Retrogaming: What’s in an (arcade) name?

High scores feel like a retro concept, but in reality they’ve just morphed into other methods of online measurement with a lot more clear identification, and that’s a good thing.

I’m still playing a lot of The Pinball Arcade, not helped by the fact that I had dinner with a friend of mine who’s lucky enough to own a couple of genuine pinball tables, one of which (Bally’s Doctor Who) is recreated digitally within that title. It is, as I’ve noted previously, not quite the real thing, but it’s as close as I can afford right now in any case.


One day… one day, the real thing will be mine.

A big part of the pinball experience is the gathering of high scores and, naturally, that iconic entry of a three letter arcade name for the high score table. Within the app version of The Pinball Arcade they’re near permanent where back in the day they’d always reset whenever the proprietor shut up shop and switched machines back on. As with all things, they were temporary glory, but glory nonetheless.

I can recall back in the day some fierce battles over high scores at the bowling alley that served as my town’s arcade back in the day, some leading to actual physical fights.


Basically, the 80s were like this, but with less actual nudity. Either that, or I was hanging around the wrong arcades.

I was always more keen on specific games that others weren’t so fussed on, so if you were a fan of, say, Elevator Action or Exciting Hour, you’d most likely find my rather unique three letter code atop the high score table.


Different name, same game. No, I don’t know why.

Most folks I knew back then tended to go for straight initials, which should suggest that I’d appear as A.K, and indeed for a while I did. Right up until one fateful day where, thanks to a slip of the joystick, I went one letter too far to the left when entering the full stop. I can’t recall which game it was, but there was no delete function, so I was stuck staring at AZ.

My middle name doesn’t start with Z, sadly, so I decided to let the fates have it. I held my hand down on the joystick, closed my eyes, let it beep its way through about 15 seconds worth of letter scrolling and hit fire. When I opened my eyes, I discovered that my new three letter acronym was AZN.

And such it has been from then until now, including on my friend’s Doctor Who pinball machine for a few hours, until inevitably he powered that down too.

Now there’s a tendency to think of high score chasing as a very retro concept, because games have moved well beyond that, or so the thinking might go. Yes, games have evolved, and that’s no bad thing either.

The kinds of experiences that are possible now would have seemed utterly impossible to the kid who came up with AZN all those years ago. Still, I think what we’ve seen is a shift from those old, never-permanent-unless-your-name-is-Billy-Mitchell high scores to new forms of marking pretty much the same territory. What’s a gamerscore or PSN trophy count if not a high score of sorts?

Indeed, modern gamers have it really lucky, because there’s a lot more permanence to this kind of thing, whether you’ve got a decade or more of cloud-saved Xbox Live gamerscore to fall back on, or for that matter your record score at any game that you uploaded to YouTube or Twitch. If you’re really lucky, you might even get someone to make a documentary about you, a la The King of Kong or Man Vs Snake.

Retro recollections are just random musings on retro subjects, usually whatever I’m playing at the moment.

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