The memory of the video game revives in the operating room. An operating table crammed with damaged motherboards, broken chips and bundled cables that once embodied the golden age of the arcade, the blazing eighties, and now await repair like a battered body. José María Litarte, a member of the Arcade Vintage association, is a surgeon. He observes each component through a magnifying glass, when he finally looks up and says: “No matter how many five dollars you put in, this and only this was the heart of the machine.” The departure of arcade It started after pressing the buttons or the control stick. On the screen then a whole series of characters and pixelated scenes followed one another, whose origin traces the documentary Arcadeology, directed by Mario-Paul Martínez, which opens in theaters on July 30 and vindicates those who preserve this playful legacy.
The primeval console is known as arcade, a voice of Francophone origin referring to the arcades where these machines were planted that Iriarte and his colleagues collect, repair and display in the old Rico Toys factory, Ibi (Alicante). To the space of this museum is added an industrial warehouse of about 400 square meters, located in the Murcian municipality of La Unión, where technicians strive to rebuild and polish fifty pieces, from all corners of Europe and the United States. They have cost between 300 and 3,000 euros, paid for with association fees. Some will be ready in two months, others will take years to restore due to lack of spare parts. Litarte points to a screen-printed console with flamboyant motifs: “It’s the first cooperative video game in history.” Refers to Fire Truck (1978), which emulates the driving of a truck and its trailer in black and white.
This nostalgia resonates strongly in Arcadeology, which also addresses other derivatives of the classic video game, such as the extraction of the chip for use in current media or the influence of the arcade on future developers. The film emerged from a research project for the Miguel Hernández University of Elche, which Martínez and another professor of Audiovisual Communication, Vicente Pérez, undertook five years ago. “We started working with Arcade Vintage, we wanted to document the restoration process of the machines and their history, but everything went awry,” ironizes the director. Little by little, they were developing a repository with the games that circulated in Spain, beyond the Donkey Kong and the Tetris. One of the laureates was Defender (1981), two-dimensional cosmos of aliens and astronauts produced by Williams Electronics. The joystick it raised the ship, while four buttons controlled the direction, always horizontal, and another peg fired viciously at the alien.
Devices of this type arrived in Spain with the last blows of the dictatorship. Its expansion came later, helping to oxygenate a social environment that is still stale. Then a market niche was opened with certain peculiarities: many companies acquired the rights to foreign games as a group, in order to market them with different booths and formats. Later, and consolidating the sector, the nineties witnessed the rise of Gaelco, a Spanish firm founded by three computer scientists in a flat on Madrid’s Paseo de la Florida and known for its adaptation of Dragon Ball and the manga illustration. “The same brand was in charge of the entire production process, from the electronic and mechanical support to the graphics or the design of the furniture, something unthinkable today,” says Pérez, who conceives the machines for arcade as facilities. Not only aesthetic preferences crystallized in them, he argues, but the spirit of an age.
The user can find, in a veiled way, references to immigration or terrorism, notions about sexuality and subliminal advertising. A curious example of the latter is evident in Rad Mobile (1991), where the character Sonic the Hedgehog appears hanging from a rear view mirror, years before starring in the Sega title that made him known around the globe. Martínez underlines: “They were multidisciplinary pieces that attended to the same creative concept. Everything fit. The sides and the frieze of the cabin used to be decorated accordingly ”. Roy Lichtenstein’s own visual rhetoric, vinyl tribals, phosphorescent signs – it’s all here, on these stranded machines. Litarte remembers that when they bought them, many of them were in danger. “They presented problems derived from humidity, which affects both electronic components and furniture, generally made with conglomerate wood,” he explains.
This recreational activist is self-employed in gardening. “It is what feeds me, but I have been using the same van for a decade, I invest everything I can in getting machines for arcade that deserve to be known. Someone may be impressed to see this warehouse, but I only see many hours of restoration, work and work ”, he assures. His is a passion that dates back to adolescence, when his parents’ divorce led him to settle in Petrer (Alicante). He did not know anyone there, so he sought to make new friends in a game room. And he achieve it. The adult Litarte wanted to revive that luminous hope of youth, thus he acquired a machine that he placed in his living room. The next step as a stalwart of the genre was to create with his brother a digital forum in which to exchange knowledge. In 2013, its members became a cultural association.
“Today the head-to-head game has been lost, the multiple games with friends. The multigame allows you to interact with someone in Russia or France, it is amazing, but it cannot replace physical contact, the rush of a lifetime, ”he says. In these years, Acade Vintage has recovered three hundred machines, the most relevant models of which are displayed in Ibi, one of the few museums of this class that allows visitors to play. “It is a risk, at the end of each day we find three or four different breakdowns, they are very old pieces that force us to constantly repair,” says Litarte with a screwdriver in hand. He has just finished off the anchors of a Sega machine that he then plugs into the network. The driver’s seat then rocks from side to side, vibrates, as if inviting driving. Litarte jumps up on it and grabs the controls. An electric sensation runs from end to end up his spine: “That’s it, let’s get started!”