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The Life and Death of the American Arcade

Whether you’ve got fond memories of video arcades or you missed out on them entirely, this in-depth look the history and disappearance of American arcades is a fascinating look at early video game culture.

Courtesy of The Verge, we’re treated to a really interesting overview the rise and fall of the American arcade, the social function the arcades served, and other elements of arcade culture:

If you’ve never been inside a “real” arcade, it could be hard to distinguish one from say, oh, a Dave & Buster’s. Authenticity is a hard nut to crack, but there are a few hallmarks of the video game arcade of days gone by: first, they have video games. Lots and lots of video games, and (usually) pinball machines. They’re dark (so that you can see the screens better), and they don’t sell food or booze. You can make an exception for a lonely vending machine, sure, but full meals? No thanks. There’s no sign outside that says you “must be 21 to enter.” These are rarely family-friendly institutions, either. Your mom wouldn’t want to be there, and nobody would want her there, anyway. This is a place for kids to be with other kids, teens to be with other teens, and early-stage adults to serve as the ambassador badasses in residence for the younger generation. It’s noisy, with all the kids yelling and the video games on permanent demo mode, beckoning you to waste just one more quarter. In earlier days (though well into the ‘90s), it’s sometimes smoky inside, and the cabinets bear the scars of many a forgotten cig left hanging off the edge while its owner tries one last time for a high score, inevitably ending in his or her death. The defining feature of a “real” arcade, however, is that there aren’t really any left.

If the article intrigues you, we’d highly recommend checking out 100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience, which is an in-depth look at how, unlike in America, the video game arcade is still going strong in Japan.

For Amusement Only: The Life and Death of the American Arcade [via Boing Boing]

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 01/18/13

Comments (5)

  1. Toxictavrn

    cool article! there is still one arcade left that i know of, here in NH, if you love the old video games, find a way to Funspot, in Weirs Beach, NH, they have over 500 games, they are restored and maintained,
    its almost like a religious experience just walkin in there!

  2. evalina

    I remember my friends & I playing pinball games during the summers at Newport Beach
    CA. If you a made a high score you would get a replay. The kids who mastered certain popular games would get continuous replays & would sell their replay for 10 cents to one of the other kids waiting to play that machine. Sometimes my friends would play for hours doing this & leave with a dime or spending only 10 cents to play the most challenging game last.

  3. Ushindi

    I can remember sitting in bars (NOT arcades) with my friends, putting quarter after quarter in the Pong machine and playing for beers. Ah, wasted youth…

  4. Straspey

    Of course those of us who are old enough can recall the days BEFORE there was ever any such thing as a “Video Game” – In fact, I can recall walking into a bar with a friend back in the early 1970′s and finding a new invention – a table you could sit at while playing a very odd game of paddle-ball on an electronic video screen — The first appearance of “Pong”

    Before that, we all went to arcades often – except they were known as “Pinball Arcades”

    Ahhh…those were the days.

  5. max

    I miss the video arcades of the 1980s and mid-1990s.

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