Arcades are coming back, with a new target audience

(via Wil Wheaton on Tumblr) ArsTechnica has a new article on arcades, The surprising, stealth rebirth of the American Arcade.  The nostalgia factor is helping, but it's coming back on a lot more than just the memories of Baby Boomers -- there's a real appeal that the arcade has found a niche in, that home consoles apparently just can't satisfy, no matter how shiny the controllers are.

After a while they've played all the games... but if it's a place they know they can get as good a beer as any place in the city and [also] play games, then that's what makes it stand out."

That doesn't mean Emporium's customers treat the games as an afterthought to the alcohol, though. "We could be completely full to capacity and all of our tables will be open—no one is at the tables because everyone is out playing games," Marks said. "Any other bar I've ever been to in my life, the tables are the prime real estate, not the games.

But it;s not all bars -- ZAP Arcade in Jordan, Minnesota was opened for kids, not adults.

"There's really nothing for youth there. There's a water tower, a lake, a creek... it's small. That was really our intention when we opened, to be a safe resource for kids, to offer something in the community that was just sort of cheap fun."

The article makes a solid case for the business model of arcades, which seem to have a solid consumer base, even with the high-graphics, super-complicated games you can have in your home. Classic arcade games are simpler, have more replay value, are often more challenging, and the arcade environment makes for a better social play experience.

"The last time I played Modern Warfare on Xbox Live, I stopped playing because I was tired of hearing these immature rants," he said. "We have people playing each other face to face in our bar, they're high fiving, they're congratulatory, they're respectful, they're having a good time. When you play online, you just want to scream sometimes. [The arcade] is just a better experience."


I feel weird about linking to "The Art of Manliness"

So there's this blog I've read off-and-on for the past few years, The Art of Manliness, that I have very strongly mixed feelings about. Those mixed feelings aren't exclusive to the site, though -- they're feelings I have about a lot of lifestyle communities I would like to admire and wholeheartedly participate in.  Communities like /r/LifeProTips, SteamPunk or the Maker movement. But in those communities, the problem I have is just a popular interpretation of the core ideals (variously:  self-reliance, character building, opposition to throw-away culture and low-quality mass market products) whereas at The Art of Manliness, it's the premise.

That premise, one of the more popular manifestations of internalized sexism[1. And racism, homophobia, and a whole bunch of other kinds of bigotry.], is that culture would be better if it were more like some point in the past.  For The Art of Manliness, that period is the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Like I said, that premise is popular in a lot of this kind of movement, and that sucks because in the right light there are a lot of pretty good ideas beneath the awful ones.  There are a lot of aspects of culture that (at least seem like they) used to be significant forces, but due to accelerating social change, have eroded.

That erosion has, basically, been a good thing, but for all the problems it's mitigated, new problems have emerged or worsened.  The response that a lot of these movements have to that rise in new problems is to try to switch back to the old way of doing things, to some degree or another.  But since going back to the old ways is so obviously a bad idea, they've been forced to come up with a cover story -- and that cover story actually isn't awful.

Ideas like promoting sustainability by using more permanent, well-made objects in life rather than participating in what is essentially a system of object rental where the return box is a landfill; consciously developing social skills and striving to build character rather than maintaining the illusion of decency; learning how to make a positive contribution to the world around you, rather than expecting that world just to contribute to your own wellbeing.

They're great ideas, but they don't belong to the past.  They don't belong in the past.  The Art of Manliness suggests improving social skills by learning decades-old social graces.  They suggest building character by striving to conform to their preferred manifestation of the male gender expectation. They not-so-subtly imply that self-reliance means being able to live in the woods.

Occasionally they produce great articles.  Most of the time, they produce content that has some proportion of useful information to be appreciated and gender-conformist bull████ to try not to internalize.  A lot of the time, it just feels like reading the MANLINESS version of Cosmo.

Fountain Pens making a comeback...ish

(Via Neil Gaiman on Tumblr) The BBC reports on the recent trend of fountain pens steadily increasing in sales, exploring the reasons such an arcane writing device might be coming back.

[...]the rush to fountain pens is not part of a wider handwriting boom. Sales of ballpoint pens are stable.


Somehow, the fountain pen became a luxury item and found a niche.

If a president signs a treaty, they don't do it with a Bic Cristal. If you give a loved one a pen, your thoughts might be more fountain than ballpoint.


And those who buy them for themselves are making a very self-conscious choice. They are saying: "I want to write in the old way."

This makes a lot of sense to me -- I've heard similar stories about the resurgence of vinyl sales even as CDs decline in the face of mp3s.  There seems to be a meme growing as technology affords us more convenience, that some things should be done the hard way, should be earned, should be a meditation in the doing.

I've also heard a lot of complaints about this kind of thinking.  I remember a magazine I read once, about tattoos, in which an older artist complained about the way young artists glamourized some old kind of transfer paper, which was apparently horribly unpleasant to work with.

Maybe it is just cheap nostalgia, and we're holding ourselves back for fear of the future.  But I think it's probably more complicated than that.  I know that I enjoy writing with a fountain pen from time to time, and Neil Gaiman gave a side interview in the BBC article about writing with them:

I found myself enjoying writing more slowly and liked the way I had to think through sentences differently. I discovered I loved the fact that handwriting forces you to do a second draft, rather than just tidying up and deleting bits on a computer. I also discovered I enjoy the tactile buzz of the ritual involved in filling the pens with ink.

Link back to the full article