Saturday, March 17, 2007


The Best Piggy Bank Ever

Hey. People who make electronic toys. I've got a great idea here that's going to make you rich, so listen up.

With my acquisition of a more perfect X-Arcade Gamecube adaptor has come a renewed interest in the fact that I share a living space with what is, for all intents and purposes, an authentic arcade cabinet. But I've come to realize that something's still missing.

I've got the look of an arcade machine. And I've got the control. But I'm finding out, bit by bit, that there's more to replicating the arcade experience than putting your home consoles in a cabinet that looks like it belongs at a Chuck E Cheese's.

An arcade, I've come to decide, is not simply a place where you can go to play video games. An arcade is essentially a video game garden. If you've ever been to a good arcade, you can probably understand what I mean, even if you weren't aware of it at the time. An arcade is about having video game machines that are arranged tastefully and attractively. It's pleasing to the eye before you even get to the business of interactive entertainment. There's a definate feng shui to a good arcade arrangement. As you walk its aisles, you can feel the positive energy flowing through it. It gives you a feeling of harmony and fun.

To be brief, one arcade cabinet does not an arcade make. Unfortunately, this isn't a problem that I feel I can correct. There are a lot of things that can tempt me into parting with money, but purchasing multiple arcade cabinets just to make my gaming area "look good" is too absurd even for me. Some creative furniture arrangement, however, may do something to improve the "aura of recreation" that should surround my single unit.

But there's another, much more subtle problem. In fact, to call it a problem seems absurd, a notion that goes contrary to the entire idea of owning a home video game setup to begin with. Ah, but that's exactly what makes it so important: the fact that it's only tolerated as a necessary evil to the arcade experience makes it essential to the feeling of being in a video game arcade.

I'm talking, of course, about the coin slot.

There's economic principles behind all of this. What's the difference between playing a video game at home as opposed to playing it at the arcade? Simple -- the arcade machine can only be used if you have the money for it. You value something more if you have to pay for it. The "pay to play" arcade machine taunts you with its unattainability. An arcade machine set to play without quarters (or a home version) is essentially a eunuch -- the thing that makes it an arcade game is gone. Is it really the same feeling, owning a video game and knowing that you can play it as much as you want whenever you want, as it is to walk into an arcade with a pocket stuffed with quarters and knowing that, although your time with these games is finite, you have enough quarters to make it last for a long, long time?

And, of course, there's the fact that it's simply fun to throw money away.

And so I've come to decide that, if I'm going to play arcade in my home, I'm going to need to involve quarters. My temporary solution is to have a jar with a quarter slot that stands in the cabinet. It's a rough solution, but it'll work for now. So now my home arcade cabinet doubles as an elaborate piggy bank.

And that got me to thinking.

I was unbelievably jealous of one of my cousins when I was little, because he owned a bank that doubled as a completely functional slot machine. Insert your pocket change, pull the lever, and if you're lucky, it'll pay out to you.

Why not bring this idea into the realm of video games? After all, back in the day, Coleco made "portable" video game units that resembled miniature arcade cabinets. How much harder would it be to add a bank functionality to that setup?

Or even better. Look at that full-color, high-resolution, back-lit standalone portable game system that Coleco was selling just last year. Might it not be possible to use this sort of technology to make a miniature arcade machine that played the real Pac-Man game (or at least a reasonable approximation)? And couldn't this unit accept quarters as input and act like a bank?

Couldn't this hypothetical unit have multiple arcade games built in?

Who could resist something like that? A tabletop MAME cabinet, ridiculously more affordable and marketable than a full-sized one, the ultimate nostalgia trip. And it helps you save your quarters.

If I was even half as good with hardware as I am with software, I'd probably have that thing half built by now. As it is, all I can really do is hope that some enterprising electronics company out there comes across the idea and tries to run with it.

I got a roll of quarters that's waiting to meet it.


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