for decades to come.

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