Oh, no. It finally happened. I’ve reached the point in my life where I agree more with the stern dad in a videogame than I do with the rebellious teen.
I can take comfort, at least, in the fact that the dad I’m agreeing with in this game is voiced by none other than Doug Cockle, voice of Geralt of Rivia—and here he’s playing a guy named Gerald who’s visiting the Riviera. Cute. The game is Arcade Paradise, a first-person management sim set in the 1990s when video arcades were still popular hangouts.
In Arcade Paradise I’m a teenager—Gerald’s kid, Ashley—put in charge of the grubby little laundromat my dad owns, following his instructions and enduring his lectures over the phone while he’s out of town. Every morning I take the bus to King Wash and then go about a series of repetitive tasks, like picking up trash, prying gum off chairs, cleaning the tiny bathroom, and doing loads of laundry for customers who drop off their laundry baskets.
But this isn’t just a coin-op laundromat. There’s a back room, small and cluttered, with a handful of arcade game cabinets. And as a teen slogging through a boring, repetitive job at the family business, Ashley’s dreams quickly outgrow the humble drudgery of a wash-and-fold existence. Why not take the earnings from clearing dirty socks and undies and invest them in arcade games? I’m already getting paid in quarters. How about buying some more machines that run on spare change?
The idea of running an arcade fits my character perfectly: Ashley already turns the grind of picking up trash and unclogging toilets into a game anyway. Just about everything you do in Arcade Paradise has been gamified: a power meter and target appear whenever I chuck a bag of trash into a dumpster, pulling chewing gum off seats and countertops works like a timed boss fight, and even unclogging a toilet requires finding the sweet spot (like when picking a lock) and then power-plunging. Doing a load of laundry rewards me with a ranking depending on how timely I got the clothes into the washer, then the dryer, then back into the basket for the customer to collect. And the better I score in these tasks, the more I get paid.
When I’ve collected enough money and emptied all the coin hoppers, I sit down at the boxy old CRT in the tiny office and order new arcade games for the back room. All the cabinets in Arcade Paradise are playable, from electronic air hockey to a cute Dig-Dug clone.
My favorite game currently is a mix of Pac-Man and GTA, where you drive a bright yellow sports car through a maze of city streets, gobbling up cash and grabbing powerups that let me turn into a tank to defeat the police cars chasing me. Each arcade game has achievements you can unlock, with each achievement making the games more popular and thus better earners. It’s the first time the term ‘play-to-earn’ actually makes sense.
But as my arcade grows, my dreaded little secret is… I think I like the laundromat more than the arcade? Apologies to the rebellious teenager I’m playing in Arcade Paradise, but when Daddy Gerald tells me to invest my earnings into better washers and dryers for the laundromat, I think it’s actually a great idea. A laundromat is a sound business: people will always have clothes that need washing. But an arcade is doomed to fail. Here in the ’90s, the arcade game industry is about to be sunk by home console ports like an iceberg taking down the Titanic.
Plus, I really like being in the laundromat. Maybe it’s some weird twisted nostalgia for laundromats I didn’t even know I had, involving the clutter of discarded newspapers and takeaway coffee cups, and the bored customers sitting around watching their clothes spin in those huge metal dryers. For whatever reason, I don’t mind doing all the stuff Ashley probably hates.
But in Arcade Paradise, I can’t spend my quarters on new washers and dryers (unless that comes later—I’ve only played for a few hours). I can only buy stuff for the arcade. Luckily there seem to be tons of games for sale, as well as other attractions like jukeboxes and pool tables I can install to diversify.
So far I’m finding Arcade Paradise oddly compelling—the other night I stayed up so late playing my eyes were bleary just from doing laundry, cleaning, and playing the arcade games between spin cycles. I earned enough to convert a larger adjoining back room into a proper arcade, and I plan to keep working until I can afford enough game cabinets to fill it. Looking at the blueprints of the building, there are a couple more rooms I’ll be able to expand to once I’ve done enough laundry. Won’t Poppa Gerald be surprised when he gets home?
But honestly, I do genuinely agree with Dad’s lectures. I should be spending my money to upgrade the laundromat and not the arcade. The ’90s will race by. The arcade doesn’t have long left to live, but people will always have dirty underpants and stained shirts. It pains me to say this, but listen to your Dad, Ashley. He knows what he’s talking about.