Friday, April 25, 2014

Whatever Happened to the Arcade?

Whatever happened to the arcade? I could just as well ask whatever happened to the mall, as for the most part, that's gone as well, or at least its function as a hangout for teenagers and adults young at heart alike. Back in the day, and I'm talking the 1970s and 1980s, the mall was the place to be. It was where you wanted to be, and where you wanted to work. It had everything. The record store, the fast food joint, the movie theater, the food court, for the nerds the book/game/comics store, and of course the crème de la crème, the arcade.

Every mall had its arcade. Cherry Hill, Echelon, Deptford, Moorestown, Burlington, some had two, heck even the Berlin Farmers Market had its own arcade. As videogames entered its golden age, arcades were everywhere. Malibu Grand Prix took prominence. There was Bally's across from the Cherry Hill Mall, the Galaxy (not the rock club) on Route 70, and even in my own hometown Atco, we had the Sweet Shop on the main drag, Atco Avenue.

Most of the mall arcades began as pinball places but moved forward with the times. The Sweet Shop in Atco started as a penny candy place, thus the name, but soon became something else all together. I remember when they first opened, they had one machine, a tank game, which may or may not have been Atari's Combat. In a very short time they added a poolroom in the back, got rid of the candy counter, and filled the front room with videogame machines. I loved playing Space Invaders and Astro Fighter there notably, and remember how the place was always filled with smoke.

As home video systems advanced beyond Pong and the Atari 2600, there soon was little reason to leave the house to play videogames. It took a long tme, but it eventually happened. I remember seeing my first NES in 1982 at a college friend's house, Donkey Kong, groundbreaking graphics for the time. If you could have that at home, why go to the mall?

While there are some still around, some even as nostalgia museums like Barcade, the arcade is for the most part dead. I think the last tiny one I know of was gotten rid of when the Marlton 8 theatre was remodeled. Malls are dead too, some crushed by 'forward thinking' opportunists, look at what used to be the Echelon Mall for an example of that. That place ironically does have an arcade of sorts, more skeeball and the like than videogames, but still. I guess home gaming and social media have killed the mall and the arcade, and it's a shame.


Ray Cornwall said...

Nitpick: Combat was never an arcade game. Combat was the first cartridge for the 2600 (and the one that always came free, which sucked if you didn't have a competent sibling or parent to play with because it was solely two players). Combat WAS based on two arcade games, Tank and Anti-Air. It sounds like you might have seen an old Tank Machine.

We have to get you to the pinball museum in Asbury Park.

Glenn Walker said...

Are you positive on that? This wasn't just tanks, it was also planes, and was -exactly- like Combat. Did Tank and Anti-Air come combined on one arcade machine perhaps?

Terry Willitts said...

I'd actually played at the arcades in the Cherry Hill and Burlington malls.

I have to side with Ray - TTBOMK, Combat was never an arcade release.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

We played COMBAT at the Arcades here. Buddy of mine was very good at it.

Ken Moorhead said...

SPACEPORT! I remember that place. Was that the one in Cherry Hill down by Bamburger's? Or do I have my malls mixed up?

Anyway, I miss arcades. I could play Gyruss for hours!

Or if I really wanna sound old: Qix. :-)