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Friday, May 5, 2006

Fascinating, That Fascination Is

“Fascination” by Human League from the EP Fascination
Fourth week of April, 1983

skeeballforfascination.jpgOn the boardwalk of seaside resort town North Wildwood, in the early-to-mid 80s, there was an arcade by the name of Fascination. It featured a game that was also called Fascination. In retrospect, it’s hard to tease out which was the chicken and which was the egg. I never saw Fascination, the game, at any other arcade along the boardwalk, and in that day, arcades were legion in Wildwood. (These were the days when the best things going at home were Atari 2600s with their less-than-detailed renderings of “things,” most of which only resembled “things” if you squinted your eyes and also lowered your expectations. So, arcades with video games that featured “things” that looked like “things” were basilican destinations and not just places to waste time.)

Here were the rules of Fascination: You rolled a rubber ball up a slanted plane toward a bunch of holes, each accorded a different amount of points. These points were worth a certain amount of tickets, and the tickets were exchangeable for an array of worthless pieces of junk masquerading as prizes, which were hanging from the walls and ceiling, or displayed from behind theft-proof plastic cases. Come to think of it, this seems a lot like skeeball. But it wasn’t skeeball. Skeeball was fun, and Fascination wasn’t, though I can’t remember quite what the difference was. They sure sound similar.

Perhaps the reason that I can’t quite remember the exact mechanics of this game were because they are eclipsed by a more salient aspect of game play: the never-ending loop of Human League’s New Wave-ish hit song “Fascination” that was amplified loudly throughout the arcade. While I don’t know whether the game or the arcade came before the other, I’m almost positive that both came before the song. The owner of the arcade must have been thrilled when an upbeat synth-heavy pop song emerged on the radio with the name of his baby. So thrilled in fact, that he decided to bash it into the brains of everybody who came into his establishment, forever consigning that tune to the boring stupid game it featured.

My aunt, for some reason, loved the game. While vacationing every summer, she spent a lot of time in Fascination, playing Fascination, listening to “Fascination.” And since I spent a lot of time with my cousins in those days, it meant I spent a lot of time with my aunt and her Fascination habit. The arcade, unlike so many others, did not feature many quality video games of the time. There was no Spyhunter or Dragon’s Lair. The owner was throwing most of his stake into that weird unfun skeeball rip-off. So, that left little for me to do but wander around the pinball machines, staring at the worthless prizes, listening to that song. Again. And again. And again.

And again.

Dennis DiClaudio