Last week we were invited to a grand opening of one GAME’s Belong gaming arenas which sprung up memories of the golden era of Arcades.
The word “Arcade” conjures up a whole host of different mental images, but the most prominent of those is the often a stuffy, dimly lit room full of cabinets and machines. People stood in groups laughing, joking and trading friendly smack talk as their faces are illuminated in a kaleidoscopic array of colors. A steady stream of various different soundtracks, effects, and noises all blending into one melodic beat punctuating the air. I’m not so old as to have grown up playing Space Invaders and Asteroids but I’ve spent plenty of my pocket money learning to boss Mario Kart or navigating the House of Dead. You don’t immediately think of the Belong Gaming Arenas by GAME, but perhaps we should?
I’m also old enough to know that the arcades as we so often like to remember them are a dying breed. The opening sequence of Wreck-It Ralph, hell the entire movie, embodies this perfectly. We see a clash of old and new as the arcade machines change with the times, old machines being replaced with newer high definition ones. It’s the way it’s going and you’d be a fool to say otherwise…
But that’s where Belong by GAME come in, at least in the UK anyway. Sure there are plenty of “retro” arcades you can find wherever you go, London has a couple of them at quite reasonable prices and Manchester is home to the Arcade Club, where you pay an entry fee and then every machine is free. They’re great but few and far between. What GAME are doing with their Belong Arenas are bridging the gap between competitive esports and the retro arcade concept, providing gamers a comfortable location to engage in some casual competitive gaming with their friends or become part of a great whole and join their local Belong team. Being invited along to the opening of the new Belong site in Stratford it’s easy to see just how much potential these kinds of places have.
Boasting an impressive array of stations, each equipped with a high-end gaming PC, an Xbox One and a PS4, players are able to engage in whatever game takes their fancy. Each station comes with some of the most popular games pre-installed and ready to roll from Overwatch to Street Fighter, you’re good to go. Gaming is moving more and more towards the popular esports scenes, encouraging teams to form and practice often in order to be the best and Belong arenas are perfect for that. Offering a great environment to get your team together under one roof and log some serious session time.
Of course, that’s not all they offer, the systems available open up a range of possibilities and the staff is on hand to accommodate any requests you may have, so long as it’s available on PC/Xbox One/PS4. The venue itself is open to bookings so if your kid is a huge Fortnite fan, as most of them seem to be, you could host a Fortnite party at the site and get everyone together to play. In this world of increasing online play, the days of couch co-op are gone but not forgotten and it seems Belong are trying to revitalize them somewhat. So many gamers rarely hang out with their friends physically nowadays and it’s quite crushing to see. Perhaps as the Belong arenas become more prevalent and more locations open up then you’ll once again see groups of people clustered around one machine cheering their friend on as they go for a high score or record.
Sure you would likely be playing all of the same games without any of the familiar comforts from being at home, so why bother? Community. So often you hear about toxic online community behavior and how it’s killing the industry, well you’re far less likely to tell a guy to uninstall the game when he’s sat three chairs down from you. But it’s not just that, it’s that sense of… belonging (I know…) you’d get from being surrounded by like-minded peers, socializing and having fun as a collective. Being able to actually see the people you’re playing with is something the gaming community has been desperately lacking. Gamers today exist as a unique oxymoron of being horribly anti-social yet constantly engaging with other people, hopefully, these Belong arenas will help combat some of the anonymity we appear to have developed for our fellow nerds.
Hell, they’ve even kept the dim lighting so you can focus on the screens easier, what’s not to love?