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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Where, oh where, did Arcades Go?

 I was born in 1979. Growing up in the 80's was a wonderfully dreamy experience: NES, Master System, Atari 7800... Video game consoles had managed to find mainstream success and those early 8-bit era games molded me into the type of gamer that I am today. But experiencing the early 80's also meant that I was able to witness another monumental event -- the glory days of the Arcade Era (or at least the tail end of those days).

Playing games at home is fun, of course, but going to an arcade is special; an event. The amusement park of the gaming world. The traditional arcade scene was the best chance video gaming had at being a truly social medium. It was a place where gamers could meet and greet, watch each other play, share tips and compliments, and compete head to head or by putting their high score on the board. Players could learn from one another and make friends with like-minded peeps. And when someone was on a roll -- tearing up a high score, beating a game, landing a kill screen, or just holding the stick while gamer after gamer tried to knock them off -- a crowd might gather to cheer them on. You got the feeling that you were witnessing something grand and important.

Modern games have the internet instead. Sure, online you can play with people all over the world, and that's great, wonderful even (especially for RPG's and competitive games), but the personal face-to-face experience is something the internet cannot duplicate.

Back in the 80's the arcade scene was alive and well, but by the 90's some serious trouble was brewing. Home consoles were becoming popular and people figured,

"Why go to the arcade when I can play at home?" 

Arcade machines were becoming more sophisticated and expensive, and by the late 90's it was a dying industry.

And ugh! it's been painful trying to find something other than Deer Hunter or the latest golf game decorating a bar. Our last bastion seems to be hotel lobbies, bowling alleys, and the occasional restaurant. But these are not the real deal...

Critical Bits misses arcades something fierce. The last authentic arcade in our home base of Cedar Rapids, Iowa died out years and years ago. But with a bit of googling we happened to stumble upon a very very cool arcade in North English, Iowa. Mike's CarnEvil, was the name of the place. Past tense, because after a series of unfortunate events Mike had to shut the place down. He was nice enough to let us take a tour and play a few games, and boy did we appreciate the opportunity.

Mike says he might just reopen this gem of an arcade of his in the near future. Hats off to him and anyone who is willing to try to make a go out of such a noble business. North English is a small town, and Mike says that is part of why his business was profitable--there was nothing else for the kids in town to do. Let this be a lesson! The idea that arcades can only thrive in large communities may just be a fallacy.

Written by Andy Thayer
Photos by Smada Luap


angelbless said...

Wow! he even got the Tron machine :o
Great experience! :)

PeteMyers said...

Great article! If only I had all those quarters I pumped into the Street Fighter II game back in the day. I would literally spend all afternoon at the arcade in the mall. Fond memories :)

Triple P Project said...

Ugh, I can't wait to go back!! :)

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