Make365 - An Essay About Arcade Machines


There are a few things that will completely grab my attention by the face and smother it with its "that's very interesting" bosom. One of those things are arcade machines. They can be old arcade machines where most of the pieces are actually genius pieces of mechanical engineering to the newest pinball machine based on this summer's blockbuster (there's an average of 1-2 new pinball machines made a year). But what is it about the arcade machine actually piques my interest so high? It's not the video game part, contrary to popular belief of friends and colleagues. It's the fact that this box of wires, wood, buttons, and radiation is an eco-system and created to serve one single purpose.

To state it lightly: I'm a fan of games. From tabletop to video games, I'm interested in all of it. It started out as the sheer joy of participating in a game and trying to beat it to the world of game creation (where I'm currently situated now). Arcade games laid a very solid foundation to what we know as compulsion loops, where you just had to put in one more quarter to get to the next part in the game. It's what drives the freemium model today, though the simple "3 more lives" tactic has to be offered in a much more clever way as its thinly veiled attempt for a money grab is overly apparent.

But it's not that part of arcade games that enthralls me, though I can write a completely different essay on why games themselves are also a deep passion of mine. Again, it's what the machine itself represents and what it does. I just felt the urge to say that "hey, I like games" to get it out of the way.

When I say it's an eco-system I mean that it's an enclosed environment where each mechanism plays a part to the whole, allows the whole the function, and each piece is strictly manufactured to do one thing. From the way the joystick and buttons are laid out to the fact that there is a monitor embedded into the entire wooden box means that an arcade cabinet is only meant to do one thing and that's to allow a player or players to play that one game (I understand that JAMMA exists, but stay with me for a bit). These machines are not meant to serve a game purpose and then double as a television during the night shift. All the pieces can only do the one thing. This giant piece of electric magic and its hulking size are able to present one single piece of entertainment to you. That's what's amazing about it.

It's like buying an entire world. Each piece is special. Each piece is important. Each piece is required to enjoy that one game.

Why this differs from a console is that a console is not something that's both meant to do one thing and completely independent to function on its own. You still need a television to hook it up to. You still need multiple controllers to support other players. Games are made to run on it.

This is probably the same reason why I've always wanted to buy one of those Eco Sphere balls. Everything works together and is meant to serve one purpose.

This is probably also the same reason that I really like the old electronic handheld games from the 80s and before. It's certainly not because of the gameplay. I'm not some nostalgia-prone person who enjoys something simply because it's old and brings back memories. I'm well aware I'm having much more fun on my current gen consoles and games than the same old repetitive 30-second gameplay. These are handheld devices also constructed to do the one single thing, including present it on their low fidelity LCD screens. Each game was its own system! If you don't remember, some of the original d-pads were on the right side because a majority of the people out there were right handed!

Overall it's the wonderment that comes an entire system that can stand on its own as long as all the parts are working together. It's certainly not cost effective, but it's certainly an amazing thing to witness when you think of it from the functional aspect. A single arcade cabinet or pinball machine is a single self-sustaining world with its own seasons, its own timing, and its own breath of life. The only thing it needs is a little bit of electricity and a quarter.