Saturday, November 27, 2004

Arcade Prizes

Something else I've had it with these days are the cheap, sub-Mexican almost-toys that pass for "Prizes" at your local arcade. Are these not the lamest, crudest, fragile and most depressing little toys you've ever seen?

For a long time I never made it to the prize counter at an arcade simply because I sucked too much at the games. Oh, I was good at Golden Axe and 1945, and the arcade games - but those didn't spew out any tickets when you did well. If you wanted the little yellow tickets you had to master Skee Ball, or Hoops, or Whack a Mole. I was too much of a spaz to really succeed at these more precision oriented games.

I would usually end up with about 6 to 8 sympathy tickets. You know, when every skee ball went into the gutter and you'd get three tickets just for playing. And I'd take my 8 tickets to the counter, hoping at least to get maybe a single Jolly Rancher. But no, the cheapest prize was 10 tickets for a tootsie roll. And not a normal tootsie roll, but this weird extra extra small tootsie roll. Really a very small tootsie roll. Like Tylenol capsule size. And I couldn't even afford it.

Then one day, I was playing Pachinko. Or one of those games where you navigate a ball down a ramp and launch it and hope that it goes into one of the target holes. And I was expecting to fail utterly at this game and get my sympathy tickets. But the Gods were smiling on me that day, and I accidentally launched the Pachinko ball into the tiniest, most remote and valuable hole. And the siren went off and the machine started spewing massive amounts of yellow tickets. I was convulsing with joy.

This wasn't in my childhood or anything by the way. This was maybe last year. And I was scooping up the tickets, and there were so many I couldn't gather them faster than they were coming out. It was like Christmas. I even earned the jealous eye of the fat, tight-shirted, trailer park chicks who always seem to be walking around with their kids holding thousands of tickets.

In the end, it was only about 400 tickets, but it was more than I had ever had, or ever would have. I carried the bundle over to the counter, thinking about what kind of booty I would select. The Carribean Cruise? The Aspen ski chalet? The fantasy practice with the Chargers? Hmm, it's only 400 tickets. Best not to get my hopes up too high. Maybe I'll settle for a surfboard.

At the prize counter, some B.O. and a harsh reality check were waiting for me. The best prize available was a shitty, off-brand little personal boombox. And it was 35,000 tickets. No, scratch that, the off-brand Razor scooter was 40,000, and the skateboard was up there too. So what were my real options? The super soaker? Hoo-boy, no. The shitty, shitty remote control car? 11,000 tickets. The Nascar calendar? 7,500. The really cheap-looking inflatable ape? 8,000.

Okay, I took it down another notch. The deck of Uno cards. 3,000. The 500 piece tiger puzzle. 4,000. Finally I just got angry. Here I was, the greatest pachinko champion the arcade had ever seen, and my skill didn't even warrant a deck of cards? Or a pair of novelty sunglasses? I said to myself "If I can't at least afford that comically oversized lollipop then I will officially be pissed." Comically oversized lollipop - 2,500 tickets.

Eventually, feeling much humbled and slightly dirty, I traded in my 400 tickets for a normal sized lollipop and a keychain with a whistle on it. I had invested serious ego in these prizes, and they let me down big time. These yellow tickets said "winner", but the lollipop and whistle were not saying "winner". Not so much. No, they were saying "loser". Big time loser. I was thinking that maybe it would be like the old Wheel of Fortune where the winner got to pick prizes out of the showcase. "I'll take the Color TV for $300!" Okay then, Bill, that leaves you with $2,200. "The sofa! The sofa!"

Which brings us back to the crappy prizes. These prizes are pathetic. They belong to a special class of crappy toys that you just won't see anywhere else on the planet. Imagine an action figure, if you will. And imagine that it's stiff and doesn't move. And that the art on the box is really terrible, and that it's part of a series of action figures with a really bad generic title like "Tank Heroes!" that came from a cartoon that may never have actually been broadcast in the states, and the clothes don't match, and the back of the box is blank except for a "Do not insert in mouth" warning that is misspelled and then repeated in 10 other languages.

Toys that are so bad they make you consider suicide, or at least abandoning all commercialism and becoming a Buddhist monk. Toys that no reputable toy store would shelve, that were passed on to discount toy stores that turned them down, then sat in a surplus warehouse for a year or two, then were declined by the dollar stores, then were given back by goodwill after another year because they couldn't sell, then were rejected by Christmas charites because they didn't meet safety standards, and were finally abandoned, unopened, by homeless children in Tijuana. This is when they go to the arcades.

If I ever open an arcade, (and to be honest, it's not high up on the list) the prizes will be of the highest quality. And if you are a pachinko champion, you can expect to be honored and fetted by the establishment. You can expect to gaze out over a massive display of awesome prizes and simply point to the ones you want like the king you are.

And finally, can we please retire the machines where the quarters are all tottering seductively on the brink of the cliff, and it seems like if just one more quarter were pushed out it would send them all spilling over, making the player fabulously wealthy? I've just had too much disappointment at the hands of that machine, and it's come to me to represent deep, personal failure. And if the arcade took half of the bolting-that-machine-to-the-floor budget and spent it on prizes, maybe none of this ranting would be necessary.

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