A la re Cherche du Arcades Perdu
This chapter traces the history and development of the videogame parlor, from the advent of coin-op amusements of the 1890s to the 20 year heyday of the videogame arcade in the 1970s and 80s, to its subsequent decline and replacement with the brightly-lit, ‘family entertainment center’. The author, JC Herz, then addresses the migration of the gaming community to the online world.
Herz begins her study of arcade history at the beginning of the 1900s with the appearance of penny arcades, nickelodeons, phonograph machines and the kinetoscope. From the very beginning, there was concern that cheap coin-op entertainment would ‘drive the arousable masses to riot and iniquiety’. The rise of these amusements corresponded with and catered to the influx of blue-collar working-class into the cities. The invention of the ‘parlor’ in the early 1890s accommodated a mixing of working class with upper class individuals, primarily young and male. Herz quite reasonably points to this blurring of class distinctions as the real ‘threat’, rather than the amusements themselves. The early arcades were a great equalizer in that anyone with a nickel had access to the latest and greatest technology.
Another point the author makes in the ‘some things never change’ department, is the concept that ‘new’ means ‘improved’. As the x-ray and fluoroscope (oops….sorry ‘bout those feet!) machines migrated to the medical office, phonographs and gramophones are replaced with the kinetoscope and mutoscope. Each machine has a new feature, making it an improvement over its predecessor. Herz makes the point that ‘automatic’ became the buzzword back then, much like ‘virtual’ is now.
We move on in time, and the kinetoscope is relegated to the seedier peepshow, while pinball becomes popular. It it still seen as a threat by the status quo, due in no small part to Marlon Brando and James Dean and the corresponding “Rebel Without A Cause” imagery.
In 1956 the first enclosed mall was built, and by 1974 there were 13,714 of them. By 1982, that number increased to over 20,000 in the
This led to what the author calls the ‘arcade sanitation crusade’ or, in this reviewer’s mind, the ‘Chuckie-Cheesification’ of the video arcade. The arcades were getting grubby, only attracting 15-year-old boys, and there were no good videogames coming out. It was then that arcade proprietors noticed the steady appeal of skee-ball, followed by the crane machine and the kiddie coin-op, ticket-spitting ‘redemption games’, such as those found locally at Chuckie-Cheese’s and in the Wisconsin Dells. These places are very heavy-handed in their attempts to appear safe and secure, so as to reassure parents, who then whip out the credit card.
At present, the egalitarian, merit-based world of the video arcade has moved online, where a person’s grades, paycheck or social class means nothing if their avatar just got its butt kicked.