WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the second season of Stranger Things, streaming now on Netflix.
Just as last year's series premiere of Stranger Things dropped clues to the first season's monstrous antagonist through a spirited session of Dungeons & Dragons, the Netflix drama provides hints to the plot of Season 2 through, of all things, the boys' visit to the video game arcade. Dig Dug and Dragon's Lair hold many secrets, which they'll give up for a price.
When we're reintroduced to the four central boys -- Mike Wheeler, Dustin Henderson, Lucas Sinclair and Will Byers -- they're frantically gathering quarters to play Dragon's Lair, the 1983 video game that stood out from others of the era by featuring beautiful hand-drawn animation, by Don Bluth (The Land Before Time, An American Tail). It was notoriously difficult to play, not to mention pricey, costing 50 cents per game, versus the usual quarter, which explains why the kids on Stranger Things pool their funds, and Mike risks punishment by raiding his sister Nancy's piggy bank.
State of the art in 1984, when Season 2 takes place, Dragon's Lair is a fantasy adventure that stars Dirk the Daring, a reluctant hero on a quest to rescue Princess Daphne from a dragon that had locked her within the castle of a wicked wizard. Players move the clumsy knight through the castle and into the caverns beneath, where he defeats an assortment of monsters and mystical obstacles or, far more likely, dies again and again, buried in debris, strangled by the countless tentacles of a monster, impaled on spikes or consumed by flame.
In that description alone, we see hints of what lies ahead for these reluctant heroes, who journey into the newly formed tunnels beneath Hawkins, Indiana, to fend off monsters that they consume in flames, with the help of some some gas cans and their allies. Who's Princess Daphne is in that scenario? Will Byers, whom they fight to free from the grip of the Shadow Monster and the Upside Down.
But even as Dustin becomes frustrated with Dragon's Lair -- and, seriously, who wouldn't? -- proclaiming, "No no no, I hate this overpriced bullshit! Son-of-a-bitch piece of shit," he takes comfort in knowing he still holds the high score on two beloved classics, Centipede and Dig Dug. That is, until Keith the arcade employee gleefully informs him that he's been dethroned by the mysterious "MADMAX," who scored 751,300 points on the latter. That sets Dustin and Lucas on a quest of their own, to discover the player's identity (it's the new girl Maxine "Max" Hargrove, a transplant from California).
However, more so than Dragon's Lair, Dig Dug is linked to the season's plot; it's so important that the fifth episode takes its title from the game.
Released in 1982, Dig Dug is pretty straightforward (and far easier than Dragon's Lair): Players control the title character, who digs underground tunnels, destroying the monsters he encounters. You see where this is going?
After experiencing another "episode" at school in which he has visions of the Upside Down, Will begins to frantically draw page after page of interconnecting curved lines that his mother Joyce and Police Chief Hopper that piece together in a byzantine network that covers the floors and walls of the Byers home. On a hunch, Hopper returns to a pumpkin patch destroyed by a creeping rot that's spreading on the outskirts of Hawkins and, like Dig Dug, strikes a shovel to the earth, uncovering a maze of tunnels beneath. He soon wishes he hadn't.
At the same time, Will has a vision of Hopper dying, and marks his location on his drawings. Baffled by what, or where, the X marks, Joyce enlists her brainy boyfriend Bob, who deduces the lines are a map of Hawkins, only without roads or bodies of water. It's indeed a tunnel system, dotted by monsters. A lot like Dig Dug.
Now streaming on Netflix, the second season of Stranger Things stars Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Cara Buono, Matthew Modine, Noah Schnapp, Joe Keery, Sadie Sink and Dacre Montgomery.