Someone linked to this outstanding flickr photo collection showing arcades of the 80s (and a few late 70s), which is my best memories of frequenting arcades and playing arcade games. While none of the pictures are those of any arcades I went to around here, the familiarity of the settings and the games themselves brought back a seriously good flood of memories playing all those great games.
I think that, more importantly, it reflects something that has been lost in gaming; not only the games themselves, which were simpler in all the best ways back then and much more accessible, but the fact that we did have this place to go play the best games available in a public space, where we could interact with other people. It is far removed from what gaming is now, a socially awkward activity where we all hide in our homes and play games that, at best, have us trash-talking to fellow players over text or voice chat with no real social connection to temper our interactions.
The loss of the corner arcade meant the loss of a more social and meet-and-greet aspect of gaming, and even though there are a few arcades left, they are in isolated spots, difficult for many people to get to. Back in the 80s, there was an arcade in walking distance from where I lived, and several other arcades within short driving distance, and I lived in an insignificant little suburb nearly 30 miles from a minor US city. If I had lived closer to the city, or near a major city, I certainly would have had even more choices.
The changing of the very core concept of gaming in the mid-1990s created the death of the traditional arcade, and while it tried to live on with novelty games such as Dance Dance Revolution and cockpit simulation games, the arcade started to become a rarity as fewer people played games outside of their homes due to gaming becoming a more “complex” entity driven by style-over-substance games on more powerful home hardware. Arcades began to close down for good until almost none were left.
I find comfort in the idea of the retro gaming movement generating interest in old games and getting people to seek out the few arcades left, but it’s not quite the same. Arcades in the 1980s were a wonderful place to play games, indeed, but also a great place to socialize with other people in a real space, bringing together people from a local community who were interested in true gaming. And I don’t think we’ll ever be able to replicate that again.