The Arcade Age

I remember being so excited about going to the video game arcade when I was growing up.  One of my favorite video game arcades was called Scratch N’ Tilt.  There were so many different games to choose to play in this arcade.  Some of my favorites were Paperboy, The Gauntlet, Donkey Kong, Centipede, and Ms. Pac Man.  There was great excitement that grew inside of me as I raced over to the token machine and got those gold tokens for game play.  I would see my friends at the arcade which was nice too.

Paperboy Arcade gameGauntlet Arcade GameDonkey_Kong_arcadeCentipede Arcade GameMs. Pac Man

The birth of video arcades came from the ancestors of these types of venues called penny arcades.  The video arcade got its start in the late 1970’s and continued until the mid-1980’s.  The first video game to ever be created was by a Brookhaven National Laboratory physicist by the name of William Higinbotham in 1958.  The name of his game was called Tennis for Two created for Visitor’s Day and was played on an oscilloscope hooked up to an analog computer.  The analog computer would be hooked up to the oscilloscope in such a way that a “ball” of light would randomly bounce around the screen.  “We found,” Higinbotham remembered, that we could make a game which would have a ball bouncing back and forth, sort of like a tennis game viewed from its side.”  He never received any credit for his game in his lifetime and even if he did since he worked for the government, they would have owned the patent.

William Higinbotham

Tennis for Two Oscilloscope Game

In 1971, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney created the first coin-operated arcade video game to be sold commercially (and the first widely available video game of any kind).   It was called Computer Space and it was based on Steve Russell’s game SpaceWar.  A year later, another game created by Bushnell and Dabney named Pong became the first successful arcade video game and led to the popularization of the medium.  The word “video” in “video game” refers to a raster display device.  A raster display device is a scanning pattern of parallel lines that form the image projected on a cathode-ray tube of a television set or display screen. Prior to the “golden age”, pinball machines were more popular than video games.  The “golden age” of video arcade games in the 1980’s became a peak era of video arcade game popularity, innovation, and earnings.  The era saw the rapid spread of video arcades across North America, Western Europe, and Japan.  For example, in North America, the video arcades more than doubled between 1980 and 1982, reaching a peak of 13,000 video game arcades across the region (compared to 4,000 today).

Computer Space 4

Spacewar 1

Ted Dabney, Nolan Bushnell, Fred Marincic, and Al Alcorn

Jerry Parker Mayor of Ottumwa IowaOn November 30, 1982, Jerry Parker, the Mayor of Ottumwa, Iowa, declared his city the “Video Game Capital of the World”.  This initiative resulted in many firsts in video game history.  Ottumwa saw the birth of the Twin Galaxies Intergalactic Scoreboard and the U.S. National Video Game Team, two organizations that still exist today.   Other events were birthed like the first video-game-themed parade or the first video game world championship as well as the first official day to honor a video game player. In the 1990’s, the video arcades in North America were decreasing.  This was because of the technology of home video game consoles began to rival and eventually exceed that of arcade games.  Also, the rise of the internet kept many potential arcade customers home.

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The Arcade Age