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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Pac-Man and ghost

Arcade parade

Ballymood

Blissful Ms.

Well-used and well-loved

One player or two?

Discovered at last!

Well-pressed

Attack bugs from outer space

Coin slot

Quarter master

Salvation

Ignite your lightsaber

Welcome to my spaceship

Maximum Trek

Quoth the raven

Big mouth strikes again

Mole in one

Barbie is No. 1

Take Homer home

Swabbing the deck

Photo Booth precursor

Turbaned truth-teller

Perforated destiny

Wild rides

Hockey hound

SANTA MONICA, Calif.--The giant gaming machines of the Pac-Man era were pushed aside long ago by home consoles. And now smartphone games like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja (not to mention ports of classics like Pac-Man itself) may be threatening to drive the arcade as a whole into oblivion.

But vintage machines are still in use, and the pleasure palace known as the arcade can still be found. We happened on one recently at the Santa Monica Pier in Southern California: "Playland" opened in 1954 and is still run by the same family.

Of course, Playland predates "video games" like Pac-Man by nearly three decades, with its offerings suggesting even the shooting galleries and carnival games of the 19th century and beyond. Indeed, the place feels like a living museum of sorts, a curio shop of pop culture, a last resting place for the all-but-forgotten recreational rituals of yesteryear.

The video game definitely made a place for itself here, so let's start with that and then move farther afield. We'll grab some quarters and drop them into that slot there on the time machine (we'll be sure to save a few coins so we can get ourselves back)...
Caption by / Photo by Edward Moyer/CNET
Playland doesn't sit far from the ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier. And it's open on both sides to the ocean air. When you need a break from Centipede (or Skee Ball), you can step outside and feed the seagulls (the cries of which add to the feeling of timelessness). The arcade is open seven days a week.

(By the way, the carousel building in the foreground was featured in the classic '70s film "The Sting," with Paul Newman and Robert Redford.)
Caption by / Photo by Edward Moyer/CNET
We'll start with something from the not-too-distant charming past. Seeing the graphics on these classic "video game" machines definitely takes you back (if you predate the iPhone--or perhaps even the Web 1.0--generation).

And if you're part of Generation i, well then they're simply dripping with retro awesomeness.

What do you suppose this fellow is so happy about? The Midway logo?
Caption by / Photo by Edward Moyer/CNET
Aha! (And hubba hubba.) It's Ms. Pac-Man, star of the sequel to Pac-Man that appeared in the U.S. in 1981.

About 30 years old, huh? She doesn't look a day over 21.
Caption by / Photo by Edward Moyer/CNET
This Centipede machine has obviously seen a lot of use over the last three decades or so.

Battered as it is, it remains a thing of beauty.
Caption by / Photo by Edward Moyer/CNET
This Mario game has taken its share of knocks too (and proudly displays its battle scars). Again, the graphics take you back (and the wear and tear allows for a kind of silent communion with those countless gamers of yore).
Caption by / Photo by Edward Moyer/CNET
The real Ms. Pac-Man, in the flesh. Still trying to beat her own high score after all these years.
Caption by / Photo by Edward Moyer/CNET
Galaga. You could pound the sturdy buttons on these machines all day with your fist. They didn't seem to mind.

As long as you offered up your quarters.
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Galaga again, and more vintage graphics. The cabinets that housed the actual machines always seemed to have nice touches like this.
Caption by / Photo by Edward Moyer/CNET
Of course, there was always one of these...
Caption by / Photo by Edward Moyer/CNET
...and one of these. All told, this machine probably worked every bit as hard, if not harder, than the game machines themselves. And it was almost an altar.
Caption by / Photo by Edward Moyer/CNET
Playland is a kind of museum, full of the detritus of pop culture. There's no telling what you might find.

Here, a terminator in high tops gets down to business, as mom looks on. (And to the right, Rambo wears a pom-pom.)
Caption by / Photo by Edward Moyer/CNET
Sci-fi and fantasy are popular themes. Anakin peers forth from a pinball machine...
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Even "Star Trek: Voyager" makes an appearance, as Seven of Nine gives a come-hither look and tempts you to part with your quarters.
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But wait--it's some kind of bait and switch. As we said, there's no telling what you'll find in this strange pop culture museum. Here, the "Star Trek" cabinet has been gutted and now plays host to a first-person shooter called Maximum Force. (Or we suppose you could say Maximum Force has been assimilated.)
Caption by / Photo by Edward Moyer/CNET
And speaking of first-person shooters, this is what they looked like way back in the day. Playland features two coin-operated shooting-gallery-type games, this being one of them. Some of the crow's mechanics are visible inside its beak.
Caption by / Photo by Edward Moyer/CNET
This one's even more carnivalesque, requiring the toss of a ball (it's still coin-operated though).
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This little critter has clearly been whacked a few times.
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And the pop culture fun continues, with Barbie and Ken busting out the Jet Skis for some racy action.
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Homer pleads to be rescued (and given some pants).

(This wasn't staged--the guy actually seemed to have come to life and made his way to the glass.)
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Obviously they take care of the Skee runs.
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Digital cameras and Webcam apps like Apple's Photo Booth haven't diminished the charm (and fun) of actual photo booths. Another thing about arcades is that they make for great people-watching. Folks seem to invariably tumble out of a photo booth like this with a smile on their face and a laugh on their lips.
Caption by / Photo by Edward Moyer/CNET
"Come, let Zoltar tell your fortune."

Playland has a pair of Zoltars out front, and they seem to have a following. Many of the people who walked by greeted one or the other of them with a hearty, "Hey, it's Zoltar!"
Caption by / Photo by Edward Moyer/CNET
Still more vintage graphics. This Sun and Saturn design definitely speaks of another era, even though it's been freshly printed.
Caption by / Photo by Edward Moyer/CNET
Three modes of transportation: Space Shuttle, train, and pelican. The Shuttle's iconic status is here confirmed beyond a doubt.
Caption by / Photo by Edward Moyer/CNET
And another day nears its end. But the air hockey (and video gaming) continue into the evening.

As fun as smartphone games might be, let's hope the sun never truly sets on the old-school arcade.
Caption by / Photo by Edward Moyer/CNET
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