The History and Evolution of Arcade Games

If you were born after 2000, you may not ever have been to a video arcade with the mere fact that they’re not really around as much as they used to be! Though this will not come as a shock to those of us who are older and grew up with arcades in every town, the technology of the world has made them obsolete. New trends come and go, while some things stick around for longer and might even be beloved for long enough to retain a following for the rest of time.

Modern developers don't even consider the idea of a classic arcade version of their games, but this wasn't always the case. Back in the seventies and eighties (the heyday of arcade games), arcades were the preferred method of enjoyable time-wasting and entertainment for youngsters. Since there may still be a few readers who aren't entirely sure what we’re talking about when we refer to an arcade, let’s take a look at what arcades were all about and how they’ve evolved since the '70s.

What Is An Arcade?

An arcade (or video arcade, depending on where you live) is a hall or large room packed from floor to ceiling with coin-operated game machines of varying shapes and sizes. The room is always full of a cacophony of sounds from all of the different game noises sounding in one enclosed space. There's usually more than one neon sign, probably some dodgy carpeting that definitely has chewing gum stuck in it, and definitely a place to get delicious, salty, or sweet snacks. Classic arcades got their start in the seventies, but the concept of a coin-operated game started back in the thirties with the beloved pinball machine. Arcade games had taken hold by the early '70s but the '80s were when arcades became the place to be.


By the late '70s, people could see that arcades were shaping up to be the best place to meet your friends or to take your brood when you needed a few hours of me time and a quiet house. Pong was one of the earliest arcade games while games like Asteroids and Space Invaders really caught the attention of the young crowd. Racing games also caused something of a revolution in the arcades when developers started improving the controls they built into games.

The late '70s and early '80s saw an enormous boom in the amount of traffic arcades were getting. The video game technology of the time also started undergoing massive improvements around the late seventies, so options were plentiful. Younger and younger players were able to join in the fun with games like Pacman and Donkey Kong. During this time, arcade games started appearing in places like Chuck E Cheese and Showbiz Pizza as extra entertainment.

The '80s brought with it a revolution in computer technology and in turn, made an impact in the arcade game industry. The technology in existing favorites got an overhaul and an array of new types of games flooded into arcades to the delight of dedicated fans everywhere. Motion control games and racers played on life-sized bikes became a fixture in all arcades. The other side of the coin was that, with better game technology being more readily available for home use, the arcades that once buzzed with life every night of the week and overflowed with fun-seekers were a lot quieter than before.

The '90s saw an injection of new life into the arcade industry and a massive move of classic arcade games over to a home gaming format. Fighter games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and Killer Instinct were all the rage and were all anyone wanted to play. Graphics and sound effects had come on in leaps and bounds. After the first wave of excitement about this new style of game started to wear off, the popularity of arcades continued to decline. Since the quality of home gaming is now so incredible, the people that populate arcades are now chiefly on the far younger end. Arcades are the site of birthday parties, school holiday entertainment, and sometimes even a great spot for a retro date.

Wrap Up

Arcade games now exist as a computer game style more than a physical, coin-operated game in an arcade. The trends in these games followed the same flow as those in physical games. Now that the quality of home gaming is so high, we older millennials are reaching for pixelated arcade-style games once more as a reminder of what it felt like to play them back in the eighties and nineties. Arcade games take us back to a different time and remind us what it felt like to be younger and so excited to play a game that you just couldn't sit still.

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