Dragon's Lair Comes Home (Again)

The summer of 1983 was a bit of a turning point for me. It was my first year of junior high, that pivotal time when school and social circles become more cutthroat and you start to realize that you're not much of a kid anymore. Return Of The Jedi had just come out--concluding an obsession that lasted nearly half my life--and for the first time I was more aware of the zippers in the back of the Ewok costumes than the massive space battles I beheld. I was fat and nerdy, not sure how I fit into a world where everyone was suddenly trying to moonwalk. And unbeknownst to me, the final salvo of a childhood of quarter-filled pockets was unleashed.

One of my great pleasures was visiting the local roller rinks, pizza parlors, and bowling alleys, because that's where the video games were. We didn't have an Atari at home, so I would save up my change and wait for an invitation or a ride to anywhere a stray Battle Zone or Dig Dug machine was. I generally sucked at most of them (I particularly remember regularly embarrassing myself with Joust), but by 1983 I'd begun tiring of them. The old classics were still around--Frogger, Q*Bert, Donkey Kong Jr.--but it was harder and harder for them to compete with girls the other distractions of my 13-year old life.

Until, that is, I saw Dragon's Lair.

Dragon's Lair hit me between the eyes like the hammer of Thor. For someone who was used to playing games that looked like this:

I could barely contain the excitement of being able to play a game that looked like this:

It wasn't at all like games before it. It cost TWO quarters! You didn't so much control your player as you did react quickly to different cues that would kick off another animation (like early QuickTime events, to you other video game geeks out there). When you failed, you were treated to a hilarious death scene. The lines to play it were always crowded, but every time I had a turn I had a great time trying (and failing) to get Dirk the Daring to save Princess Daphne. It seemed to be the dawning of a new age in arcade fun.

It turns out I was right, but not in the way I expected. Nothing much came out of the revolution I thought I was witnessing. Despite a couple of similar follow-ups, games like Dragon's Lair never really took off. I started visiting arcades less and less, especially once I got a Commodore 64 that could play most of the games I cared about. Except for the occasional game of Contra or Double Dragon in high school, I never really plunked down coins to play again.

That doesn't mean I don't still play games. I'm not one of those dads who pretends the Xbox 360 in my house is "for the kids." I don't let myself play Civilization games any more because of all the times I was late for work (or dates) because of it. When my mind wanders, I relive moments of Bioshock, Red Dead Redemption, and Assassin's Creed, and vehemently defend games as both an art form easily on par with cinema, and a source of narratives as rich, complex and moving as you can find in most literature. Maybe not in Call Of Duty, but they're out there, trust me.

So imagine my delight when I found out that Dragon's Lair is coming to Xbox Live. It's been years since I've even seen the game, having apparently missed the 66 other versions that have made tepid appearances throughout the years. The news immediately transported me back to the summer of 1983, quarters in hand and the smell of pizza in the air, flicking knobs and pressing buttons to jump over some rotating blades. The thought of reliving those memories at home (once the family goes to sleep, of course) brought me more joy than I had any right to have. And it even has Kinect capabilities, which means that I may find myself on my feet and flailing about before I inevitably turn Dirk into a collapsing skeleton.

Who knows, maybe now I can actually save the princess.  I'll be sure to send Microsoft a stack of quarters in payment.

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