The family and I have visited Disney World for years now so it always amazes me when we discover something truly new and unique. On the West End of Downtown Disney – the encapsulated title for the various shops, clubs, and restaurants open to the consuming public – Disney Quest hides like a shy behemoth. Alone the building, painted with bright kiddy-pool turquoise and standing nearly five stories tall, would attract attention anywhere, yet somehow nestled between the commercial monstrosity of the Virgin Mega-store and peaked dome of the Cirque du Soleil it appears almost demure in comparison, like a costumed juggler competing with the sensuality of the Vegas strip.
Dad took a few of the kids to Quest years ago during one stormy afternoon after spending most of the morning baking beneath the Florida sun.Like Floridian clockwork, thunder sounded at around two, and the kids convinced Dad to lead the expedition through the shops.An offer of modest recreation amid indoor air conditioning in the end, I believe, won him over. He returned quite exhausted, and when questioned he could only stutter, “It’s right up your alley, Murphey.”
Now my alley could signify any number of diverse diversions: movies, hobbits, anime, “Road” flicks, dancing girls, dark chocolate, comics, cardboard boxes, adventure novels, anything written by Ray Bradbury, coming-of-age yarns, board games which involve drawing, board games which do not involve drawing, philosophy, metaphysics, heroes, dinosaurs, epic fantasies where the hero saves the girl in the end, Twilight Zone, ice cream, or organic chemistry. Judging from my extensive experience with third-degree chemical burns, I easily excluded the latter as a possible health hazard; however, any combinations of the rest would prove an exciting and memorable evening.
Flashing our tickets through the turnstile, Pat and I were jostled inside Quest, eager to catch up to the rest of the siblings who had run ahead. Immediately, our senses were assaulted by bright flashing lights, the click of buttons, dull thunk of jostled joysticks, as well as the thick musk of unwashed gamers.I was home.We had found ourselves an arcade.
The word “arcade” may not gain much sentience among the modern more spoiled gamers, children of the 90’s, who cut their teeth on Gameboy’s and PSP’s before learning the read or walk. Enter old man speech: in my day we had to work for our entertainment, running or preferably driving to the local arcade to play our favorite video games. Not so now, as arcades are steadily being replaced with discount liquor stores or worthless tech shops, whose sole commodities amount to various phone chargers and decorative cell-phone covers.
Yet, this change has drastically changed our view of gaming and gamers over the last few decades. The stereotype of the overweight gamer arrived only with the rise and affordability of the home arcade systems. I do not propose that arcades are an answer to obesity, but at least our interests then required travel and standing every once in a while. Meanwhile the stereotype of the unwashed, mullet-donned gamer, his hands yellow and sticky with cheese-doodles sadly was always there.
Ok, so I am reciting this history for two principal reasons:
Visiting Disney Quest was akin to visiting my roots.Never able to afford video game systems as a kid, the arcade came to represent one of the most beloved spots at the mall – as long as my quarters lasted.In college Desad and I would spent countless hours in arcades challenging seasoned players (and sometimes if our self-confidence so required it, less-seasoned nubes) to Street Fighter, Tekken, and House of the Dead.Thus I have a deep love for these games and the environment.
I am just about to challenge Pat to a game.
Now my brother Pat, honest practical Pat, a mechanical engineer with almost three years under his belt, is a geek by occupation and unlike me, not from habit.Yet, through some ungodly twist of fate, my brother can push and jam buttons into beautifully orchestrated combos, accumulate victories without knowledge of moves, and worse of all gloats like a seasoned pro.In summary, he proves himself a true idiot savant at gaming.
This of course annoys me to no end.Years of practice, experience, and quarters crumble into dust before his ignorance, and yet like the fat guy in a vaudeville comedy, I walk right into another pratfall.
“Hey, Pat, you up for a game of Tekken?”
“Sure,” he says, grinning like a Cheshire cat.He knows what will happen too.The physics of my life are ordered like a Roger Rabbit cartoon.Anything is possible as long as succeeds at being funny or in my case humiliating – and ergo humorous to others.
We sidle up to the game, forgetting the rest of the kids, who attach themselves to one of the eclectic varieties of racing games. I ignore the synchronized “Start your Engines!” and focus on the task at hand. We walk over to the fighting games. I choose my character. He chooses his. The game begins.
Forty minutes later:
“Wow, you lost five games!Five in a row!”Patrick smiles, painting a gloating obnoxious grin that makes me want to wipe it clean with a little turpentine and a round-house kick to the face.
“Out of seven,” I manage to mumble in my shame. “Which means I beat you two times.”
“Yeah,” he laughs, “but you play this game. I haven’t played in . . .” He slowly counts on his fingers with cruel deliberation. “ . . . ten years! Wow, how’s that make you feel?”
“It’s been some time since I played too, you know. Those last few moves took me weeks to master on a PS2 controller, but I was beginning to remember the arcade buttons there at the end . . . ”
“All I know is that I beat you at your own game. A record I shall proclaim to my lovely wife and the rest of the family for the rest of this trip. Haha!”
“Wait, hold on a moment. You owe me a rematch.” My rage here turns to desperation for I knew that Pat would never agree to it. He has his record, his victory and bragging rights.
“No way!But I’ll tell you what,” he says as we leave, momentarily buffeted by a blast of humid Floridian air.
“You treat me to an ice cream, and maybe I’ll only hassle you half as much as I should.”
“Deal,” I sigh, promising myself to dedicate hours practicing night and day when we return home.We buy the ice cream and board the bus back to the resort.The ice cream does the trick though; like a Lotus eater all cares and worries dissolve.Only when we are halfway up to the rooms do we remember the kids.
“Oh shoot,” Pat says. “We left them at Quest, didn’t we?”
“Race ya back to the bus!” I shout, and before he can register my challenge, I close the elevator door on him and run outside.