The arcade game is one of the most iconic ideas in game culture, from this period of arcade golden age we saw beloved characters such as Pac-Man and Mario enter the scene, along with grand inspiration for games to come in the future. Arcade games shared a huge part of the 80’s culture, which characterized new ideas and forms of amusement that reflected the fast times. These games can still be enjoyed today in many different forms through emulation and derivative systems. While nostalgia can play a huge role in these games continued appreciation, I would like to make other arguments about their very structure and context that also contributes to their staying power.
The games for one were easy to pick up and hard to master. This was born out of the fact that arcade games had to attract players them a chance, but keep challenging them to come back for more. This made the game structured to posses an apparent easiness to them, but also technically difficult to actually play them. This structure of challenge and frustration made these games very habit forming for players involved. Playing a game like this will imbed the imagery and iconography of the game into the players long term memory. Given that these devices are designed for the enjoyment and entertainment of the player, the emotional context that these memories would be associated with would end up being positive and nostalgic.
Because these games had minimal graphical capabilities, they had to rely on unique and novel forms of gameplay. Many classic action genres emerged from arcades, including platformer, racing, and fighting games. The huge varieties of play mostly functioned to have the games stand out from their competitors, though as time went on more formula based conceptions started to take hold as manufacturing became cheaper and cheaper. These sort of experimental forms of gaming still cause old arcade games to stand out even today, despite their lack of visual sophistication. Even if a particular game design didn’t work at the time, the novelty factor of the arcade game could be enough to make it successful. Even now it can be considered a good game design philosophy to make sure that gameplay remains of central importance to a game, with all other factors either being periphery or functional for gameplay.
There was also an interesting culture and atmosphere associated with arcade in the 80’s. Arcades where softly lit so that play can be focused on the screen, the spaces being dark and labyrinthine with the game machines. This caused all focus to be on gaming and game related socialization. The use of lighting in these darkened spaces added a sort of magic and style to an escapist environment. The use of competitive scoring caused these spaces to develop communities of both casual and hardcore players, with many records being set for classic games in arcades.
The combination of these factors all lead to the memory of these games still being alive today. The understanding of these games in their context helps us appreciate them for what they are and where their from, so that we can still enjoy them today.