I'm sure I'm not the only person of my swollen years who first encountered gaming through the seaside arcades, nestled as they would be twixt the fish and chip shops, the family pubs, and tat shops with their paper plates of candy bacon and eggs, plastic buckets, and Magic Wiggly Worm displays.
Those manically flashing lights and frantic chimes, the well-trodden, Vegas-cosplaying carpets... there was a bit something desperate and tragic about them.
Even as an 8 year-old I found them wistful and forlorn, clinging to a sort of desperate, pseudo-glamour. But within that there was an intangible wizardry; a room full of portals into other worlds, where you could become anything. And yes: those were the exact words my 8 year-old brain formed, so fuck off.
Nevertheless, the arcades were bait for an 8 year-old boy with holiday money to spend. Virtually nauseous with indecision, I would ricochet between the air hockey tables, the bagatelle, that weird gambling game with the plastic horses... The 70s were a brown and melancholic decade, yet here was the glitter on the dog turd.
What's most bizarre to me now is how little seaside arcades have changed in the years since - they're a slice of the 70s trapped in aspic, down to the dead-eyed attendants in the change booth.
Were it not for the Star Wars Battlepod and iPhones in the claw machines, I'd have sworn I'd slipped back to 1978.
Also, having only seen the notice on the guesthouse door - warning us not to drink the water - as we were leaving, Blackpool even succeeded in giving several of us the runs. Most of my childhood was spent with diarrhoea, one way or another, so it added to the sense of time travel.
In fact, Blackpool as a whole retains a sort of quintessential 1970s-ness. Everyone we saw looked as if they'd either popped out for a tattoo, or to pick up some candles in case there was another power cut. The only thing that's changed is that the seafront is now kept safe by patrols of 40-foot tall automatons designed to look like Paddy McGuinness.
"You have 20 seconds to let the sausage see the bun" they rasp through their electronic lips.
SPEND A PENNY
The first put-a-coin-in-a-machine game I can ever recall playing was the penny falls - you know: those retracting shelf games, where coins teeter on the edges, threatening to make you a millionaire at any second. My nan would hand me a tub of two pence pieces, and let me spend what felt like hours trying to encourage gravity to overcome the superglue.
Those peculiar animatronic light gun shooting galleries were also popular with the less-old me. Animatronic might be stretching it a little, mind - they were typically a few stiffly-animated redneck mannequins, posed in some sort of mocked-up, illicit moonshine distillery.
Shoot the correct target and you might see something as exciting as an owl raising its wings, or a weathercock spinning around. If you were really lucky, you might even cause the outhouse door spring open, revealing a debagged hillbilly in flagrant delicto.
One game I always inclined towards was Sega's Killer Shark (as featured in the movie Jaws, no less). Not a video game in the sense that we came to know them, Killer Shark was a mechanical device, which had players shooting harpoons at light-up sharks. There were a few others using the same technology, including a submarine game with periscope and depth charges - the name of which escapes me. Let's imagine it was called "Sub Time 4,000".
Somewhere in there, real video games started appearing.
Like so many others, Space Invaders - with the acetate overlay to give it an appearance of full colour graphics, and the inevitable fag-burns in the control panel - was my first proper video game.
Battlezone was another I couldn't walk past without having a go on - the sensory deprivation of its viewfinder and wireframe, 3D visuals, predates virtual reality by decades. As primitive as it looks now, back then I believed.
When I was six or seven, my best friend and his family moved to Scotland. Specifically, a small town called Golspie, on the East coast. You may have seen a viral image that was doing the rounds a few years ago, of a Scottish folk hero doing a poo down a chip shop chimney. My best friend's parents used to own that chip shop, and growing up I stayed there most school holidays. In fact, I slept in the room that's just below the man's bottom in the picture.
I'm not Scottish, and as far as I know I've not got any Scottish ancestry (if anything, it's Moroccan on my dad's side, bizarrely), but I used to tell people I was Scottish - such was the impact of Golspie.
They were the best holidays of my life, though so frequent were our visits - 12 hours or more by train and car - that they ceased to feel like holidays, more like it was somewhere else that I just happened to live occasionally. Up there, I had a freedom I could never have in London.
The chippy backed onto the beach, and we basically had free reign to climb the local mountain, or play in the water beneath the local waterfall, or clamber rather dangerously around the ruins of the local pier. There was a castle - an actual fairytale castle - just outside of town, a stone circle, and lobsters on the beach.
Days would be spent outside from dawn until after dusk, and when we were inside, we had all the fried food we could stomach (including - beautifully - deep-fried, battered haggis, pizzas and hamburgers... and this is why I love Scotland; they might as well just fry the Saltire and be done with it).
On one visit, I discovered our friends had bought an arcade game for the chip shop - Atari's Phoenix. Better still, outside of shop hours we could open up the front of the coin dispenser, and repeatedly flick the trip switch to give ourselves as many credits as we wanted.
That was the one trip to Golspie where I spent more time indoors than out...
THE GAMES OF MY YEARS: SEGA MASTER SYSTEM - PART ONE by Mr Biffo
THE GAMES OF MY YEARS: SEGA MASTER SYSTEM - PART TWO by Mr Biffo
THE GAMES OF MY YEARS: ATARI - PART ONE by Mr Biffo
THE GAMES OF MY YEARS: ATARI - PART TWO by Mr Biffo
THE GAMES OF MY YEARS: THE ZX SPECTRUM PART ONE by Mr Biffo
THE GAMES OF MY YEARS: THE ZX SPECTRUM PART TWO by Mr Biffo