The term arcade game generally refers to coin-operated entertainment machines such as claw cranes, pinball machines, and video games, and can be traced back to the American amusement parks of the 1920s. The first coin-operated pinball machines appeared in the 1930s, although these were purely mechanical and lacked many of the features of their later electronic counterparts.
The first ever coin-operated video game, entitled ‘Galaxy Game’ was set up by students at Stanford University in 1971, based on the experimental 1960s computer game ‘Spacewar’. However, it was not until the following year that Atari, a newly formed video game company, scored the first big hit of the video arcade game era with Pong, a two-player tennis game. Countless imitators sprung up in the wake of Pong’s runaway commercial success, and by the early 1980s there were video arcades all over the world, in cinemas, bowling alleys, amusement arcades, cafes and shopping malls, playing host to games such as Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Donkey Kong.
While arcade video game technology was coming on in leaps and bounds towards the end of the 1980s, with sit-in 3D simulator games such as Out Run and Afterburner among the most popular, the craze for arcade games had definitely died down since its peak at the beginning of the decade. Video arcades had earned something of a reputation for being unsafe, sleazy hang-outs full of teenage hoodlums, and home video game consoles, such as the Sega Genesis/Megadrive and the Super NES/Famicom were beginning to take off in a big way. However, the arcades experienced something of a resurgence in the early 90s due to the unprecedented popularity of two-player fighting games such as Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, both of which spawned feature films!
However, this boom was short-lived, as the audio and visual technologies employed in home consoles gradually caught up with the more advanced technology usually found in arcade machines. In order to keep one step ahead of the consoles, arcade machine manufacturers began to incorporate more elaborate gimmicks into their machines, such as tilting seats, force feedback controls and fully enclosed cabinets, and as a result it is now comparatively rare to see an old-fashioned upright cabinet in a video arcade.
While the boom years of the video arcade are undoubtedly over, a whole new subculture has grown up around the appreciation of classic arcade games, spawning several magazines, countless websites, and a thriving market in second hand arcade machines. However, you don’t need to shell out a small fortune on a vintage arcade cabinet in order to relive your mis-spent youth. Emulators are available for virtually all the classic arcade games, and many websites – including Sega themselves - now offer some of these titles in the form of free online games which do not require any downloading or installation.