I live and grew up in Honduras, Central America. Latin American gaming had and still have a lot of differences when it comes to gaming. There are many third world countries in the area mine included. That fact didn’t stop us from getting to know the Italian plumber and his classic “It’s me, Mario!”. Gaming in a third world country was more of a ritual of camaraderie and sportsmanship back in the day.
These are some stories and recollections of friends and neighbors here in Honduras. This is how gaming was experienced back then, and, it surely has changed. Still, some of those old roots still linger to this day, both, the good and the bad parts of it.
The modded SNES Maquinita
Here in Honduras, gaming started to get popular with the arcades. Arcades weren’t uncommon in third world countries back in the day. Every community has at least one rudimentary mini market store a la 7 Eleven called Pulperia. In the late ’80s, these pulperias decided to adopt an additional form of revenue, arcade machines. These arcade machines are nothing like their original counterparts. We call them here, “maquinitas.” These maquinitas were wooden and painted handcrafted boxes that were almost identical copies of the original arcades.
The buttons, joystick, everything was there. Even the tactile feedback was there. Still, when you took a closer look at the device, it was a modded SNES or another console. I still recall that one time I was there trying to buy some milk and eggs for homemade pancakes when they were servicing one of the broken maquinitas. Once they opened the wooden box, I saw an SNES there! It was wired in bizarre ways; to this day, I still wonder how the whole setup worked. In my younger years, I thought this was no mere console, it was pure state of the art tech, but it was an old faithful SNES.
You went with your singles to the owner of the Pulperia and asked him to exchange them for loose change. There were no special arcade coins, you used the local currency, and it granted you a certain amount of play time per coin. Super Soccer and Mortal Kombat were local favorites where I grew up.
Jonathan and The Cybers
A friend of mine, Jonathan, he was all about “The Cybers.” This was the late 90’s now. Arcade kids now needed something more powerful to toy with. The late ’90s was the time Internet was starting to be introduced in my country as an affordable commodity. Well, affordable because of the internet cafes that started populating all around like they were pulperias. We call these cafes, Cybers. You paid a fee of $0.50 USD per hour. Some went there to do school papers, but when that was over, the Cybers became a battlefield of sportsmanship.
Some Cybers were able to afford some rudimentary gaming PCs, and the era of Half-Life and Unreal Tournament started. I was younger back then, and I was not allowed to play on the PC because games were “too bloody” and for “adults.” Jonathan, on the other hand, he spent hundreds of hours of his teenage years along with my older cousins playing LAN deathmatches of Unreal Tournament. For them, this was a serious matter; it was like a World Cup match for them. It looked as serious as it looks at a DOTA 2 World Championship Finals, like all the fame and accomplishment of the world depended on it.
Camaraderie and sportsmanship
Gaming was a lot more communal back then. It used to bring kids around the maquinitas and teenagers in the cybers. Nowadays things have changed, there are still some of these places around, even though pulperias are still alive, arcades are almost gone, and internet is now not as secluded as it used to be. Honduras is sadly, to date, cataloged as a third world country, and gaming is awfully costly and considered a luxury. Still, everyone has a friend that’s willing to share his or her console and play some Fifa matches.
Fifa is still a phenomenon here, just like in most of the world. Latinos are famous for their love of soccer. Hell, Honduras even had a small war with El Salvador due to a soccer match called “The Football War.” After reading that, you get the idea of how competitive Hondurans are about soccer, or how misguided we can be when it comes to fanatism. Politics aside, the time of the maquinitas and cybers brought all these gamers together to compete. Everyone wanted to be that famous kid in his neighborhood that was unbeatable in Fifa or Super Soccer or the guy that singlehandedly defeated the highest tower in Mortal Kombat without any continues and with just one coin.
That was gaming in a third world country. Those days are gone, but they lead to a generation of passionate, competitive gamers that are all about sharing what they have with those whom they love.