Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Logen. Logen Wonders, “When were the first arcade games invented?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Logen!
If you're a fan of the Netflix show Stranger Things, you may have noticed the kids from the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, hanging out at a place full of kids and video games in large, boxy cabinets. That place was known as an arcade and, in the 1980s when the show takes place, arcades were all the rage.
There are a few defining characteristics of a traditional arcade. First, they contain lots of video games and maybe even pinball machines. Except for perhaps a simple vending machine, they don't serve food or beverages.
They tend to be quite dark to allow players to see the video game screens more easily. Finally, they are usually populated almost exclusively by noisy kids dropping quarter after quarter into their favorite games.
Unfortunately, there aren't many true arcades left these days. If you like to play old-fashioned video games in public today, you'll likely have to find one of the many family-friendly entertainment centers that double as restaurants, such as Dave & Busters, Chuck E. Cheese's, or Gattitown.
As ingrained as arcades are in popular culture and the memories of most adults, arcades actually had a fairly short heyday of prosperity and popularity. The humble beginnings of the video game arcade can be traced back to 1971, when Computer Space, the first commercially-sold, coin-operated video game, was created by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney.
Although Computer Space was considered a failure at the time, its sales allowed Bushnell and Dabney to form their own company, Syzygy Engineering, which would eventually become Atari, Inc. Atari's first game, Pong, was released in 1972 and became a huge hit.
Pong was so popular that it sparked both the beginning of video game arcades and the start of the home video game console business. By 1975, more than 15 companies were producing video game cabinets.
Video game technology was growing by leaps and bounds, including using microprocessors for the first time. 1978 saw the release of Tomohiro Nishikado's game Space Invaders, which quickly became a sensation around the world. Other popular games soon followed, including Asteroids, Galaxian, Berzerk, and Defender.
The juggernaut video game arcade industry would flourish over the next several years, hitting its peak in 1981. This growth was fueled in large part by the most popular video arcade game of all time, Pac-Man, which appeared in 1980.
At their peak of popularity, there were more than 13,000 arcades in the United States. The industry as a whole grossed over $12 billion at its highest point. By 1983, however, the industry began a rapid crash that would see revenues decrease to only $100 million by 1985.
What caused this crash? Many people believe it was the rise in popularity of home gaming systems. However, experts believe there were other factors that led to the demise of the arcade. Home gaming systems simply allowed arcades to remain stagnant after the crash.
The video game arcade industry grew too large too quickly. There were too many arcades and too many substandard games cranked out to satisfy demand. Players wanted innovation and challenging games, and they walked away when the industry didn't supply them.
Adding to the crash was a wave of criticism from parents who were worried about kids spending too much time playing video games. They also didn't like the increasing amount of violence in some games.
The number of arcades decreased steadily across the country. Despite a slight resurgence in the early 1990s, spurred by the release of Street Fighter II and similar fighting games, arcades quickly faded into obscurity. They remain a fond memory, though, for the generation that remembers the effect of Pac-Man on a culture just beginning to embrace technology in a pre-Internet world.