Stranger Things 2 arcade

Why arcade games are so important to Stranger Things Season 2

Contributed by
Oct 30, 2017, 4:30 PM EDT

Stranger Things isn't a, uh, stranger to clever foreshadowing. Its first season began with a Dungeons & Dragons game that viewers eventually realized was spelling out Will Byers' fate. In case you don't remember, Will fails in an attack roll to defeat the Demogorgon just before getting captured by the creature from the Upside Down.

Stranger Things 2 opts to try this again, only this time using arcade games instead of tabletop. Also, instead of just one game, it used two.

**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for Stranger Things 2 below**

One of the new season's opening scenes shows the four friends at a local arcade playing Dragon's Lair, the 1983 arcade game most famous for its graphics and, as Dustin says later, for being "overpriced bullsh**." For the uninitiated, Dragon's Lair was created by animation legend Don Bluth (The Land Before Time, The Secret of NIMH), and Rick Dyer, who wanted to create something grander than the pixelated sprites seen in other games. It featured real, interactable animation, using a laserdisc to create a different kind of arcade experience, with a series of quick time events where one wrong move could result in death. You play as Dirk the Daring, who has to rescue Princess Daphne from the dragon Singe.

"To slay the dragon, use the magic sword," Princess Daphne tells Dustin, who's at the helm as the other three shout commands over his shoulder. It's similar to the D&D scene in the first season, in which Dustin and Lucas give differing suggestions to Will, who has to decide whether to cast a protection spell or go directly after the Demogorgon. Anybody who's tried to play a game with multiple people backseat gaming knows the stress this kind of environment can cause. In its own way, these tense situations tease that things are only about to get worse from here as the friends can't agree on simple strategies -- paving the way for tension later on when the stakes actually matter.

Regardless, Dustin fails to save the princess and gets burned alive. He curses at the machine.

"You're just not nimble enough, but you'll get there one day," Lucas tells him. "Until then, Princess Daphne is still mine!"

Dustin calms himself down by reminding everybody that he still has the high score on two other cabinets: Dig Dug and Centipede. However, an arcade worker reveals that somebody with the handle "MadMax" now has the high score on Dig Dug, crashing Dustin's dreams of arcade superiority forever.

These are all important details that not only hint at elements that'll be introduced later,  but map out particular plot lines. Just like in the first season, we're getting a glimpse into what's to come.

First, let's start with Dragon's Lair.

The plot of the game is simple: slay the dragon, save the princess. If we're going with the idea that this is foreshadowing, there will be a rescue of some kind. However, because this is 2017 and Stranger Things has never been about playing into genre conventions, it's not a case of a male character rescuing a female one.

Once again, Will becomes the victim, falling prey again to the creatures in the Upside Down. Only this time, we're seeing the torture instead of just insinuating about it based on brief glimpses through Christmas lights. After multiple jumps into the Upside Down -- seen by most as post-traumatic stress disorder flashbacks -- Will gets possessed by the Shadow Monster. Or in simpler terms, a dragon. Either way, he must be rescued.

However, the most interesting aspect of this sequence comes in Lucas' taunt to Dustin after he loses. By saying that the princess is all his, he's hinting at the love triangle that blossoms between Dustin, Lucas and Max (aka MadMax), a new girl at school. And as people who have watched the whole season know, despite Dustin's best efforts, including getting relationship advice from Steve Harrington, he's unsuccessful and Max dances with Lucas at the Snow Ball. The "nimble enough" comment is almost like Lucas is saying that one day Dustin will be a strong enough rival in love, but for now he needs to grow up and improve, which he does throughout the course of the season.

Dig Dug is the other obvious device, probably more so than Dragon's Lair. The 1982 game has a player working to eliminate monsters that live underground in tunnels. Sound familiar?

Stranger Things 2 tunnels

When Will gets possessed by the Shadow Monster, forming a connection with the hive mind, he draws out what we eventually learn are tunnels underneath Hawkins. The tunnels, which span the entire town and beyond, are used by the Demogorgons and the other creatures to get around, at one point allowing a horde of pollywags (baby Demogorgons) to infiltrate the town. It's probably why the title of the season's fifth episode, when Chief Jim Hopper goes through the tunnels for the first time, is appropriately called "Dig Dug."

It's not just the core concept that's the same. Fygars, one of the enemies in the game, can breathe fire, which just so happens to be the monsters' main weakness in Stranger Things. In the final episode, the team sets a key portion of the tunnels on fire, dealing a huge blow to the Upside Down army and allowing both Eleven to close the gate and Will to be freed of the monster.

The final game, Centipede, also has influences in the series, although it's more subtle. This 1980 shooter forces the player to fight off a centipede that drops from the top of the screen. However, certain pieces of it can break off and move on their own, causing the level to eventually be filled with creatures the player must kill. This is a reference to both the monsters and what's to come. The creatures, including the Demogorgons and the pollywags, are all created by the Shadow Monster and are a part of his army. They're also a part of a hive mind. Once the Shadow Monster goes down, everything else does too.

It's also the kind of enemy that doesn't go down easily. You may be able to shoot it, but that's only the beginning. It'll come back for more.