What's a small town arcade like these days?
October 4, 2010 11:01 AM   Subscribe

What is an arcade like in 2010? I'm looking for details about particular games and how you pay (coins or tokens).

I'm doing final edits to a children's novel, and I have to update the arcade scene from 1984 to 2010 (too bad, because I did some awesome research on Defender).

I need to know:
- the names of some racing and shooter games (esp. alien/space games) that would be in an arcade
- whether you pay with coins or tokens
- how you get change or buy tokens (person or machine?)
- whether it would be open on a weekday
- any other impressions about the atmosphere

The novel is set in Ithaca, New York, but info about any smaller town arcade will do.

I'd call the Ithaca laser tag/arcade on State Street but the number is out of service -- I guess they closed. I would visit an arcade in my hometown but I just got a full request from an agent and I want to finish this today!
posted by alicat to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You could call and ask Salem Willows or someone who went to the recent meetup there could answer.
posted by mkb at 11:13 AM on October 4, 2010

My local arcade is in the mall, and terribly depressing. What used to be a totally awesome place with all kinds of games and prizes and employees to fix the machines is now a completely empty, unstaffed place. It's completely coin-based, and none of the games give out tickets for prizes anymore. The only game I've seen anyone play in the last few years is Dance Dance Revolution. It is open during mall hours, so roughly 8-10 every day, but almost nobody ever goes there.
posted by lilac girl at 11:13 AM on October 4, 2010

The last arcade I went to used a reloadable card system instead of coins or tokens. You'd go up to a machine, grab a card from a tray, and charge it up with a credit card, bills, or coins. I was there on a weekday night. The atmosphere was as such: a few casual players such as myself, and many guys who you could tell practically lived there, playing the same games (mostly fighting games brought in directly from Japan) over and over.
posted by zsazsa at 11:17 AM on October 4, 2010

Small town and arcade generally don't go together these days. NYC (!) only has one arcade that I know of at this point.

The only arcade I've been to recently was in a laser tag establishment, and had an assortment of old-and-newish games, mostly on the old side. They were in the midst of upgrading their machines to take special 'points' cards as opposed to coins or tokens, but there were still some token operated games.

Konami's site only lists DDR (http://www.konami.com/arcade/)
(http://xbox360.ign.com/articles/107/1070921p1.html) has a very telling sentence at the end, "If you're outside of Japan, where the arcade scene is pretty much dead, you probably shouldn't expect to see these games -- in their original environment, that is."

(http://www.segaarcade.com/video/) has some games of recent vintage.

The arcade scene depresses me these days... when I was a kid, I was hardly ever allowed to go, and now that I'm an adult and have the disposable income to go, they're all out of business.
posted by jangie at 11:38 AM on October 4, 2010

Games: Cruisin' World (racing), Time Crisis 2 (shooter), Pacman/Galaga combo, Dance Dance Revolution, maybe some non-video-games like Cyclone (stop the light on the jackpot to win tickets), Smokin' Token (drop your coin down a "ski jump" into a slotted wheel), or THE CLAW.

Payment: Usually tokens. There's typically an ATM-like machine that will exchange tokens for quarters. I think most arcades do this to make collection of cash easier (all the coins are in one machine instead of being spread around amongst a dozen or more games). I've seen a few places that keep the machine behind the counter.

Most arcades I've seen are open during the week.

Atmosphere: Dark. Cheesy outer space patterns on the carpets or painted on the walls. As for sound, it's just the noise of the "attract modes" of various games all playing at the same time. Same as an '80s arcade, just with different games. I guess the main difference would be a heavier focus on dialogue and realistic sound effects than the blippy bloops of Donkey Kong and Missile Command.

Also, most of the arcades I've seen use the "Chuck E. Cheese" model of using games that dispense tickets which can be exchanged for cheap trinkets (think superballs, Chinese finger traps, vampire teeth, glow in the dark stickers, yo-yos, etc.). There are always more expensive prizes (CD players, DVD players, maybe even a high-end game console), but they cost a huge amount of tickets and are rarely acquired. Tickets are read using a "ticket eater" that eats up the chains of tickets and spits out a receipt, or sometimes with a sensitive scale that weighs them.

Disclaimer: I haven't been to an arcade regularly since I was in middle school -- maybe seven years ago. But I have been in them a couple of times since, most recently last year while killing some time at an amusement park while on a summer vacation, and they haven't really changed much since then.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:40 AM on October 4, 2010

I made a few trips to the Jersey shore this summer, and it's given me occasion to enter several arcades and do a little reflecting on the state of them.

- the names of some racing and shooter games (esp. alien/space games) that would be in an arcade

Here are some newer ones that I saw:

Terminator Salvation
H2 Overdrive
Time Crisis 4
Razing Storm

whether you pay with coins or tokens
- how you get change or buy tokens (person or machine?)

All of the arcades I went to had change machines and used regular quarters.

- any other impressions about the atmosphere

Just really stagnant and dismal. Most of the machines have been there for several years and look outdated compared to the current crop of console games. In addition to a bunch of DDR-type games, I also saw several Deal or No Deal machines as well as Guitar Hero Arcade.
posted by JohnMarston at 12:05 PM on October 4, 2010

I'm doing final edits to a children's novel, and I have to update the arcade scene from 1984 to 2010 . . .

Updating the "arcade scene" from 1984 to 2010 moves it to the suburban living room or bedroom, where two or three kids are playing a first-person war simulation on a game console, cursing at remote friends over the networked headphones. The kid brother is sitting at the PC, playing a similar but older game against strangers on the internet.

Understand that a scene in an American arcade in 2010 is not the social equivalent of an arcade in 1984. Today's arcades are lonely places WITHOUT the latest, coolest games, where young gamers DO NOT GO. If you're visiting an arcade, there's probably some reason other than enjoying video games, such as nostalgia, irony, or waiting for someone to pick a pair of shoes already.
posted by General Tonic at 12:15 PM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

There are two arcades in the next town over from mine. At one, everything runs on quarters, not tokens, and you can get change from a machine (it takes $1, $5, $10, and $20 bills). There's an attendant, but I don't know if he/she makes change. Last time we were there I didn't play any of the video games, so I can't help you there, but old-school Skee Ball is still very popular, as are the "claw" games (the ones where you maneuver the metal claw around and try to grab a prize). They also have a separate room for glow-in-the-dark miniature golf.

At the other arcade, everything runs on tokens, but you get them from the same kind of machine as the coin-operated place. It's in a bigger facility that offers laser tag and a go-kart track, which each require a wrist band that you buy for $5 from an attendant.
posted by amyms at 12:20 PM on October 4, 2010


I've never been, but I've heard it's awesome. Might want to give them a call.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 12:22 PM on October 4, 2010

As a child of the 80's, an arcade gamer, and a Dad with kids who love arcade games, here's what my experience has been:

I've found that more and more bowling alleys are the place to find a dozen or more stand-up coin-op arcade games these days, and those are cash, but often 50 cents to 1.50 per game (!) The only other place I've seen more than a smattering would be in a Dave and Buster's type restaurant, which uses the stored value cards or tokens.

Pinball is all but non-existant.

Another place is the local ShowBiz/Chuck E. Cheese, but those arcade games are usually the newest releases, and jumbled in with all of the kiddee-ticket-redemption games. Those are all token-driven.

Now that I think about it, there is also an arcade at the local amusement park here in Rochester, NY.

The idea of a single-purpose arcade these days, especially in a small town, is pretty tough to envision.

Home consoles and the internet have essentially killed stand-up arcades. So much so that they're becoming an element of the local museum.
posted by Wild_Eep at 12:22 PM on October 4, 2010

The only arcade I've been to recently looked like the arcade I was last in fifteen years ago, right down to the same games. It was empty except for the few of us who wandered in, and we were only in the neighbourhood to hit up the batting cages (it was at one of those "fun park" places with minigolf, batting cages, a driving range, a rock-climbing wall, and go-karts). You had to buy tokens from a machine, and there were bored-looking teenage girls staffing the counter. There was another place where you could exchange the tickets you won from certain games for prizes which varied from tiny erases to large stuffed animals, though I can't imagine how many games of skee-ball you'd have to play to get enough tickets for the latter. It was a dark, dingy, and almost depressing but we still had fun at the air hockey tables.
posted by synecdoche at 12:24 PM on October 4, 2010


Ground Kontrol is a classic arcade, stocked entirely with vintage games. It's closer to a 1984 arcade than a 2010 one.
posted by JohnMarston at 12:25 PM on October 4, 2010

What about having them visit a vintage arcade? Then they'd actually have reason to go, rather than play the games on their PS3s. I've seen kids blow hours and many quarters on old machines.
posted by incessant at 1:04 PM on October 4, 2010

I live in a town of about 30,000 in Ontario. Our local arcade is in the bowling alley, about ten or so games. The claw game is definitely most popular, next, the racing game where you sit down with a steering wheel and race against the person beside you.

Arcades are still popular here, I can think of about a dozen ones within a couple hours drive I've been to in the past six months. The most popular games seem to be the immersive games you can experience with just a ps3 or wii. I mean the ones where you are strapped in a seat with a friend with a big tv screen of a roller coaster and the whole ride moves and shakes while wind blows in your face, or you ride a skidoo or a life-size horse or you are in a helicopter bubble that moves with your joystick and the things you see on the screen.

Most arcades are brightly lit with dark walls and dark flooring. Lots of staff, payment by token (pretty reasonable too), open weekdays, evenings, weekends. If a machine goes down it does seem to take a while to get fixed, maybe that skill is becoming rarer. The arcade I went to in the eighties had a known drug subculture. I don't get that vibe from modern arcades.

If I get a chance I will look through my photos for same game names - right now though, dinner is burning!
posted by saucysault at 1:14 PM on October 4, 2010

Argh, you CAN'T experience with ps3...
posted by saucysault at 1:15 PM on October 4, 2010

Yes, but Ground Kontrol is also fairly modern in some ways. They serve alcohol, they have gaming systems available for play on a big screen, all of the games work, etc. The games may be old and the business itself might be aiming for nostalgia, but it is about the opposite of the *sad* arcades I seen in malls these days.
posted by tacodave at 1:33 PM on October 4, 2010

It's not in a "small town" (Winter Park, FL, Orlando metro area), but Rocky's Replay is still an actual modern arcade. They've got plenty of pictures and lists of their games on the website. Should give you an idea of atmosphere. Their clientele is generally under 18 before 8pm, and 18-30 after 8pm.

Unnecessary sidenote: I loved this place before they moved locations. They served beer, and had 65 cent chilidogs and $1 slices of pizza. Years ago (early 2000s) they actually still allowed smoking in there, but they nixed that because of, you know, kids. I always smoked outside anyway; felt bad puffing away while racing on NASCAR arcade with a 12 year old next to me.
posted by XcentricOrbit at 2:09 PM on October 4, 2010

Not sure if you need info on location, but I went to college in Ithaca from 2002-2006, so have some info on where the arcades were at least. At the time, I remember hearing that the DDR club played at Pixel Lounge on Dryden Road, just down the hill from Collegetown. I'm not sure if they had other arcade games, or just a DDR machine. Looks like that place is a bar now, with no gaming aspect, though. There was also an arcade in the mall out off of Triphammer road; again, never really went in but walked past it. Both places were dark with spacey sorts of decor.

I've been in a few arcades out in Arizona since then -- agree that tokens are it. Some of the larger arcades (Dave & Busters, Gameworks, even the "Castles and Coasters" mini-themepark) use mag-strip cards to store game credit electronically. Not sure re: current popular games that small arcades would have. :(

Agree though that kids would be playing a console game, though -- as you may have guessed from my previous paragraph, arcades around here are combined with a bar and/or some other draw. You have to be 21+ to get in the door at D&B or Gameworks, AFAIK. Young kids don't go into arcades anymore.
posted by Alterscape at 4:04 PM on October 4, 2010

Is there a Walmart close by? Some Walmarts in my area now have arcades, but they're geared toward kids.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:04 PM on October 4, 2010

Some time ago I was going to a concert in London with some friends; they wanted to go down early to play DDR at an arcade.

It's a big place with a lot of games machines - but we were there during the day, during the week. It was pretty much deserted, and looked kind of dingy to me - for some reason there was white plastic stuck over all the windows, none of which opened; the flooring was dark and late 80s in style. I guess being generally dark is normal for arcades, though. Half of the escalators seemed to be turned off (or perhaps broken).

That said, they had a lot of machines, some of them quite new, so I assume they have enough revenue to afford them. I assume it's busier during evenings and weekends.

Here's a video of a guy walking around the place. Here's a video of someone playing a dance game; games with interactive elements like dance mats seem common as they can only be replicated well at home for quite a bit of money. Although perhaps what I see is biased as I was with people who wanted to play DDR.

Some arcade games nowerdays have a USB port where you can connect a memory stick and keep saved games, stats, and in some games even play your own content.

As to payment, most machines take £1 ($1.58) coins - although we once visited a bowling alley which had a token system. There are change machines. It's open, but almost deserted, on weekdays during the day.
posted by Mike1024 at 4:17 PM on October 4, 2010

I've been to a few arcades in my (suburban Utah) area. Impressions:

- The entire place is dilapidated. Dirty carpets, poor maintenance.

- There are two models here: tokens (buy 5/$1.00 or some such), or nickels (you pay $3 admission to walk in the door, but the games only cost 5 cents).

- Half of the games are broken, and you can only find out which half by putting money into them and getting nothing in return.

- Some people have mentioned current games, but the trend I've noticed is that there AREN'T any current games. The last time I went they actually had Arkanoid and Tetris, which was cool, but they're hardly the hot new thing.

- They're divided into half arcade games (with video screens) and half "ticket" games with various physical contraptions where you try to win tickets (skee-ball, etc).

- The crowd is mostly 6-10 year olds with parents. No kids are there on their own like they might have been in the 80s. The kids are BORED and generally disinterested. They probably have better games on the XBox at home. There are also occasionally a few college-age young adults either playing skee-ball or classic arcade games.

There are better-maintained arcades with different crowds, but they're mostly part of a larger place (one adjoins a cineplex, another in a bowling alley, one has lasertag and mini golf). Those tend to have an older crowd of tweens and teens.

I've seen well-maintained arcades with brand-new high-tech games, but those were all in Las Vegas. A small town is more likely to have pathetic places like I've described.

It would definitely be open on a weekday but probably mostly empty.

Mostly, the big difference is that arcades are kind of a weird, specialized place that most people wouldn't go to unless it was attached to something else (e.g. theatre or pizza restaurant). They're not the cool hang-out that they were when I was a teenager.
posted by mmoncur at 8:26 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are no more small town modern standalone arcades, really.

You've got arcade sections in bowling alleys, chain movie theaters and airports -- oh, and the Holiday Inn. They take tokens, 4 for a dollar. The claw you could possibly win is 4 tokens. There's a broken DDR or imitation, a Stern pinball machine with soft/unmaintained flippers (Terminator 2, South Park or Pirates of the Carribean). There's a House of the Dead 2, or if you're really lucky, a Carnevil with screen burn in. There's a motorcycle racing game that features a floppy bike with a button broken off or two head-to-head car games. There may be an air hockey table. It is dirty and scuffed and if you play it you will knock another game or people walking by.

If you're anywhere near a college or Spring Break destination, you've got a ticket mill -- Sega Gameworks, Dave and Busters. There's beer and magnetic cards and games cost some weird arbitrary amount that's really frightening if you can do math. They'll have House of the Dead 4 and a boxy racing game with a gun like Primeval Hunt, but most of the floor will be devoted to crane machines, token eaters and spinning wheels, with an occasional pop-a-ball. They're loud -- like Reno for kids. There are plastic buckets overflowing with paper tickets that, for 10,000 tickets, you could trade for a Made in Vietnam toaster that won't set your house on fire for at least a week. There's not a pinball machine to be seen, but the noise from the Tower Of Power (a weird red LED timer ticket game with a strangely Vegas additive jackpot).

And then there are hipster arcades, which certainly aren't the small town staple. Ground Kontrol is a great example -- Centipede, Pacman, a DDR machine and more pinball, better maintained. They either serve liquor at elevated prices or charge a cover -- typically take quarters.

There's the local community college student union. It'll have a quarter-based pool table, a House of the Dead 2, a new Ms. Pacman for nostalgia and a foosball table that makes you leave an ID to get the ball from the power tripper at the snack bar/counter. Old CRT TVs will play an odd mix of sports, Jeopardy! and news overhead.

(I have a thing for arcades and collect tokens. It really is a sad, "get off my lawn" state of affairs.)
posted by Gucky at 8:27 PM on October 4, 2010

I grew up near Ithaca, and am shocked/delighted to see that the arcade at the Arnot Mall (in Horseheads) is still open. If you want to call them, it's 607-739-1236. I guess I was there a couple of years ago, and most games seem to have been stuck in 1995-1999. IIRC, you still get tokens from a machine and they'd be open on a weekday.
posted by knile at 3:13 AM on October 5, 2010

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