When Coin-Op Was King: Is the Arcade Making a Comeback?

Once upon a time, if you wanted to play the latest video game, the only place to do so would be at the local video arcade.

Everyone knew the best gaming experience could only be found in the dark recesses of a gloomy and soft-drink sticky arcade with a hundred brightly coloured video screens just waiting to feed the addiction of millions of teens. This was when coin-op was a way of life.

Today, planned releases of latest games like Red Dead Redemption 2 or Assassin’s Creed Odyssey are so heavily hyped, it inevitably results in lines that can wind around the block twice. Unless, of course, you’re smart and have already ordered your pre-release copy.

Being able to play the very latest releases without having to get dressed in the morning is a privilege many of us can now enjoy, but it wasn’t always an option. In fact, the arcade used to be the hangout of choice, pockets stuffed with coins while mom did her weekly shop at the mall.

This golden age of video games came to an end during the 1990s when affordable personal computers, gaming consoles and then the internet arrived. But there was always a sense that it hadn’t quite fulfilled its potential.

The revival of the arcade

Recent years have seen a huge revival in retrofitted arcades, stores, bars and restaurants exclusively using old arcade games like Street Fighter, OutRun or Ridge Racer, alongside traditional games machines like Donkey Kong, Pac Man, Guitar Freaks and, of course, the loveable rogue Luigi in Super Mario Bros. Classics of a classic era of gaming.

New bars like Barcade in Brooklyn are capitalising on this and the big difference now is that many of these games are offered without the coin-op. And it isn’t just a revival in retro video games and arcades that seems popular now. Ballroom dancing is more popular than ever, and nearly every great film genre of the 1980s and 1990s is getting a modern makeover, like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Jurassic Park and Point Break.

The trend towards retro has also crept into the online gaming sphere too, like being able to play Worms Reloaded at Buzz Bingo. And those who didn’t experience the huge shift from the pixelated eighties graphics to the terabytes of augmented reality on the latest games might still be able to appreciate the experience of playing a video game in an arcade machine format.

If, like me, you are now just waiting for the next generation Dungeons and Dragons or HeMan and the Masters of the Universe, you might well find yourself experiencing aspects of the video arcade generation, whether you realise it or not.