Whatever Happened to Arcades?

I’ve lived in seaside towns almost my entire life. Although I was actually born in Canterbury, my parents moved to Hastings before I’d turned one. I grew up there and, when I was old enough, moved on to Brighton. As if that wasn’t enough, my grandparents live in Portsmouth, so even visiting family meant going to a slightly different seaside town.

What all of this experience means is one thing – arcades. I don’t know what it’s like for you people who don’t live with seagulls trying to steal your chips if you foolishly decide to eat outside, but my entire life I’ve been exposed to arcades.

[drop]I used to love them, to treat them as a shrine to video games. It wasn’t just game cabinets of course, there were always the 2p machines and, more recently, their 10p variant. A good arcade should probably have at least one pinball machine and an air hockey table to boot and given that the arcades I grew up with had a focus on drawing money out of tourists, you need some weird ticket machines that, from an economic or entertainment based standpoint, aren’t really worth playing.

The focus though, for me, should be games; lots and lots of games. That’s the way it used to be, even when the place was packed out with tourists. I remember fondly the money I basically poured into a sit-down Star Wars machine, the joystick somehow meant to control both an X-Wing and a lightsabre. I also have especially fond memories of anything with a light gun in it, Time Crisis being vastly superior to The House of the Dead, of course.

Sadly, in recent years the dynamic has shifted and games are more of a side attraction than the main feature (at least here in the UK). Although they’re not completely gone, they’ve been tucked away in many of the arcades of my youth, hidden behind machines that offer big prizes. Even the Thomas the Tank Engine ride for toddlers (or whatever’s in fashion at present, there’s always something) is given a far more prominent position than my beloved games.

I will admit that there’s one exception to this that I’ve found, and that’s Brighton Pier. The choice on offer there has, generally, been very good but even that’s started to slip in recent years. Games are slowly becoming less prominent there as they seem to have everywhere, and it disappoints me. I used to enjoy heading down there every now and then to just have a play and see if they’d got anything new in.

Of course, the decline of the arcade in the West (they still seem to be doing great business over in Japan) is nothing new, it’s been a slow slide pretty much since machines like the NES first hit. I mean why go pump all those coins into an arcade machine when I can just sit here at home?

[drop2]For me the reason is simple: playing in an arcade is just more fun. Yes, it probably costs me more in the long run, but there’s something about playing those games in that setting that’s just more fun. I’ve played Time Crisis in an arcade and Time Crisis at home and the arcade version is simply a better experience; the guns feel more solid, the pedal has a better response, and the bigger display is a real help.

Another example was when Hastings had a dedicated Tekken arcade for a short while. You’d go along, pay an amount for a set period of time, and get free play on any of the machines there.

This was so much better than playing Tekken at home that is may as well have been a different game. The sticks on the machines were fantastic, far better than anything I’d ever tried at home, and the ability to make friends with the dude kicking your ass far trumps almost anything I’ve ever experienced in online play.

It’s memories like this that make me long for the resurgence of games in arcades, but I suspect with home machines becoming ever more powerful we’ll see them continue to decline. For me though, no amount of graphical flash or improvement in online play will ever trump the fun you can have at a good arcade.

Oh, and always remember this; Dance Dance Revolution in an arcade will forever be far superior to Just Dance or Dance Central.

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30 Comments

  1. Used to have great fun in the arcades, my memory is really hazy though perhaps because I’m so old.

    GTI Club was a hoot and I remember finishing Final Fight (cost me £1.10 in continues at 10p a go, I think) & Street Fighter 2… Bison was a bitch.

    The country has changed, younger people spend more time in than ever before, coupled with access to arcade quality gaming at home & there is no room for arcade gaming. Other countries may be different though, but in the UK sucks at ‘kids’ going out.

  2. Big-up the Brighton massive!!

    Great article. I used to love Sega Rally 2 in the arcades, the awesome version where the seat gave feedback with every bump and crash! My poor Dad, I should imagine he nearly had to remortgage since I asked to play it so much. Now, if I go, I only play Buck Hunt or Initial D, obviously. That reminds me, I still want to put £2 in House of the Dead 4, and dual-wield the Uzi’s. Otherwise I find the arcade halls quite depressing, people getting excited about winning a few coppers, and it concerns me how many blisters the Time Crisis guns may have caused.

    • I had never heard of Initial D before i watched the film. S’pretty good if i recall.

      Think i played the game in an arcade after i had seen the film. Think that was pretty good too.

      Arcade games i recall? Daytona, Star Wars (the original vector graphic one), Final Fight, E-Swat & some random one on one fighting game where you had to fight mythical beasts (although i only really recall medusa at the moment) that i never learned the name of.

      & the thing i miss about arcades is the smell of a freshly polished machine – I am not sure that there is a smell in the world that is the same tbh.

      • Yeah, Initial D is awesome!

        Good shout on Daytona mate – and as cc_star said, GTi Club – someone always had the machine with the broken hand-brake! ;)

        Sadly I can’t say I’ve ever been in an arcade that smelt like ANYTHING was freshly polished! :O

    • lol youles, I used to run the arcades at alton towers so it was always duel wielding for me!That and crazy taxi,those were the days!
      At the local swimming pool as a kid,I would spend so much time on streetfighter 2 and teenage mutant hero turtles :)

  3. I love arcades too. I don’t live IN a seaside town, but i live not far from Skegness. Go there quite often in Summer, and i loveee the arcades.

  4. Completely agree. Was actually in an arcade just Sunday night… Playing a bit of Guitar Hero, and air hockey. I was watching Tron the other night, with that scene where Jeff Bridges is surrounded by people as he’s setting the high score on Space Paranoids, and reminded of the time I completed House of the Dead in an arcade, surrounded by admirers.

    T’was a good time. :P

  5. I know Hastings very well as all my family live there. I sues to spend very school holiday down ‘the front’ in Out of this World. Paying a pound to get in then having three floors of free arcade games. Back home my first experince of games was in an arcade. Dark and dingy but playing, wonder boy, gauntlet, outrun and having your name at the top was brilliant.

    I miss arcades hugely, I guess that’s my age showing as I’m 40 this year, but without them my love of gaming would never have started. Great article, brought back some fantastic memories for me of my childhood, well done.

  6. Don’t have much exposure to them but recently played a few on holiday. Even the relatively simple games (by today’s standards) are much better than home consoles. Played the hell out of GTi Club!

  7. The last arcade iv ever seen was in Florida in an airport, that was back when the big security scares for planes was going on and you had to be at the airport 6 hours before you flight, for $10 (£5 at the time ) they would let you in and you could play any game they had as much as you wanted till your flight was boarding, all the machines were unlocked so you didnt have to put coins in. The most fun iv ever had at an airport in my life.

    • Any flight sim games?

      • they had all been removed incase they were used to train children to hijack planes

  8. I used to love arcades, but for me the power and availability of hardware has diminished the magic. I know that if I go to an arcade now there wont be many, if any, machines that are more powerful than a standard 360. There could be a car one that moves about, but I’d prob get a better experience at home with a big tv force feedback and 3d.

    Its a shame though and a definite happy time from my childhood.

  9. The affordability of home gaming is what killed the arcade, that and the fact that home gaming is now at least as good as their arcade counterpart.

    As mentioned above, Street Fighter 2, such a great game for its time, as soon as the SNES appeared with a 6 button pad there was no need to go to the arcades anymore.

    The social aspect – since young people have been demonised in modern society they would only get branded a ‘nuisance’, ‘wasters’ or a ‘gang’ with bad intentions by the thought police, and hence would now rather stay at home and shoot their mates in the face on the latest shooter. Any adults there would probably be called peadophiles for hanging around a kids venue.

    For me I will always look back fondly on the arcade experience, sometimes they are just better, Virtual On by Sega was a great example, which could not be repeated at home. Now with a;;l the peripherals available most experiences can be replicated, – the cost of the machines must also be astronomical (Full size F1 car in Virtua racing if I remember right!) so its no surprise the business model is unsustainable.

    If arcades are to make a comeback, it will be far in the future of holographic gaming, when the tech is too costly for joe public to buy, instead having to make do with a sample down at the local gaming shrine, and that is a big if.

    Think i may buy The Simpsons Arcade from PSN now, nice article

    • You raise very good points on peoples perception (as in how kids are generally perceived & how an adult without an accompanying child would be viewed if in an arcade) – It’s a sad state of affairs, but that is the world we live in i suppose!

      You also raise a good point about the simpsons (& turtles) – Played those games to death when i was a youngster!

      I wonder how much Simpsons is… :D

      • The sad thing is that the ‘Youth’ of whichever day have always been demonised, for doing more than likely exactly what the people complaining used to get up to when they were young.

        The media circus we have allowed is what stokes the fire. I live in an ok neighbourhood, their are a few gangs of kids that hang around, but in 6 years here I have never felt threatened, although the local news would make you think you couldn’t go out to buy milk unless in full riot gear.

        Turtles re-boot coming soon :)

  10. I miss Star Wars Trilogy Arcade (which you mentioned here, although not by name), you hardly ever see them in arcades these days. I’m always on the lookout for one whenever I do pass an arcade, but then that’s hardly ever, unfortunately.

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