“He can get the virus.” – Bill Parcells, speaking of New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton’s pass-happy playcalling.
Oh, I hear you there, Tuna. We all have those little, involuntary spasms of impulse, don’t we? Maybe it manifests itself in a former college quarterback calling his 47th pass of the day as a coach, his proxy All-Pro QB destroying defenses in a way he never could. Maybe we see it when we’re listening to a catchy song in our car, and we flick the “rewind” knob for the eighth straight time because the song’s so catchy.
Or, more appropriately for our discussion today, maybe we see the virus as the silent protagonist in the new book from Rob O’Hara titled, Invading Spaces: A Beginner’s Guide to Collecting Arcade Games. In this instance, the virus takes control of our mind by having us click on the “reply” button to a guy on craigslist selling a three-hundred pound wooden joybox that plays a single game that can be emulated on a watch you could find for free after eating enough boxes of “Circus Fun.”
It’s got to be a virus. No healthy person would make it a habit to collect real arcade games. Right, ha ha? But hey, there’s good viruses and bad viruses. Bad ones make you lose STR, DEX and CON, while good ones have your team passing for 400 yards against the hated Niners, and put two Scrambles in your home.
Er, all right, onto the book! O’Hara begins by putting us into a situation that is not untypical for the type of person that is interested in collecting arcade games: he’s somewhere between Oklahoma City and Austin, completely lost. (In fact, the very first sentence of his book takes a shot at MapQuest, and there is no better way to get me, a reader, onboard, than to correctly paint MapQuest as a server of lies.) Rob and his buddy Justin are on their way to get a game called Heavy Barrel, which is just a great name for a full-size arcade game, like calling one Out of Space or Staircrusher. It isn’t even a game that O’Hara particularly likes, but he makes the decision to go get it anyway because he loves these goddamn things, and this one is a good deal.
The pair ultimately find their destination, after an eleven hour journey, and meet one of the, ah, ten types of people you meet when purchasing an arcade game. They return home with a grim sense of satisfaction, and while reading this, I’m personally struck by how comforting is in knowing that there are other people making the same type of journeys that I have made, for these things. If there is a book out there that stands as a written testament to how maybe, just maybe, I haven’t been driven insane trying to recapture my favorite hobby as a child, then Invading Spaces is it.
While the tales regarding ‘the hunt’ of an arcade machine make up a significant portion of the book, the other goal that Invading Spaces easily achieves is in describing how to maintain or fix them once they are home. It can be intimidating to find a problem with the monitor or joystick of a thirty-year old machine if it’s been years since your last course on electronics. I bought my first machine in 1999, and did not get another one until 2005 – not really because of space issues, but because I was scared to death to even work on my first game, much less a few others. I got over my fear at first by paying almost retail prices for nicely restored games, but things eventually did go wrong, and I had to scour the Usenet group rec.games.video.arcade.collecting for help, picking up whatever bits of knowledge I could from others. I can safely say that, almost literally, every single piece of information I picked up about this hobby over the first two years is in this book. I was almost smiling in anger seeing it all collected here. (The anger really stemmed from having to use Google Groups to search Usenet all those years, I should clarify.)
For instance, O’Hara explains that a common problem of PCBs is that they are not getting five volts from the +5v line – I cannot begin to explain the frustration I had with a couple of my games acting wonky, until that dawned on me a few months ago. When I read the chapter on Repairs(Electronics) and got to the bit about +5v, I held the book skyward and cursed, loudly. It was here. It was all here. Invading Spaces is an invaluable resource for the non-electrical engineer thinking of purchasing their first arcade game.
More, O’Hara’s style is friendly and conversational. He doesn’t go off on a berserker’s rant about MAME, like Stuart Campbell or I would do, but does explain that, while it’s nice, it’s not the same. He describes why someone would be miffed to see one of the 26,000 Defender cabinets converted to, say, a 48-in-1 cab, without unfairly slagging the more, ah, extreme group of preservations. And the stories! The stories really are entertaining and well-written throughout – anytime somebody’s retarded brother (their words, not mine or O’Hara’s) mysteriously skulks around a game that may have once functioned before some retard strength saw to it, like some kind of luddite-touch BigFoot… well, I know I am in for a good time.
My absolute favorite part of the book is the last bit, where O’Hara talks about the games he has owned over the years, and how he acquired them. I can personally listen to that sort of stuff forever, and each little story has a photo of the cabinet associated with it. I have a theory that RoboCop games are unique like fingerprints, and sure enough, both of O’Hara’s RoboCops are different. (Once we assign all three hundred million Americans JAMMA RoboCop games, crime in this country is going to disappear overnight.)
I’ve had Rob’s book around the house for weeks now, and I still find myself going back to it, to re-read a chapter or passage here and there, just to stay sharp. I can’t recommend it strongly enough. If you find yourself with the arcade-purchasing virus, while I am sad to say that there is no cure, this book functions as a wonderful protease inhibitor to let you live with the sickness and still maintain a happy and healthy existence, otherwise. I’ve found that chicks are more than willing to accept this hobby if all the games work, and as this book is a means to that end, it is worth its price four times over in couples therapy.