Arcades, a staple of America’s late 70’s and early 80’s, are still around in 2021—and the question is: why?
Arcades generally had dim lighting, flashy machines, and loud music playing over the loudspeakers. They became popular in the early 1980s mainly due to the fact that they offered revolutionary technology in the form of video games. Most people had never seen anything like it; it wasn’t something you could play at home, and for the low price of only a handful of quarters to play these games, who could resist the temptation?
Some of them had options for multiplayer so that people could see who the best among their friends was. Better yet, the games were suitable for all types of people: studious kids and athletic kids could bond over a fighting game or a shooter game, and everyone could enjoy themselves. Teenagers could consider it a second home. Needless to say, arcades started raking in tons of money and many considered them a fun place to hang out, similar to a park or a mall.
In 2021, however, arcades have fallen from their reign as the exclusive place to play video games due to the rapidly increasing popularity of home consoles and the decrease in activity, so the few arcades that are still open now have to cheat, rig games and modify rules against players to make their money back.
I have personally been to two arcades over the summer. Both heartlessly attempted to increase the profit they could squeeze out of the poor souls that refuse to see the pitfalls of arcades because of their nostalgia for the ‘80s.
For example, the first arcade I went to had a game where you could win tickets and collector’s items for successfully shooting a ball into one of the three moving targets. I became an ace at the game, managing to rake in around 400 tickets in one visit to the machine. I felt good about myself and was hooked onto the machine during the time I was there. I had fun at the arcade, and was genuinely excited to return.
When I returned to the arcade the next week, however, the machine somehow was missing two holes. They were blocked off by a solid wall of plastic. The game had been modified to lower the chance of a ball being shot in, meaning that tickets weren’t being given out as much to possible winners. I left, feeling a sense of betrayal and disgust by the actions of the people responsible for committing such a despicable act.
The second arcade had a claw machine with stuffed animals you could win. Claw machines are infamous for being rigged, but I surprisingly won four different plush animals. However, the next day, the machine I was previously dominating had been completely disabled but money could still be inserted.
The worst part was that there was no way of getting your money back, so if a poor kid wanted to play the claw machine, they wouldn’t know until they’d put in at least a few quarters. The other machine’s toys were also moved around, so some of them were completely unable to be grabbed. The ones you could still grab were of lower quality and were made with cheaper materials. I am glad I had the opportunity to get the better toys, but I also felt upset that others wouldn’t be able to play the game that seemed easy enough for me to win. When I told my dad that I had won on the first day, he jokingly said “They’re gonna stop you from taking all their prizes!” but what should have been a one-off joke ended up being the reality of the arcade.
I believe that arcades could make a return to their former glory by being officially endorsed by large game publishing companies, such as creating arcade-exclusive sequels to their best-selling games. Arcades could also supply home consoles at their building that give you 25 minutes of gameplay for a handful of quarters. Poorer families wouldn’t have to buy the newest console and could instead go to their nearby arcade to play.
One last suggestion I have is they could look at other ways to make money, such as having a food court, selling gaming-related clothes or being able to meet video game characters similar to the characters you see at a theme park.