Friday, February 17, 2006

1981: The Year of the Arcade Cocoon

(*Note: As part of a test of my image server, this is a rebroadcast of an original article aired January 09, 2003)

Ah, before GameBoy and all these other 3D equipped handhelds were a twinkle in a Nintendo eye, us 80s kids had the old LED handheld "electronic games." When I was in 5th Grade (1981), lemme tell ya, these were all the rage. But since the majority of these games used nothing more than LED blips, playing them in bright sunlight was practically impossible. Unless, of course, you spun an Arcade Cocoon. How is this done, you ask? Read on.

First, you needed a fifth grade boy. This was me in the fifth grade. A lil shrimp. You also needed a large jacket or an oversize cotton hoodie (pullover). Either or, but definitely something that stretched and was made of something that blocked the light out well enough. You'll see why later on. For this example, I'll use a cotton hoodie.

Then, you needed to have a handheld game. Folks, this was 1981, ages before the Game Boy. One of my favorites was Mattelâ„¢ Basketball. Did it have 3D graphics in color? Hell no! I had red LED blips for my Larry Bird and Julius Irving. Nevertheless, it was addicting as all hell.

Then, most importantly, you had to have a vacant school bench out in the schoolyard, and a sunny day. It had to be sunny, otherwise you wouldn't have had to make an arcade cocoon.

This was especially useful in Spring and the verge of Summer, when the sun was out almost all the time. Plus, we were going to an elementary school which was only two blocks away from the beach. So you know it was sunny almost all the time. Anyways, here's the drill - first, you had to be on that vacant bench, then...

You took your jacket or cotton hoodie and zipped it up to the top. Then you sat on the bench and brought your knees up close, with the handheld game somewhere close. I put mine in my lap. You turned the jacket backwards and started bringing it up and over your head.

You'd fit your head through the jacket and continued pulling it down, being sure to keep your knees up. The world would slowly darken and the schoolyard sounds of fights and dodgeball games would slowly fade as it went over your ears.

You would keep on pulling, stretching it over your knees. This is why it was important that you had either something oversize, or something that stretched. Bringing it over the knees comfortably was the hardest part. By now, the sounds of frolicking kids and bouncing balls became muffled whisps of wind.

Finally, you would bring it as far down as it would go, to ensure total darkness (if the fabric was dense enough). Your whole world was dark now, and that little LED display lit your face in all its glory, the bleeps and blips filling your ears for the whole lunch or recess period until the bell rang.

Where'd everyone go?

Really, alotta kids were doing this daily. There was a whole assortment of games kids had, from Basketball to Football, to Space Invader type games. This handy secluded privacy chamber never really had a name; the "Arcade Cocoon" is something I just thought of now, 'coz sometimes you'd have a bunch of kids cooped up in their jackets/pullovers playing their LED handhelds, and it would look like a bunch of weird cocoons in hibernation. Kinda like Gremlins or Aliens. It made it tough to find your friends sometimes. They all looked like lumps. It was pretty weird. I wish I took a picture of one of those days. Heh, what did I know or even care about photography back then. It was all about playing those games.

What's funny is, since these "cocoons" were so odd and characteristic, eventually the teachers caught onto it. In those days, we weren't allowed to bring toys of any sort to school, so from then on, anyone in a "cocoon" got their game taken away. Only until the end of the day, I think.

This site has a (box) picture of the Mattelâ„¢ Basketball game I used to cherish so, plus some other popular handhelds of the time. Unfortunately they aren't divided into chronological order, so there are a few more modern ones in there. But it's still worth a look.


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