Have You Ever Visited an Arcade?

If you’re a fan of the Netflix show Stranger Things, you might have noticed the children from the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, hanging out at a place filled with kids and video games in large, boxy cabinets. That place was called an arcade and, in the 1980s when the show takes place, arcades were extremely popular.

There are a few distinct characteristics of a traditional arcade. First, they have numerous video games and maybe even pinball machines. Apart from maybe a simple vending machine, they do not serve food or drinks.

They tend to be quite dimly lit to allow players to see the video game screens more easily. Lastly, they are usually filled mostly with noisy children inserting quarters one after another into their favorite games.

Unfortunately, there are not many authentic arcades left nowadays. If you want to play old-fashioned video games in public today, you will probably have to find one of the many family-friendly entertainment centers that also function as restaurants, such as Dave & Busters, Chuck E. Cheese’s, or Gattitown.

As deeply ingrained as arcades are in popular culture and the memories of most adults, arcades actually had a relatively short period of prosperity and popularity. The humble beginnings of the video game arcade can be traced back to 1971, when Computer Space, the first commercially-sold, coin-operated video game, was created by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney.

Although Computer Space was considered a failure at the time, its sales allowed Bushnell and Dabney to establish their own company, Syzygy Engineering, which would eventually become Atari, Inc. Atari’s first game, Pong, was released in 1972 and became a tremendous success.

Pong was so popular that it sparked both the birth of video game arcades and the beginning of the home video game console industry. By 1975, over 15 companies were producing video game cabinets.

Video game technology was advancing rapidly, including the use of microprocessors for the first time. In 1978, Tomohiro Nishikado’s game Space Invaders was released and quickly became a sensation worldwide. Other popular games soon followed, such as Asteroids, Galaxian, Berzerk, and Defender.

The video game arcade industry experienced significant growth over the next few years, reaching its peak in 1981. This growth was largely fueled by the most popular video arcade game of all time, Pac-Man, which was introduced in 1980.

At the height of its popularity, there were over 13,000 arcades in the United States. The industry as a whole generated over $12 billion at its peak. However, by 1983, the industry began a rapid decline that saw revenues plummet to only $100 million by 1985.

What caused this decline? Many people believe it was the rise in popularity of home gaming systems. However, experts believe there were other factors that contributed to the downfall of the arcade. Home gaming systems simply allowed arcades to remain stagnant after the decline.

The video game arcade industry grew too quickly and became too large. There were too many arcades and too many low-quality games produced to meet demand. Players wanted innovation and challenging games, and they turned away when the industry failed to provide them.

Adding to the decline was a flood of criticism from concerned parents regarding the excessive time their children were spending playing video games. They were also unhappy with the increasing level of violence in some games.

The number of arcades steadily decreased throughout the country. Despite a small resurgence in the early 1990s, prompted by the release of Street Fighter II and similar fighting games, arcades quickly faded into obscurity. However, they remain a cherished memory for the generation that witnessed the impact of Pac-Man on a society that was just beginning to embrace technology in a pre-internet era.

Give it a Try

Are you ready to spend some quarters? Find a friend or family member to assist you in exploring the following activities:

  • Are there any arcades near your location? Ask an adult friend or family member to help you locate a nearby place with arcade games. If you are unable to find an actual arcade, you may be able to find a restaurant, such as Dave & Buster’s, Chuck E. Cheese’s, or Gattitown, that offers a variety of arcade games. Enjoy playing video games that are not available at home or on a smartphone!
  • If you want to get a taste of the 80s arcade experience, go online and Play Classic 80s Arcade Games. You can select from various games to play on your home computer. How do these games compare to modern video games? If you were a child in the 1980s, do you think you would have enjoyed hanging out at the arcade? Why or why not?
  • What is your current favorite video game? How about your all-time favorite? To discover which arcade video games were the most popular, read through the Top Ten Highest-Grossing Arcade Games of All Time online. Have you ever played any of these games? If so, which ones are your favorites?

Sources of Wonder

  • https://www.theverge.com/2013/1/16/3740422/the-life-and-death-of-the-american-arcade-for-amusement-only
  • https://www.techopedia.com/definition/1903/arcade-game


1. Have you ever been to an arcade?

Yes, I have been to an arcade. I love the vibrant atmosphere and the variety of games available to play. It’s a great place to hang out with friends or family and have some fun.

2. What kind of games can you find at an arcade?

At an arcade, you can find a wide range of games. There are classic arcade games like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Donkey Kong. You can also find racing games, shooting games, pinball machines, and even virtual reality games.

3. How much does it cost to play games at an arcade?

The cost to play games at an arcade can vary. Some arcades have a system where you purchase tokens or coins to play the games, while others use swipe cards. The price per game can range from 25 cents to a few dollars, depending on the type of game.

4. What is the appeal of arcades?

Arcades have a unique appeal because they offer a social experience and a chance to play games that you may not have access to at home. The competitive nature of arcade games can be exciting, and the flashing lights and sounds create a lively and energetic atmosphere.

5. Are arcades still popular today?

Although the popularity of arcades has declined with the rise of home gaming consoles and mobile gaming, they still hold a special place in the hearts of many. There are still arcades around the world that continue to attract both nostalgic adults and new generations of gamers.

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