Jostling the joystick as a bead of sweat slowly rolls down my forehead, I dab the sweat with the inside of my T-shirt. I know this game means everything. No one around, which means no shame in losing, but I know I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t perform well. My heart begins to pump as I realize that this one game would determine if I would win the “Dart-Blaster” gun at the ticket booth.
I felt pure ecstasy as I saw the number of tickets I had won: 440. This was over the amount I needed to win the Dart-Blaster. Overall, the 30 minutes I spent at Skate Nation in Short Pump was well worth the twenty-minute trek from my house. I had the place all to myself when I got there on my most recent visit. The emptiness might have been due to the fact that they were about to close, but that made the experience all the better.
Despite how much I enjoyed the arcade, when I first walked into Skate Nation, I felt awkward. As a 17-year-old spending his Sunday afternoon at an arcade alone, I expected some weird looks as I walked in. Skate Nation, located near the Short Pump Town Center mall, offers a wide range of activities such as Laser Tag, an ice-skating rink, and an arcade. With such a short amount of time before closing, I was only able to focus on the arcade.
Unfortunately, all of my friends, being devoted students, couldn’t go to Skate Nation on a school night. As I walked through the parking lot by myself, I doubted I would have a good time, but I was blown away by the new and improved Skate Nation. Although I had been there for birthday parties in the past, small but important changes made the arcade much more enjoyable. Instead of giving out paper tickets and coins, the arcade now gives you a card with your balance. You can swipe the card on any game, and tickets will immediately be transferred to your card if you win. Instead of waiting for tickets to be released, I was able to use the time I saved on trying as many games as possible.
To start my hardcore gaming session. I limited myself to only $10.00, because I knew that once I started playing, I wouldn’t be able to control myself. I walked around the arcade like a mobster from a ’90s casino movie, feeling like it was me against the house, or, in this case, the computers. I started my gaming extravaganza with “Smokin’ Token.” In this particular game of chance, I rolled the coin down a ramp in the hopes of it landing in a ticket slot. As the potential earnings got higher, the slots for the coins got smaller. Luckily, I won 30 tickets from this game and consider my time spent a success. Since it only cost 25¢ to play, I was tempted to stay at that one game for the remainder of my time, but I quickly realized this game wouldn’t win me the big tickets, so I left after just three rolls.
Only $9.25 left on my card, and I knew I had to make the most of it. Although I wanted to beat the system by winning as many tickets as possible, one machine caught my eye. I was drawn towards a claw machine with “Minion” stuffed animals inside. Without thinking, I swiped my card before realizing the claw machine charged an entire dollar. I ignored the multiple articles my mother has sent me about claw machines actually being rigged and focused on one Minion in particular. After positioning my claw drop perfectly, I released the claw, only to be let down. The claw barely made an effort to grab the stuffed doll and took my aspirations of winning with it, along with my one dollar.
Feeling betrayed by the arcade, I made my way to the “Deal or No Deal” game. Costing only $1.00, the game is based on the long-running TV show. I had watched the show throughout my childhood with my grandmother and felt prepared to do some damage to the arcade economy. I played the game many times, improving each time. In the first game, my case had eight tickets, and, feeling confident, I declined the deal offer for 28 tickets, which was probably my worst decision of the day. The second and third time, I made deals for over 100 tickets. Although I couldn’t complain about getting 100 tickets both times, in both instances my case was worth more than what I made the deal for. Nonetheless, I left the sweaty swivel chair feeling a sense of pride in my decision-making.
With only a few dollars left, I played the game known as “Big Bass,” and after spinning the massive wheel a few times, I won 70 tickets. I began to feel like I was getting my money’s worth as I tried the other games in the arcade as well. With less than two dollars left, I decided to use the rest of my money on a light-up game with a guaranteed win every time. The game has a spinning light, and the amount of tickets you receive depends on the number you stop the light on. With possibilities ranging from 1-10 and a chance of landing on the jackpot, I decided to try my luck. After scoring several 8 and 10-ticket wins, I swiped my card one last time. I waited for the light to come around as I pressed the release button with reflexes faster than NFL star Julio Jones. I heard the buzzer sound as I won the jackpot of 100 tickets. I had beat the system with only $10.00. Or so I thought.
My card was maxed out, and as tempted as I was to put on more money, I ultimately decided that would send me down a spiral of debt to my mother. I began to walk towards the prize counter and was crushed to see my limitation of options with only 440 tickets. I felt betrayed. After 30 minutes of stress and hard work, the best option was a stuffed animal?! I was let down until something caught my eye. A “Dart-Blaster” nerf gun was within my price range. After my purchase, the cashier then told me the best news I had heard that day: “You have 140 tickets left, sir.” With more tickets than anticipated, I chose a crayon eraser, a fireball, and as many Fruity Tooties as my leftover tickets would allow.
I left Skate Nation with a wide grin on my face as I realized I had just beaten the arcade at its own game. I walked out feeling like a winner. Yes, I could’ve purchased my toys and even more for $10.00 at the Dollar Tree, but I wouldn’t have gotten the experience of winning the toys. As cheap as they may be, I take pride in the prizes and treat them as if they were trophies.
Skate Nation exceeded my expectations for an arcade. An arcade is not only fun, but it can also teach children about the value of a dollar (or token). Skate Nation has thoroughly prepared me for when I put money on the line at some point in the future.
All photo by Spencer Lyons.