Imagine a town where arcades are silenced and the sounds of quarters rattling in one’s pocket are just for laundry. This may seem like some alternate universe or a ridiculous version of Footloose but in the sleepy town of Marshfield, Massachusetts this was 32 years of real life.
Since 1982 the residents of this town have been living under a rather extreme and laughable rule. Town elders walked the streets in fear that any day an attack could happen at any moment. Vandalism was on the rise and a menace corrupted the minds of America’s youth — video games.
That’s when a group spearheaded by Tom Jackson, the director of the town’s vandalism committee, led the powerful crusade to convince voters to pass a bylaw which banned the toxic coin-operated arcade games.
“I’m a former narcotics officer, I’ve seen what these machines do to kids,” Jackson told the Boston Globe at the time.
As residents gathered to decide what could be done to save and protect the lives of their children, this powerful message resonated the most:
The games are said to be addictive to youth, who will skip school and spend unreasonable sums of money to play them at a quarter — and sometimes 50 cents — a pop. Gambling and drug activity are connected to the video game locations where youth congregate unsupervised.
As we all know, once you do Pac-Man, there’s no turning back from the crack-pipe laden life that awaits. As a result the ban was upheld, magically surviving numerous legal challenges from local business owners.
However, just like any movement that has made this country great, the people of Marshfield began to revolt, starting off as small as a whisper.
In small pockets of the town, the residents started collecting and stockpile video games. Instead of pool tables and other accoutrements found in the average basement, 1980’s games and pinball machines were secretly being collected and even worse…played.
Kristin Croft, one of the town’s rebels, admitted to having “20 games ringing three sides of our basement. My brother and I never got our homework done.”
As the years passed on and the 80s became the 90s, with the popularity of Nintendo moving video games from arcades to the living room, the loss of arcade games in the town soon became a distant memory.
Michelle Poirier, 27, explains, “my generation played games at home, but arcade games were a social way to play games, and that was just missing sitting on your couch.”
However, the feeling of not going to an arcade and socializing with others started to enrage citizens who witnessed people from other towns partake in arcade gaming. What was once a forgotten mission saw the light again as residents turned their angry whispers of the past into shouts that dared not be ignored.
Their fight was not easy; in 1994 and 2011 they attempted to overturn the ban but to no avail, even going as far as the Supreme Court which refused to hear their appeal.
But just like Cave Johnson in Portal 2 “when life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade! Make life take the lemons back! Get mad! Demand to see life’s manager!”
That’s when a leader emerged and unlike Batman, resident Craig Rondeau was the hero Marshfield deserves and the one it needed. With the support of local businesses and the town, Rondeau was able to put the law to a new vote and have it overturned (203-to-175 vote at Town Meeting).
Like many activists, Rondreu doesn’t showboat. He saw it as doing important work that made him proud. According to him video games are valuable when it comes to learning social skills, problem-solving skills and encourage creativity.
Once the ban was lifted in 2014, Croft wanted to be responsible for introducing the town to the wonderful world of 80’s gaming. That collection which was hidden in her basement all those years, finally saw the light of day when she gathered her father’s old partner, John Maguire, to do the official unveiling at her establishment, Roadhouse.
Armed with a fistful of quarters the older residents gathered around to share their gaming memories before the ban was enacted.
Your parents would give you a couple quarters while they had a beer at the bar, then one day they were gone. We said, ‘Why?’ And the answer was, ‘It’s a bad influence. It corrupts kids.’ It felt like those movies they show in school where someone smokes weed and then starts howling at the moon. It was ridiculous.
As a new generation is introduced to arcade games, Croft finds joys in teaching her kids and others how to play the games of the past, proving that the spirit of gaming will never die.