Relics of a bygone era. These are tokens from my last trip to a Namco Amusement Center, which was some years ago. Somewhere around here I have tokens from an Aladdin’s Castle, which was the first arcade I ever visited, sometime around 1984-85 in Florida. My brother was seeing the orthodontist, and my father took me to the Castle in the meantime. I honestly can’t remember what I played; my father almost certainly hit up Ms. Pac-Man and Mappy, his arcade favorites.

Tokens were the secret weapon of arcades. By minting their own coinage, arcades could distribute tokens at rates of their own choosing, allowing them to cut a bargain if customers spent $5, $10, or even $20 at a time. The actual value of tokens was thus obfuscated, and could be spent more freely than if you had a handful of quarters. Most clever, though, was that tokens could only be spent at the arcade. If you finished your day with leftover tokens, you had no choice but to return later (thus setting foot back on the premises for more potential sales) or not spend them, giving the arcade free money.

It’s amazing that arcades were once so prosperous that even moderately successful ones could purchase or mint their own tokens, and depressing that they are all but extinct today. I remain ever grateful for the folks at Ground Kontrol here in Portland for still showing off at least a taste of what the old days offered.


Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue…Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times.

–Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five