March 05, 2008

THE STARCADE FAN CLUB


I vividly recall the morning when my father's standard "Hey Kirk, wake up or you'll be late for school." was replaced with "Hey Kirk, they're making a TV show where people play video games for prizes." I leapt from the covers and hounded my dad for details, but all he knew came from some thirty second ad he had seen on TBS that morning (It was still WTBS in those days. Ah, the Superstation.). I got dressed in front of the television in hopes of getting a look at this alleged commercial. I ended up boarding my school bus utterly dissatisfied. Later that day one of my classmates verified my father's claim. However, the descriptive powers of a fellow fourth grader only caused more frustration. So I'll spare you additional suspense; the show was called Starcade, it was a game show where contestants competed by playing four different video arcade games. The grand prize was usually a real live freestanding video game.

Now you can watch entire episodes of Starcade on their official web site!

For most, watching other people play video games does not hold tremendous entertainment value (which is probably why the fools at NBC passed on the show) In truth, only about six minutes of the half hour was devoted to game play. While a vidiot like myself would have tuned in to just about any video game related entertainment, Starcade was exceedingly compelling because it played upon one of my wildest fantasies— to own a real video game. Vicariously living out this scenario was actually the only reason I ever used to watch Silver Spoons. The other big attractor of Starcade was the fact that new video games were often unveiled to the public on the air. And as if that weren't enough their Hotline segment was practically the only televised source of video game news. I did not miss an episode. I watched with a pencil in hand so that I could write down the names of any video games that were new to me. My ultimate, and failed goal was to compile a list of every existing game.


Starcade-watching events became the norm. We reacted to it with Super Bowl-like enthusiasm, and the moment each episode ended our only choice was to channel our ecstasy into the Atari 2600. The earliest airings of the show could generate quite a crowd of neighborhood kids, but after the novelty wore off only a few of us diehards stayed committed to the afternoon time slot. One such zealot was a pal of mine named Brad Felts. His house was an ideal Starcade hangout, forever stocked with Goldfish crackers and canned soda pop. (Their television set even sported what was likely our town's first-ever Betamax player.)

On a Spring morning Brad showed up to homeroom with the crazed look of inspiration on his face. He erupted into babble and I sensed that he'd been waiting many hours to unload his revelation upon me. It was something about Starcade, and a club, and titles and duties, and other foreign concepts. I patronizingly agreed to his wishes and I even signed something. It was a letter...


Two months later I was deeply thankful that I had gone along with Brad's mania. He informed me that his mother had used her superpowers of adulthood to mail our letter to the JM Production company, creators of Starcade. But not only that— they wrote back...


As indicated above, the honorable Mavis E. Arthur herself granted us the world's first and only Starcade Fan Club! Thus President Brad and I were bestowed our first-ever positions of authority. But what is glory without riches? In fact, the Starcade HQ saw fit to issue us official regalia...

To this day I've never worn a more prestigious uniform. They also included a small character called a Weepul bearing the Starcade logo. (Unfortunately it fell prey to the family cat. But you can take heart Weepul sympathizers, the cat is long dead now.)

So what do a couple of nine-year-old boys do with instant power and status? Well, after our prolonged boasting sessions were over, we found ourselves at a loss. Then it struck me that our new lifestyle would inevitably involve loads of privileged information followed by hoards of new enemies. We were in desperate need of a secret code. So I rose to the challenge and developed this devious little number...


Now, I realize that to the unrefined this document appears to contain nothing more than a series of arbitrary figures. Au contraire, my friend; what you're seeing is a sophisticated communications system in which each symbol represents a graphic from a video game that begins with its corresponding letter. So, K is a glove from Knock Out, R is a race car from Rally-X, X is an enemy from Xevious and so on. Now do you see why I was the Vice President? I thought so.

So with the code out of the way, the next order of business was assembling our army of fans. We collected pages of names of potential members. We gave all the local children reason to be very excited, and it felt great to be in the center of it all. The letter from JM Productions promised that each kid we reported would receive a free button and Weepul. But, you know, we had our spoils and I guess we were a bit too fourth grader-ish to follow through on actually mailing in the list. Nor were we effective enough to even update headquarters on our club activities as they had requested. In reality our only club activity was watching more Starcade. And with reruns and such, we even phased out of that. It's astonishing to recall how we so swiftly squandered our prized positions. Our attention spans had forsaken us, but worse was the way we forsook our people. I realize we were young, but in a very real sense we fell right into the common snares of authority— egoism and conceit, all while failing to fulfill the responsibilities that came with the job. Then we lost all interest before our term was over. We stuffed our pockets with Weepuls while ignoring the needs of our followers.

Just as the excitement of our achievement wore off, we got another letter verifying the date of our Starcade Hotline appearance (as well as another plea to send in names of our members).


On September 29, 1983 I raced home and nervously planted myself before the TV. Then it happened...

video


My national television debut

We went nuts. Of course there was immediate talk of reforming the club, but even in the face of TV stardom, we managed to fall back into basic fifth grade survival mode.

The grandest moment of this entire chapter of my life occurred many months (possibly years) after the shirts arrived and after our photo was aired. I was visiting the home of a friend whom I hadn't known during my stint as V. P. and I was shocked to find his entire family watching a syndicated episode of Starcade. Naturally, I piped up with tales of my fan club and appearance on the show. I was met with accusatory frowns from his parents and my friend's teenage sister verbalized what everyone was thinking "You are such a liar. Don't lie to us!" I felt frustrated and ashamed until minutes later when I showed up on their TV screen. Yes, it happened to be "my" episode! That afternoon, I learned the true meaning of vindication.

Epilogue
In February of 2001 my annual retro gaming fixation lead me to search the web for any mention of Starcade. As it turned out, JM Productions had recently built an elaborate online shrine to the show. I immediately emailed them, stating my place in Starcade history. Not only did James R. Caruso and Mavis E. Arthur remember me, they sent me a complimentary package that contained a new button, a video tape of my episode, color copies of all of our almost 20-year-old correspondence, and a new Weepul!! (Sadly, my second Weepul has since been destroyed by my dog.) This telling act of generosity (and crazy archiving skills) made me understand exactly why Starcade was and is so special. No wonder I was such a fan.

As they said on the show.. "See you next time, and until then, I hope all of your troubles get zapped."

Kirk Demarais
Vice President
Starcade Fan Club


(For the record, I didn't have to rely on Starcade to achieve the rank of arcade game owner. Several years after they were out of vogue I bought a Tempest machine from a church for fifty dollars. It towered in the corner of my bedroom like a guardian angel. I tell you there is nothing quite as serene as falling asleep by the soothing glow of a back-lit Tempest marquee.)

20 comments:

Scrine said...

This is a great story!

sharon said...

how touching that the producers made an effort to make you feel important! it makes me wonder "what could have been" for my fourth grade Monkees club (second wave Monkees-- the 80s revival)... ah, memories... i'm cringing right now! :)

David W. said...

This is such a nice little story, and what makes it so amazing is the extreme coolness of the producers.

If this was a work of fiction I would have never believed that some TV producers would hold on to a kid's correspondence for 20 nearly years.

This makes me wonder how large their filing system is.

narvista said...

What an awesome story! That's cool that you still have all that old stuff.

Huck said...

I'll admit Kirk, even though you slacked off and never signed up all those hopeful kids to the club I still think this was a pretty cool achievement! You're such a NERD!

Todd Franklin said...

Oh man I would've joined the Starcade club in Galaxian minute! My brother and I never missed an episode and so we must've seen you on the Hotline. We used to tape this show with our audio tape player.

The Shan said...

How do you keep coming up with these materials?! You kill me! :D Your whole entire life has been documented and properly organized. You are the first Truman show Kirk! Well, I for one love knowing someone who is famous(even though I'm hideously jealous as well :{ grrr). You've just got it and you might as well give in to celebrity now while you're still young.

Ed South said...

Starcade was such an awesome show! It was very popular in our neighborhood, in fact we used to play our own version. We'd line up four or five Atari games and make up questions and then time each other with the kitchen egg timer playing the different cartridges. What a blast. I'm pretty sure we kept playing our home version long after the TV version went off the air.

We never did start a Starcade Fan Club...I guess I was too busy with my duties as President of our neighborhood Gremlins Trading Card club!

Karswell said...

This is such a legendary tale you could almost make a movie out it.

In my city of STL in the 70's the big deal was to get on Corky's Colorama for a television birthday party (which also featured cartoons and stuff) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corky%27s_Colorama ...I only knew one kid who did it but no one saw it when it aired so it didn't count. In the 80's the next big TV thing to do was be on the D.B.'s Delight kid's gameshow as a contestant:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dbs_delight ...never did that either.

Kirk D. said...

thanks scrine, glad you enjoyed it!

sharon- I'll bet if you would have written the Monkees, Davey would have come to play at your prom!

david w- yes I love it that the Starcade producers go directly against the stereotype of the heartless, money-grubbing fat cats.
(not to mention their great filing abilities)

thanks narvista- although sometimes I think I have a bit too much old stuff.

huck- that's Mr. Nerd to you.

thanks the shan. But now I'm just the other child actors. My star burnt out when I was 9 and now my only choice is to make a living off of Starcade reunion shows and the Starcade convention circuit. It's a sad existence.

Your home Starcade games were a great idea! And you just unlocked a memory for me. During one of my birthdays we held a video game contest and the winner got a set of Advance D & D figures. I don't know why it didn't occur to me to call it Starcade though.
I was into Gremlins trading cards too, although that club probably would have just given me a power trip too.

karswell- ah, yes the coveted positions on local kiddie shows. There was one out of Tulsa Oklahoma called Uncle Zeb that I dreamed of getting on. Didn't happen for me either. I'm also remembering a Santa Claus show I longed to be on. Funny to fantasize about being one kid in a bleacher full of other kids. But it's on TV so it's a big achievement!

Scrine said...

This thread dug out an old memory for me. I did make it into the bleachers of a kid's show not once, but twice, on Minneapolis' Popeye and Pete Show. It must have been the mid to late 60's sometime. We all sat there with our bags of candy, and once (damn him still!), my little brother who'd had to tag along had whined so much prior to getting on the bleachers that'd I'd traded spots in line with him just to keep him quiet. During the show, we were told to look on the bottom of our bags and whoever had the gold star sticker won a Bozo the Clown punching bag. Wouldn't you know it! My little brother won, meaning that he'd stolen the prize from me.

Aaron the Truck Driver said...

Steve Wiebe is number one!!!!

Hypnotits said...

I can't get the smile off my face after reading your Starcade saga, Kirk. It's so refreshing to hear a true tale of youthful innocence where adults not only didn't rain on your parade, but were actually wonderfully good-hearted. Remind me to tell you re: my appearance on WNEW's Midday Live show in 1971, with my best ESTES model rockets. ;)

Kirk D. said...

scrine- I remember those Bozo punching bags. The noses squeaked on the ones I'm thinking of. You should get your brother back by getting one on ebay and bringing it to your next family event. excellent story!

aaron- amen brother, amen.

hypnotits- just wanted to remind you to tell me about the time you made an appearance on WNEW's Midday Live show in 1971. Glad you enjoyed the tale!

Daniel said...

The last line of the Wupple Wiki entry is the saddest last line to anything ever. *<:'(

I do however remember despising Starcade because it reminded that I will never own a video game of any form. My parents were fun fascists who hated my smile and prospective good times.

Kirk D. said...

Heh, stealing wups from a classroom of kiddies has to be a new low.

Sounds like it's time to teach your folks a lesson and buy yourself an arcade game. It's just an ebay auction away!

Anonymous said...

Big fun! Did I miss an actual pic of a Weepul somewhere. I want to see. Granted, I blazed through in skim mode.
Squad Leader

Passepartout said...

I was also a Starcade fan and still am. As I also was and am a Geoff Edwards fan. Glad to see someone love the show like me.

Anonymous said...

Hey Kirk ... great page ... we knew you were a 'real' Starcader back in 1983 ... and it was great fun for the entire STARCADE! staff to have you and Brad ask for the very special priviledge of being the very first STARCADE! Fan Club. Thanks for helping us all relive the magic of STARCADE! with your special memories. _Mavis E. Arthur (Ms. not Mr.), Executive Producer/Writer, STARCADE!

Kirk D. said...

It's a pleasure to have you on the blog Madam Arthur! (As you can see I have corrected my decades old blunder.)
Thanks for visiting and for keeping Starcade alive!