By Michael Mygind
Growing up in the small farming town of Sanger, CA, there wasn’t too much to do as a kid if you weren’t into sports. In 1994, the greatest hang out spot ever for such a kid opened up: the Super Kmart. I might’ve been the only 8-year-old that would run to the car the minute the words “I need to go to Kmart” were uttered. Their video games section exposed me to the Sega Genesis that I didn’t have at home with their playable demo unit. While I would play Donkey Kong Country at home, I’d go to the Super K to play Vectorman, Comix Zone and others. This was where I was first traumatized by the “Hurry up or Sonic’s going to drown and die!” music from the Chemical Plant level of Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
Sometimes, I’d even spend a whole trip just examining of boxes that were encased in their plastic spinning display units. I vividly remember seeing Earthbound and marveling at the size of the box. I had no idea what the game was about or why the box was so big, but it was epic. I’d also ask myself, “Why is there an old man with a banjo on the cover?” as I looked at the Phalanx box with confusion. This was the time when if you weren’t reading Game Pro or Electronic Gaming Monthly, or had the internet, all that you had to go off of as a measure of a game’s quality was its cover art.
As a sign of the times, this dreamland of “Blue Light Specials” and cheap pizza/soda combos even had its own arcade, which for some reason always seemed empty and was mine for the claiming. My affinity for Capcom fighting games was created here with games such as Darkstalkers and X-Men: Children of the Atom. This was the place where I fell in love with the run and gun action of Sunset Riders.
Looking back, I wonder why I was there so often to have so many fond memories. My mom and grandma couldn’t have been making that many shopping trips. I often think that I was literally dropped off there as if it were an amusement park to be picked up an hour or so later.
In 1997, my family moved about 20 minutes away to the slightly bigger city of Clovis. My beloved K-Mart was replaced by More Than Pizza, a local mom and pop pizza place down the street where I fell in love with SNK, the Neo Geo MVS and the frenetic gameplay and beautifully hand-drawn visuals of Metal Slug. Friday night meant pizza and arcade games. I would often skate there with friends in 6th grade and in the past year, bought a house down the street with my fiancée. I order from them once a week. The MVS cabinet was replaced by a Big Buck Hunter cabinet and upon my return to the neighborhood after moving another city over, a Namco “Class of ’81” Galaga/Ms. Pac Man cabinet was moved in. Driven by nostalgia, this restaurant was a huge selling point for me when we were looking at houses. I often go there with a few close collector buddies to discuss games over pizza just as I did with childhood friends that would come over to my house afterwards to play a “Proximity mines” match of Goldeneye 64.
In 2000, it was a humbling experience for me when we made the drive back to Sanger to go to the closing sale that the Super K was holding. I felt cold as I walked past the empty display cabinets which were once the home for hundreds of crisp NES, Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis boxes. The toy shelves were picked over minus one beat up Tech Deck ramp set. The arcade was an empty room with nothing but the marks on the floor where quintessential arcade cabinets once stood. I was there on its opening day and I was there when it closed. In 2007, the store was turned into a Walmart Supercenter, which I have visited several times on late-night “Let’s go driving” trips with buddies. It’s not the same, but seeing life breathed into a key place from my childhood is good enough for me.
While I am writing this to share a story about the key places from my childhood that shaped my love for video games, I am also stressing the point to never forget your roots. Think back to those arcades, department stores and restaurants that were the key parts of your personal gaming history and embrace them. It is now 2014, and gaming has a different feel than it did in decades past, but I will forever think back to the glory days of 1994 when I could walk into a room of lights and noise within a small farming town with a dollar in quarters and escape for just a little bit.