Tighe: Retro games still scoring big in modern culture

Tighe looks at the popularity of retro arcade games.

Samantha TigheOne thing to note about popular trends is that they’re cyclical. For one generation, something is always enormously popular – whether it is a certain style of clothing, a hairdo or a genre of music. Soon enough, it’ll lose traction and popularity; it will slowly phase out.

The trend goes dormant for about 10 or 20 years. Forgotten. Perhaps even scoffed at.

All it takes is one spark, however – one throwback – before there’s a sudden revival, and the old is now back in.

In 1972, Atari launched “Pong,” one of the first major arcade games. In 1978, “Space Invaders” was released. “Pac-Man” and “Donkey Kong” came out in 1980 and 1981, respectively. It’s been 41 years since the release of “Pong,” and “Space Invaders” was one of the front-runners that ushered in this “golden age” of arcade games. That was 35 years ago.

Yet anyone actively involved in the video game community knows these games. In fact, most of these games have entered back into pop culture by a revival of old-style arcade games. Remakes are being released in addition to the creation of ROMS and emulators made for laptops and consoles.

Although most have died off within the last 10 years or so, arcades are being brought back. They may not be as thriving or lucrative as they once were – but they’re not completely obsolete either. In fact, there’s a nostalgic and eccentric vibe associated with arcades now. There are even bars, like Barcade on Frankford Avenue, which make a profit off of the arcade gimmick.

So, I was curious to find what arcade games appealed to those at Temple.

I asked about 20 people from the different schools and majors. Out of everyone, there were only three people who couldn’t name an arcade game off the top of their head.

The most common answers, of course, were “Donkey Kong” and “Pac Man.” When pressed for more titles, most came up blank.

There were, however, some students who didn’t give the typical answers. Matthew Tonner, a sophomore studying management information systems, gave a whole list of games he used to play when he frequented Chuck E. Cheese’s as a child for birthday parties.

“You had [Dance Dance Revolution], which I sucked at, those motocross and jet ski games,” Tonner said, before furrowing his eyebrows in additional thought. “There was also this shooting game at the movie theater back home that I can’t remember. You could co-op and kill terrorists. I probably put hundreds of dollars into that game.”

[blockquote]All it takes is one spark, however – one throwback –before there’s a sudden revival.[/blockquote]

Now, they weren’t the classic arcade games I was looking for, but Tonner was correct in his own way. I blame myself for not whittling down the video game timeframe, but his answers did open the door.

Meaghan Louis, a freshman university studies, mentioned more classic arcade games.

“I know ‘Pitfall,’ for sure. My dad bought my mom this arcade stick for Christmas that had games in it,” she said. “She was so excited. She played ‘Donkey Kong’ and some others. She was all about ‘Donkey Kong.’”

Tamara Richardson, a freshman marketing major, could name several arcade games but couldn’t recall ever actually playing one. She  saw arcades on the boardwalk and in the mall she visited in her hometown in Pittsburgh, Pa., but she never went in, she said.

“My mom always said they were a waste of money,” Richardson said. “[I] always wanted to play, definitely, but never really got to.”

Christine Kirkland, a senior studying marketing, was the only student I interviewed who visited the Barcade.

“[I] went with some friends on a Friday night – I regret that,” Kirkland said with a smile. “It was pretty packed, but they had a decent selection of games.”

While arcade games are now retro-chic, it will be interesting to see how time treats them. Nowadays, many major players in the video game industry – like developers and writers – got their first taste of gaming by playing these arcade games, before the first batch of console games were even created. In time, however, I predict that these players will be phased out and newer generations will gain a foothold within the industry – people whose first taste of gaming was PlayStation or Xbox. We’ll just have to see if our current consoles will be given the same treatment as arcade games.

Samantha Tighe can be reached at samantha.tighe@temple.edu.

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