The Tragic, World-Changing Loss of the Great American Arcade

The nearly-defunct institution known as the game arcade was about far more than games.

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A London arcade, circa 1979. I don't know what it was like on the inside, but I love it based on the sign alone.

Over at The Verge, there’s a long, fabulous, fabulously-illustrated piece by Laura June about the rise and fall of the game arcade. I knew before I read it that arcades were important to me: We never had a game console in the house when I was a kid, so until recently, at least, the majority of game-playing I’d ever done took place in arcades, one quarter at a time. (Mostly at 1001 Plays, an arcade on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, Mass. — if you’re about my age and grew up in Boston, you went there, too.)

What I didn’t realize until I read June’s piece is that arcades weren’t just about the games. They were about independence — being with other kids, away from adults in a place grownups approved of only grudgingly, if at all. (Googling for “1001 Plays,” I just learned that the City of Boston fought strenuously to prevent it from opening a branch in Boston, on the grounds that arcades were dangerous, overcrowded and generally undesirable.) In a strange way, playing Popeye at an arcade was a proving ground for adulthood.

Thanks to the amazing emulator known as MAME and a jailbroken iPad, I can play most of the games I loved 30 years ago at home. And the only times in recent years when I’ve been inside something that qualifies as an old-school arcade is when I’ve played miniature golf. (Mini-golf courses, bless ’em, generally have extremely classic arcades on the premises.) June’s article leaves me sorry for myself for having lost the arcades of my youth — and sorry for today’s kids for never having experienced arcade life in the first place.