When did the Arcade really become something? Was it before or after the Pinball machines became popular?
Arcades actually go back to the early 1900s in the US, where they were called Penny Arcades, and while they had slot machines and pinball, they also had things like love testers and Edison kinetiscopes where you could watch a woman take her clothes off.
People are often surprised to hear that the pinball machine didn’t have flippers until 1947 and they weren’t even at the bottom of the playfield until the early 1960s. Pinball (at least in the form it currently exists) is a lot newer than you think and is barely a decade older than the arrival of video games. The original form of pinball was basically a game of chance where a ball was dropped only to ding off metal pins at random and fall down holes with different payouts, very much like the modern game of pachinko.
Because Pinball was for gambling, there was a huge moral crusade against them in the early part of this century. On a personal note, my grandma used to tell me to stay away from “hooch, wild women, and pinball” (sorry Nani, I failed you on all three).
New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia declared war on pinball, and vowed to smash every single pinball machine that existed. Technically, pinball has only been legal in New York City since 1976.
What the Penny Arcades of the turn of the century actually had to offer wasn’t quite as important as who visited them, who the audience was for them: they were designed as cheap entertainment for the huge wave of American immigrants in big cities who had a little bit of money to spend. A major part of the reason movies were always a universal art form accessible to everyone (as opposed to something like ballet or theater) is that they had their origins with kinetiscope amusements consumed by immigrants in penny arcades, along with the nickelodeons that showed things like sports reels for boxing matches aimed at working class sports fans.
If I could be allowed a little digression, this is always why something like “upscale” movie theater chains like the Alamo Drafthouse make my skin crawl. Movies should be for the poor and for everyone, not for people who can shell out $14 for a bad order of hot wings, or a milkshake with wine in it. It’s a sinister sign of how wealth is massively concentrated in our new gilded age that these upscale theater chains target a shrinking percentage of the population with disposable income instead of the impoverished masses. The selling point of upscale movie theaters is that they automatically kick out anyone making noise, too, to create a “genteel” movie experience free of riff-raff, which I think is the kind of snotty crap a bad guy in a Rodney Dangerfield comedy would do. Recently, Alamo made waves for having all female showings of Wonder Woman. I have nothing against this idea (why would anyone be offended by this when you can see the movie in a thousand places?), but it comes off as phony grandstanding when done by a chain who’s sole reason for existing is delivering an experience for rich people. The living version of this image below:
Returning to the original point, the key thing to remember about video games is this: in the beginning, they didn’t start off in the arcades, but were marketed toward bars and bowling alleys. This is why the marketing for these games in the early days was extremely adult. It kind of reminds me of how, come 2007 or so, the discussion around the Nintendo Wii was that it was a toy that could get you laid. Little by little, video games started to creep into the arcades.
The tipping point where the momentum shifted toward video games over pinball in the arcade was definitely Space Invaders in ’78, which was so wildly successful it showed that arcade video games were here to stay, and that they were a bigger moneymaker than the pinball machines were. There’s a story that Japan had a shortage of the ¥100 coin because of Space Invaders, which unfortunately is just too cool to be true, but it does go to show how it was a new cultural force that came in.