The last arcades

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Remember ten or so years ago, when MAMEcabs like UltraCade were the big thing? Looks like that died. Admittedly, I never felt terribly inclined to give one a spin on those occasions when I saw one, but then arcade machines in general have always been so much more amusing to watch than to actually play

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It makes me so jealous of Japan that they still have a thriving arcade scene. I enjoy arcades for games that just aren’t practical to play at home like Dance Dance Revolution and other music games with huge and specialized cabinets. Unfortunately the arcade scene is more or less dead here in Seattle.


I’m a bit too old to have been into the video game arcade phenom as a kid or teen. But there was a “penny arcade” on the “strip” of a blue-collar beach resort area in the town next to where I grew up. It was part of kid-fabulous property: putt-putt golf, arcade, and dusty low-rent amusement park*.

The arcade had pinball machines, shooting games, a driving simulator that ran B&W film loops, and a WWI flight simulator that used rear-projection slides and recorded sounds effect. (If you got a really high school it dispensed an “ACE” medal!) Eventually the place added video games. I remember one involving running down zombies in a grave yard, and another involving sharks. They had Tank Battle, which my cousin and I played a lot.

The place was still around ten years ago, then it disappeared from Google Earth’s view.

*Tiny carousel, tiny roller coaster, three or four toddler vehicle rides. Carnival rides, permanently installed on a gravel lot.

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One important detail the article left out: Game Galaxy Arcade is no longer in Antioch, TN, because Hickory Hollow Mall is closed. Funny enough the arcade was one of the last businesses–it may have even been the last business–running in the place.

It’s now located in Rivergate Mall in Goodlettsville. And for the pinball machines alone it’s worth the trip. One of their recent acquisitions is The Who’s Tommy. I think it’s the same machine that used to be in a bar about a block from where I work.


I see this as a natural extension of the maturation of games as art. All creative efforts have become easier to make and distribute to the point that there is a glut of creative material in the marketplace; I ignore more creative works each day than most people who ever lived in human history would see in a lifetime.

Which is to say, people used to have to seek out places where art was displayed, or music was being played. Even if arcade machines were keeping pace with the current pace of technological change, there is no longer the necessity to make special trips to seek games out.

The only exceptions to this I would say are live performances (of which I include movie screenings). I think the only thing that can save public gaming is reintroduce a pro-social context that offers the same feelings as a live performance. Board game cafes, I think tap into this. So too do PC gaming cafes that run regular multiplayer tournaments.

People who are into games for the sake of games are already catered to by the supercomputers at home or in their pockets.

MAME cabinets are still very much a thing. As is collecting vintage machines. It is really age correlated to be sure. You pretty much had to be a teenager in the early 1980s to really get into arcade machines. Older folk are mostly into pinball if they are into coin-operated gaming at all, and younger folk think things like Pac-Man and Galaga are boring.

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I really need to remember to drag the kid to the Pinball Museum down in the ID. Pinball does have a bit of a following at least. Even though I was the right age for the arcade heyday and spent many a quarter at them I have really come to love pinball more.

I took my friend’s little boy who is eight, to a vintage video games exhibit a couple of weeks ago and we played Gauntlet for a good half-hour. He loved it.


There’s a good place in Austin called Pinballz that I visited last time I was in town. They have a lot of old games, but some of them are (I assume) MAME cabinets where it had 10 or so games housed in an old cabinet. It kind of seemed like cheating, to me. But there was some genuinely old stuff, like the Elton John pinball game, that I had not seen in more than 30 years.

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