Nostalgia for the Arcades and Early Console Gaming

     One of the great gifts to kids over the years have been video games. Whether it was the arcade of the 70’s and 80’s or the early consoles of the 90’s, every generation had their way to game and every generation feels the same about their games, great love. Sadly for these kids, love was not all that they got, like an evil genie’s wish, a side effect was placed upon the games, nostalgia, or as Svetlana Boym would call it, a restorative nostalgia. This type of nostalgia focus on the “nostos” or “home” and attempts to “[reconstruct] the lost home” as a way to “[cope] with stress” (Jamie Madigan). With this nostalgia comes a longing for a time when video games were the most important thing in their life,  and with this longing comes the action to rebuild the past home where they had no stresses, where they didn’t have to worry about paying the bills or getting the kids to school on time.

Arcade

Arcade games from "The Arcade" located in Brighton, MI

      Nostalgia for the arcades, felt mostly by those who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, is one of the most apparent nostalgias in the United States thanks to all the men in charge of companies who grew up during these times. Many people remember spending all their time -- and quarters-- as a child at these arcades, trying to place their initials atop all the leaderboards. They just want to restore this time in their lives where their biggest stress was getting the new high score on Space Invaders, trying to beat the legend named “ASS” who reigns supreme. This nostalgia, caused by the arcades, can be felt everywhere, from special arcade bars to television and even in modern day gaming.

      Nostalgia for arcades became so strong and so prevalent that new arcades began to pop up all across the world, but with an adult twist, alcohol. These “barcades”, as Simon Parkin from the Wall Street Journal calls them, have popped up everywhere and can even be seen here in Austin’s 6th Street. “Recess” is one of these bars. It is just like any other bar on 6th street, but it has one little twist,  arcade games are littered throughout it. The arcade isn’t just for show either, it’s fully functional. The occasional drunkard can be seen playing one of these games, unphased by the grinding and loud noises going on right next to them, caught up in the nostalgia that urges them to play one of their favorite games as a child. But “Recess” isn’t the only one like this on 6th street. Down the street is another similar one that hosts bachelor parties as well. “Kung Fu Saloon” is just your typical bachelor party spot, however, it has the same twist that “Recess” has, arcade games littered everywhere, perfect for the bachelor clinging onto the last piece of childhood he has left before getting married.

     The nostalgia from arcades extend well past bars, in fact, they even affect the television that everyone watches. The popular Netflix show’s, “Stranger Things”, second season puts a good emphasis on the arcade and even devoted the first episode to the arcade. The main characters, who are just kids in the year 1984, spend most of the episode either at the arcade or talking about it since their high score in Dig Dug got beat by someone named “Madmax” and they just can’t get over the fact that someone is better than them at the game. This part of the episode most likely came to be due to the director’s memories of similar things happening to him and his attempt at restoring them, even for just one episode.

     The connections to T.V. extend well past “Stranger Things” as well, in fact, there have been multiple movies, including a Disney movie, entirely devoted to the arcade. One of these movies is “Pixels”, and even though it was anything but critically acclaimed, it still held a premise revolving around the arcade. In this movie, aliens somehow find old arcade footage in outer space and model themselves after the characters and then attack the Earth and those who grew up playing the games were recruited to take them down. An obvious attempt by Tim Herlihy, who was born early enough to experience the arcade, doing his best to restore his childhood and introduce it to the children of today.

Wreck-It-Ralph

Movie poster for the Disney hit "Wreck-It-Ralph", released in late 2012

     Luckily for the world “Pixels” isn’t the only installment in the arcade movie genre and the Disney movie “Wreck-It Ralph” is there to save the genre. This movie entirely takes place inside of the arcade games. The main character, Wreck-It Ralph, is a bad guy but doesn’t like being the bad guy, so he sets out and jumps across multiple games in order to prove that he can be a hero too. This movie, made entirely off of Phil Johnston’s nostalgia for arcades and his childhood imagination of the characters being alive, was so good that a sequel to it is currently in the makes.

     Another way nostalgia for arcades has influenced the world, and probably the most apparent in terms of restorative nostalgia, is in modern day gaming. Many games made today have the past in mind, they aren’t always looking to make new things, they know that sometimes the best thing is the old thing. Why design a new home when they can just restore their lost one? They design new games knowing that they can just target people’s nostalgia, due to its “strong emotional pull [that] makes it a driving force in consumption(Carly Lamphere), using old trends and get way more interest in their game than if they were to do something new. This is most clearly seen with the arcade classic “Tetris”. This game can be found literally anywhere and everywhere. Game developers know that it’s much easier to just port Tetris over to wherever and let the cash roll in as people pay for another nostalgia trip. And this is not just an isolated event, on the Apple App Store alone, where the copyright can be easily upheld, there are 5 different Tetris apps. A simple google search of just “tetris” pulls up countless websites, all who simply ported the game over, looking for the quick cash of someone’s nostalgia trip.

     This nostalgia doesn’t just have people porting old video games, it also has people making new video games in the classic style. This practice is so common in fact that they have an entire genre of gaming just for it and is rightfully named retro-style. These games aren’t bad either, some of them are held in the highest regard amongst gamers. Some notable entries include the recent success, “Cuphead”, and the ever loved “Binding of Isaac” series which has multiple installments. These beloved games aren’t the only ones, in fact, the retro category on Steam has over 450 different games that pop up. All of which are just banking off of people’s nostalgia as they attempt to reconstruct their memories.

     Nostalgia for the arcade is huge and can be felt everywhere inside of the United States. The nostalgia grab of the arcades can be felt anywhere, from the bars to the television and even to modern day gaming, anywhere one looks, the arcade and its nostalgic influence can be found.

      The 70’s and 80’s are not the only generations whose gaming’s nostalgia can be felt, the 90’s and their nostalgia also brings its own set of influences to the world. The nostalgia for the early consoles and its games can be seen in the special stores devoted to the 90’s and can even be heard in popular music, and just like the arcades,felt in modern day gaming. This nostalgia is caused by the same thing that the nostalgia for the arcades was caused by, a longing for a simpler time in a man’s life, in this case, when all that mattered was having the strongest Charizard and beating your friends in Pokemon battles and his attempts to renew those lost times.

     The 90’s have become a very iconic time and is the origin of both at home gaming, with the introduction of the NES, and on the go gaming, with the introduction of the Game Boy. Many people loved these systems and the games they played on them and some of the people that noticed this took the initiative and opened up whole stores devoted just to these games. One of the stores can actually be found on the Guad, right next to Torchy’s. “Resurrected Movies, Video Games & More”  is this store. It is filled with the old classic consoles and their games. Just rows and rows filled with cartridges for the Game Boy and the Nintendo 64 and many other classic 90’s consoles. The owner of this store saw the demand for this nostalgia trip and decided to cash in, and set up right next to a University, where the nostalgia trips are the hardest as students struggle to maintain what little remnants of their childhood they have left in their transition into adulthood. And the owner knows this, overpricing games, having some as much as twice as expensive as new releases, because he knows that people will pay whatever if it means a little bit of a nostalgia trip. And this is not the only store, Austin alone has eight different stores like this, all banking on the fact that people’s nostalgia for these games outweighs the money the old games cost.

Logic

Screenshot from Logic's music video for "Super Mario World"

     90’s video game nostalgia can’t just be seen, it can also be heard in popular music that many listen to today. The most obvious example of this is from the rapper Logic and his popular song named “Super Mario World” which is named after the 90’s video game that he got the inspiration from, which was one of his favorites growing up as a child. The lyrics themselves hold no reference to video games, simply just being a hype song to play at concerts, but the beat behind the lyrics is what gets the nostalgia trip. The beat, even though it doesn’t come out of any of the Super Mario games, is 8-bit style, inspired by the 90’s video game and even sounds very reminiscent of the game.

     Logic isn’t the only rapper to do this either, and he wasn’t even the first. Before Logic made his song, Eminem, who is often considered one of the greatest rappers of all time, made a song that nostalgia trips 90’s video games. One of his first songs, “Hellbound”, holds a similar concept to Logic’s “Super Mario World”. This song has lyrics completely unrelated to video games, but its track actually comes straight out of the classic Dreamcast game, Soulcalibur. Eminem made this song in a nostalgia trip for one of his favorite games he had ever played, Soulcalibur.

     Much like the arcades, 90’s gaming is also apparent in modern day gaming. In fact, many games made today are sequels to old games from the 90’s. Nintendo, a powerhouse of the gaming industry, has gotten this reputation from doing just that. They started the popular Mario games in the 90’s (not to be confused with the similar looking “Jumpman” in their early arcade game Donkey Kong) and have continued the bring titles revolving around him to this day in titles like “Mario Kart 8” for the Nintendo Switch. And Mario is the only title they’ve done this with, the uber-popular Pokemon has gotten the same treatment. Originally made in Japan in 1996 and brought over to America in 1998, this series has since been expanding into one of the biggest of all time, constantly releasing new titles with seven different generations, 802 different Pokemon, and 122 different games ( 30 core series games and 92 spin-off games) as of 2018 and even includes the 2016 craze of Pokemon Go.

     Video game nostalgia for the 90’s is pretty common these days and is on the rise. It can easily be seen by the new stores popping up that are dedicated to the 90’s video games and can easily be heard in modern rap and played within modern day gaming. Enacted by people’s last grip on their childhood, people fight to keep whatever it is tieing them to the simpler times, the times where their biggest problem in life was the kid on the playground lying to them about how the legendary pokemon Mew is hiding under a truck.

     Kids love their games and their way of gaming, the kids of the 70’s and 80’s love their arcades and the kids of the 90’s love the early consoles, but sadly for them, with love, comes nostalgia, in this case, restorative nostalgia. Despite their differences in gaming, each of them holds a nostalgia for it, a longing for the simple times in their lives, when games were their biggest stress in life and wish to restore those times. Their attempts at restoration can be seen all over the United States, from barcades to television to modern day gaming to special stores and can even be heard in popular rap songs.

Works Cited

Boym, Svetlana. The Future of Nostalgia. Basic Books, 2001.

Casciato, Cory. “Arcade Nostalgia: From Space Invaders to the Resurrection of Hyperspace in Lakewood.” Westword, 2 Apr. 2016, www.westword.com/arts/arcade-nostalgia-from-space-invaders-to-the-resurrection-of-hyperspace-in-lakewood-7620197.

Lamphere, Carly. “For Old Times' Sake: Technostalgia's Greatest Hits.” ProQuest, 2017, search.proquest.com/docview/1942462381?pq-origsite=summon.                   

Madigan, Jamie. “The Psychology of Video Game Nostalgia.” The Psychology of Video Games, 6 Nov. 2013, www.psychologyofgames.com/2013/11/the-psychology-of-video-game-nostalgia/.

Parkin, Simon. “Nostalgic for the Atari-Era Arcade? Millennial Gamers Are Reinventing It.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 9 Feb. 2018, www.wsj.com/articles/the-videogame-arcade-reinventedno-quarters-necessary-1518198615.

Whalen, Zach, and Laurie N. Taylor. Playing the Past: History and Nostalgia in Video Games. Vanderbilt University Press, 2008.

Arcades and Early Consoles