Wednesday, 2 May 2012


It is 1993, the very middle of the school holidays. I should be out enjoying the weather or doing something active, but today I am not. I cannot. I am drawn to a dingy little arcade on the seafront. In its poorly lit confines I see people playing fruit machines, trying to hook a prize on a crane or perhaps young children begging their parents for one more go on some contrite little ride. I walk past the latest polygonal racing game, newly imported from Japan that is blaring techno out as loud as possible, drawing the faithful towards the third dimension. This is not my target.

No for me, I need to journey to the very back of the arcade, where the carpet has become a shade of black that can only be attained after years of neglect and sugar, sticky seafront sweets. My destination at the back of this dark gaming establishment isn't a fruit machine or a prize crane. No, not for me. Instead I am drawn, almost against my will to a cabinet opposite the very back wall. A dark area, where few people congregate. 

The cabinet stands before me. The five button controls picked out in transparent arcade red and yellow buttons, poorly printed names under each. One of the topmost buttons, a sickly yellow in the low light, has a cigarette burn on it. There are butts on the floor, some pouring out of a sticky ashtray/bin combination.

The cabinet glows in front of me. The electrical beat of 1990's synthesized drums bringing me under its sway. The top of the cabinet gives off an ethereal light, in the semi darkness two words stand out; Mortal Kombat.

The game is 50 pence a credit. The big, chunky coins of the early 90's, stacked in my pocket. I have £6.50, a princely sum for a teenager in these days. A hard days work. To feed my habit for this game, I have taken a summer job at the local Butlins as a barrow boy, transporting families luggage on a sack truck for nothing more than a promise of a tip. 10 pence here, 20 pence there. Occasionally the odd pound coin, or in some circumstances a bottle of warm Belgian beer.

It has taken me weeks to learn the moves for my favorite character. It has taken me weeks to learn the sublt nuances of the game, to progress against all of my foes. To face myself and then to battle on through the endurance matches. But finally, today, I know my destination. Today I will face the sub-boss, Goro.

I have never seen anyone reach this far before now. I do not know how the fight will progress. As I move up the battle plan, getting every closer to today's target, I feel my confidence growing. I am at the third endurance match and I am still on my first credit. My synapses are working overtime, muscle memory from the last few weeks of battling working in my favor. I destroy my last foe in the endurance matches. The time has come for me to face Goro.

The first round is over quickly, his speed and power are like nothing else I have experienced in the game so far. The second round begins, I fail to land one single punch. The next 50 pence piece goes in, again I am flattened, this time however it is a double flawless. The next credit, I land a punch, but Goro defeats me so quickly. I begin to sweat, the next credit goes in, I am down to £5 now. Again, beaten oh so quickly, my colleagues from Butlins have now started to drift in, their need for the visit to the arcade not as great as mine. The mingle, smoke cigarettes and tell crude jokes. Some of them make their way to the fruit machines, so eager to emulate their parents at the pub. Others jockey for position on some arcade racer. Kudos is given for the most adult handling of a Japanese sports car. Some, like me, hanker for the game, the only game that matters, the one that I am playing. I slot in a few more credits, my performance against the mighty Goro is pitiful. With a mixture of overly strong moves and a few cheap shots, my resolve is being ground down, one round at a time. A small crowd has formed around me, comprised of the Mortal Kombat acolytes. They realize what is going on here. The know what is at stake, they have never seen anyone face Goro before, up until now he was a myth, spoken of in hushed tones by the boy whose older brother pumped £15 into the machine one evening.

I am nearing the end, every combination of every move I try has no effect. I cannot remove enough health from Goro to attain victory. I have two credits left, those around me begin to decide who will play next. Then it happens. The knock down, followed by another, I win my first round. I am stunned, those around me are not sure what just happened. Then it hits me, I have discovered the way.

The final round commences, it is one a piece, this is the decider. I jump backwards, the forwards with a kick, He goes down. The tension mounts. I repeat, throw in an iceball for a free upper cut and then jump in for a kick. He goes down. I jump in once more, following it up with a slide kick. A sharp tone, Danger. A familiar warning to me, to prepare another 50 pence piece, but this time, this time it is for Goro. I know it is over. Those around me know it is over. All I need to do is land one more hit, even if he blocks it, I win.

He goes down. I have won. I have done it. The crowd around me congratulate me, shower me with adulation's that I would not get other wise. I have done it first, to our little group, I am the first person ever to have beaten Goro. It doesn't matter if we are in faded seaside holiday town, this has given us so much more than we have had before. We have beaten Goro.

I move up the battle plan, to face the boss, Shang Tsung. I am quickly overcome. The remainder of my funds are depleted quickly, my last credit in the machine. I square up to the boss one final time. The crowd of less than ten hold their breath. I land my final punch, its over. I have lost.

But it doesn't matter, because today, I became the first person to beat Goro. Come the start of school, stories will be told of the day. Not the day when I made it to face Shang Tsung, but the day on which I beat Goro.