The arcade. It was much more than just a building full of electronic games operated by coins or tokens. For many, it was their very first memories of gaming—the “genesis,” if you will, of a lifelong entanglement.
My fellow millennials (and you too, Gen Z,) unite and join me in this nostalgic journey as I reminisce on the good ole’ days, visiting the havens that we knew as arcades.
The earliest recognized period of arcade games came in the 1970’s-80’s in what was known as the golden age of arcade games, when these games became prominent fixtures of pop culture. Iconic games from this era include Pac-Man, Galaga, and Donkey Kong, among others. The release of Street Fighter II in the early 1990’s established the modern style of fighting games and led to a number of similar titles, creating a new revolution in the arcade.
For those who don’t know, arcades were basically places full of coin-operated machines that allowed you to play a variety of video games. Pop in a few coins or tokens—usually quarters typically no more than a dollar’s worth—and enjoy the game for a set period of time or rounds, or for some games for as long as you continue to advance through the levels (which could be a while if you’re good). Unlike console controllers, which come with as many as ten buttons along with a couple analog sticks and a directional pad, arcade games came with two to four tops, and usually one, sometimes two joysticks depending on the game, which essentially functioned as analog sticks. Some games offered a more interactive experience and came with props such as model guns for first-person shooters that required you to take aim at the screen to eliminate targets or racing games which came with a seat and steering wheel. Thankfully we all grew to become much better drivers than we were in those games (hopefully)! Some arcades also offered activities such as pool, go karts, or miniature golf. I even recall visiting hotels that had miniature arcade setups.
My memories in an arcade are just as vivid as my memories with my first game consoles, the Sega Genesis and the PlayStation. Pulling up to these establishments with my dad and sister for an hour or two of games, food, and more games is one of the more memorable aspects of my childhood. My skills and gamer mentality were refined well before I ever owned a console thanks to these game havens. My affection for games such as Tekken and Mortal Kombat were formed at an arcade and I’ve been a follower of those franchises ever since. Some of my other favorites include the 80’s classics Galaga, NBA Jam, Marvel vs. Capcom and a couple others whose names I just can’t remember. There was one game I don’t think I ever even knew the name of that I still invested just as much time in as the others. After some brief research, I can tell you the game was called Puzzle Bobble, a puzzle type game where the goal is to clear the playing field by forming groups of three or more like-colored marbles. Thrilling I know, but those who appreciate a decent mind exercise and strategy building get the appeal. It was a refreshing change from the sports, shooting, and fighting games.
For what it’s worth, the concept of the arcade isn’t completely dead. Places such as Dave and Buster’s, bowling alleys, and some restaurants offer similar games along with food and other forms of entertainment. While that may be true, understand that it is not the same. Arcades were a vibe. They were the main attraction. Now, they are mostly a part of a bigger operation—sometimes even an afterthought. There are certainly a few locations out there that still carry the essence of an arcade, but for the most part the original games only concept is no more.
When I was a young kid, a trip to the arcade was a special occasion. For some, it was even the only way you could experience electronic games. Now kids of all ages just power up their PlayStation or Xbox and any game you ever wanted to play is right in your home. No travel. No coins or tokens necessary. What we knew and loved slowly but surely became a relic of the past, as the world around us continued to advance and bring forth newer, better, more advanced gaming and entertainment.
Such is the nature of life I suppose. But let us never forget the memories… the coins well spent, and the feeling of pure childlike elation we felt when were within the domain of an arcade.