October 7, 2012


by Doug McCoy
65 pages, Kindle Edition

Review by Hereward L.M. Proops

The 1980s were a great time for video-games. Although the market for the home video game console had yet to explode, the arcades were brimming with innovative, accessible games which, whilst primitive when compared to modern video-games, have enjoyed enduring success and are rightly hailed as classics. “Arcadian” explores nineteen classic titles from this golden age of gaming. Penned by self-confessed fanboy Doug McCoy, this short ebook gives readers a great glimpse at some of the classic games of this era. Starting with “Space Invaders” (which was actually released in 1978 but acted as a gateway drug for McCoy's addiction to gaming) and moving through “Pac-Man”, “Galaga”, “Moon Patrol” and “Rush 'n' Attack”, the book covers plenty of many gamers' favourites.

Of course, a book about old video-games isn't going to appeal to everyone's tastes. My own retro-gaming habit has caused my wife's eyes to roll on many occasions and she never ceases to remind me of how our attic is full of obsolete technology and boxes of old joysticks and cartridges. Friends of mine cannot understand how I can enjoy playing “Super Mario Brothers” more than the latest installation of “Call of Duty”. Of course, there are those of us out there who see the advent of a new video-games console as merely another opportunity to play yet another emulation of “Pac-Man.” The folks who get confused when a game requires more than a couple of buttons and who like their games pixelated and blocky are going to love this book.

There are actually quite a few books out there that cater to those interested in retro video-games. These books tend to examine the technical aspects of the games: the design of the printed circuit boards, the subtleties of the gameplay or the different tactics that gamers can adopt in order to make their game last longer. McCoy's book takes a slightly different approach and is a richer experience for it. “Arcadian” looks at the games themselves but contextualises the games by examining the author's own personal experiences with them as a child. He describes his excitement the first time he cleared a maze in “Pac-Man” and his sense of wonder when he first heard the synthesised speech in “Gauntlet”. Indeed, McCoy's nostalgic reminiscences about his youthful experiences of these classic games are as warm and witty as any memoir of a child of the eighties. Think about it like reading a book about games but with the narrator from “The Wonder Years” leaning over your shoulder. Those of us who were lucky enough to have played some of these games in an arcade will be able to  appreciate what magical places they were. Playing these games nowadays on an emulator is fun but it doesn't capture the experience of pumping coins into the upright cabinets and taking hold of the near-indestructible joystick in order to beat the high score set by that scary looking teenager with the “Megadeth” t-shirt and the long hair.  McCoy relates plenty of these experiences, recalling not just his happy memories of playing the games but also the location of the cabinets and how he first discovered them.

“Arcadian” is a short read and those interested in the subject will most likely tear through the book in one sitting. It might not give the readers any particularly deep insights into the history of the games themselves and some keen gamers might be shocked that their favourite titles of the 1980s were left out (personally, I would have liked to see a chapter devoted to the brilliant “Double Dragon”). However, what “Arcadian” does best is to capture that sense of excitement and wonder these games would give youngsters in the eighties. People are finally beginning to realise what a huge cultural impact video-games have had on modern society and I suspect that we'll see more and more books like this in the future. Doug McCoy's charming little ebook probably won't tell keen gamers anything they don't already know about their favourite games but it might well show even the most cynical technophobe why grown men spend so much time waggling their joysticks.
Read the author interview here.

Hereward L.M. Proops

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