Play Stuff Blog

On the Road with Video Games  

Last week, my husband and I took a road trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Our drive took us through parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio, and over the course of our six and a half hour drive, we visited many of the convenient highway stops along the way. While stretching our legs at these rest stops, I happily discovered that the vast majority contained small video game arcades!


Asteroids from ICHEG Collections

In general, I found all these arcade games easy to understand and quick to play. Nearly all these arcades contained simple shooting games, such as Big Buck Hunter and occasionally a retro-style multi-directional shooter like Asteroids. In addition, themed pinball machines populated the game floors, especially those based on movies like The Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones. Some of these arcades focused heavily on children’s games. I saw compilations of carnival-style games in several different rest stops including a ring toss and shooting gallery. Other arcades tended more toward adult tastes and contained video poker and slot machines. All of these game genres made perfect sense to me, but there was one type I didn’t expect to see at all, and it appeared in almost every single arcade I visited: racing games.

Because these arcades are located in rest areas designed solely for the purpose of accommodating traveler’s needs, I was surprised when I noticed that the first arcade possessed a driving game. I assumed that everyone making a pit-stop would have had enough of cars—this must be a fluke! But then the next rest stop had a racing game. And then the next, and the next, and so on. I’m not talking about stand-up racing games like Pole Position, either. At least these provide the player with an opportunity to stretch his or her legs. No, these were all of the sit-down variety, and sometimes they even contained two seats so players could race against one another. Not only were these racing games the most prevalent style, they were also the ones most often being used.   As we continued our trip, I expressed my incredulity to my husband. Why would anyone want to exit their car for a break, only to sit right back down again and keep driving? Here one might assume that children, perhaps eager to imitate their parental drivers, were playing these games; however, I can guarantee I saw more adults at the wheel.

Virtual Racing

Virtua Racing from ICHEG Collections

Now don’t get me wrong—I love racing games! Some of my earliest memories include playing “crash ‘em up cars,” which is the nickname my mother gave Pole Position because as a child I crashed during the course of the game more than I actually drove. Under normal circumstances, I’ll head for a racing game the minute I enter an arcade. But I still can’t understand why road travelers consciously choose to continue driving while on break. Perhaps the escapism provided by racing a fantasy car down a complex track provides a measure of relaxation for both passengers and drivers, or maybe everyone just had driving on their brains. Either way, my mind is still reeling.

Do you have any memories of gaming on the road? Or perhaps you were of an age when handheld gaming systems were all the rage, and you packed one of them to play in the car, instead of relying on road-side stops. Please share your stories of how gaming has eased your past traveling experiences. And if anyone has some insight on why driving games are so popular in arcades clearly meant for travelers, I’d love to be enlightened!