What was your hometown like for video games 20, 30, or 40 years ago? Was it good or bad? Was there anything unique to the area that stands out for you? Do you have any photos that capture your city/town for video gaming in the past? I think it will interesting to read different anecdotes and experiences.
I grew up in Vancouver. It’s much bigger and busier now compared to when I was young but I think it was always a pretty good place for video game fans. There was never a shortage of arcades with obscure games, there were places to buy imports from Japan, pirated European computer games were in circulation, and I never had a problem finding games for less popular systems (the largest mall had five or more places to buy Master System games, for example).
For me it was cool reading the Nintendo history book Game Over and realizing Minoru Arakawa had come here and opened restaurants I knew, and the Chuck E. Cheese’s I went to. Being owned by Nintendo, that Chuck E. Cheese’s had almost every Nintendo arcade game and so I was fortunate to play NES games in arcade form around 1984 before the domestic release of the system. That building also housed Nintendo of Canada’s first offices before they moved to a bigger location. I had to go over the border to Bellingham, Washington to find ‘World of Nintendo’ kiosks, though.
The '80s and '90s saw lots of immigration from Asia. This seems to have resulted in Asian bootlegs (and legit imports) becoming more common to find locally, first for the Famicom and Mega Drive, then to a larger extent for Playstation and Dreamcast.
Vancouver didn’t have the amount of game developers back in the day it does now. Don Mattrick from Distinctive Software and EA became more famous later on. It was interesting watching EA Canada here grow from a small outfit to a large building that looks more like a college campus.
Neon lit Granville Street downtown was home to a bunch of seedy adults-only arcades. These arcades inspired William Gibson’s science fiction and he coined the term “cyberspace”. One of the old arcades on this street called Movieland opened in the '60s and is still there if you want to play Daytona USA and watch '70s coin-op porn. I don’t know how it survives.
I grew up in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, which if you look at the map, it’s an island at the very bottom of the country (next to the Falklands and Antartica). This isolation created a very different enviroment on many aspects of life, including electronics. For example the entire country was full on the Sega Megadrive thanks to Brazil, except for us which was 100% Super Nintendo. The only reason I knew the Megadrive existed was because of magazines, it was never sold in stores. This was because we had the biggest seaport at the time (lowest taxes too) so we got the brand new “fancy” stuff first at a way cheaper price. The SNES was twice the price for the rest of the country so it made the Megadrive the best choice for them.
Arcades in the 80s were the same across the country though. They had a very bad reputation of gathering the worst of people. I’ve gone houndreds of times and never run into a fight, being offered drugs or anything like that. So it was just that, the spooky place parents fear because they always have to fear something. That reputation died off mid 90s.
Piracy was extremely rampant, especially when the PS1 arrived. It got to a point where it was impossible to get an original disc anywhere, they didn’t exist. And 100% of the consoles were all sold with the mod chip inside. This carried over with the PS2 as well. I remember how extremely difficult it was for me to get an original copy of Xenogears. No ebay, no credit card, it was though.
Grew up in the same town I’m in now, an odd in-between of rural and urban in the south of England. We never really felt like we needed to spend much time in the arcade as we had the SNES and later N64, but our local did have classics like Outrun, Final Fight, Daytona, Simpsons and such. All gone now though.
San Antonio, TX here. We had plenty of arcades in the 80s, and with military bases and families, I saw lots of imports back in the Famicom days. We did have cool deluxe arcade games like Galaxy Force, The Ninja Warriors, Darius, etc. We also hosted an ACME show one year! Later in the 90s, we had plenty of Neo Geo machines and a local arcade became a test site for Capcom, we even had Warzard. Import stores were en vouge in tje mid 90s, and I was able to get lots of games at reasonable prices. Then the earth cooled and the dinosaurs came and the…wait what were we talking about again?
Early 90’s, my part of Houston, Texas, USA had arcades in all the malls, and of course a random street fighter machine in corner stores and restaurants. Nothing crazy.
Alladin’s Castle in willowbrook mall had set two extra monitors on top of their two Street Fighter cabs because the lines were so long and people wanted to watch the game while it was being played. I wasn’t tall enough to really reach the control panel comfortably so that was pretty awesome for me. Mortal Kombat came after that but I don’t remember arcades ever being as packed as the SF days.
Later on they had a huge capcom showcase cabinet that they would feature the newest fighting games in. I specifically remember seeing Tekken 3 and Eddy Gordo for the first time. I was actually old enough to beat a lot of people for the first time during that era, so it was pretty memorable.
A lot of cheaper grocery stores and pizza places would have a Neo Geo 4 game cabinet where I would play World Heroes a lot too.
It’s difficult to describe to kids the atmosphere that arcade games, specifically fighting games, created back then. Having to compete against a total stranger standing right next to you, literally battling over who was going to lose their quarters while people watched over your back was just an experience that will never be replicated.
Not to bag on modern gaming, but finally gathering up double digit win streaks while a line formed next to you waiting to challenge was just so much more amazing than having a chime go off and a meter on the screen fill up every ten seconds while you sit by yourself at home.
Of course, it wasn’t all roses. A lot of places were smelly and dirty, had broken or sticky controls and fucked up monitors. A lot of places became pretty unsafe to hang around, although not ever as bad as mid 90’s news reports would have you believe. You also never knew if there would be someone there to play or if your favorite game got shifted out to another cabinet.
Still it was a memorable time.
Growing in San Francisco, the Namco Amusement Center at Pier 39 was an arcade paradise in the 90s. They had the full-size Ridge Racer with the car and bumper cars in the center of the arcade. I recall being entranced by the Super Street Fighter II cabinets, since I only had SFII Turbo at home.
Also of note was the Amusement Center on Broadway. This one had a bad reputation because someone was actually murdered in a gang shooting in the alley next to the arcade in 1998. At least 3 people were killed there. This spot was where I first played Street Fighter III, along with NFL Blitz and NBA Hangtime. They had a Chase HQ cabinet as well as classics like Operation Wolf and Yie Ar Kung Fu.
Video games were widely popular during my young days growing up in the Middle East. Various arcade cabinets from Japan were imported into the country so there was a wide selection of cabinets I was fortunate enough to try although all were in Japanese. Arcade place was just round the corner from the flat I grew up in. Afterburner, Lots of Street Fighter arcades, motion control Tekken, this one huge FMV Sega CD type arcade that had cowboys in it, a motion arcade version of Outrun, Michael Jackson’s moonwalker were the earliest I could recall. The beauty about video games in that region at the time was that there was so official market. Although PAL/240volts was the official power/tv frequency, the video game industry didn’t officially release games in the Middle East so most Independent video game stores sold multi region games. An imports fantasy dream come to life! Games from Japan and USA stacked in glass cabinets. No official release dates so Japanese consoles and games were available long before their English titles. I remember seeing the Dreamcast console box with the Japanese business men on it and being so confused. It was awesome! It wasn’t until the mid 2000s that the countries started to be bundled along with Europe and eventually a publishers officially released games in those regions. They adopted PAL of course so all the big chain stores sold them but the small indie shops still kept to their routes and you can still find them selling ntsc games and titles to this day.
By my teens I moved to a small town in the UK and the video game buying scene was too expensive and same-y. Everyone selling the same stuff.
Dallas TX here. There were arcades in all the malls and I have many memories of riding my bike to Collin Creek Mall down the road from my house in Plano TX. I’d waste the day away in the arcade, taking breaks to eat at the food court or check out new games at Babbages or Software Etc.
I remember the first day my local arcade got the hologram game Time Traveller. I thought I had stepped into a sci fi movie. 11 year old me was blown away.
Another great memory I have was in 1995, when the PlayStation was on its way. My local FuncoLand (where I ended up working for three years) was hosting a Ridge Racer tournament. The fastest lap time in the store would win a free PlayStation. I rode my bike to the store every day for months, practicing and practicing so I could get the best score. On the day of the event, I was good enough that I should have easily won. In fact my best recorded time was significantly better than the one that ended up winning. Unfortunately, with a crowd of people standing around me, I choked, and ended up getting 3rd.
I loved that store. They let you play any game you wanted, it was a true “try before you buy” situation. I ended up working there from 96-99 and worked the launches of Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, Virtual Boy…
I remember seeing new copies of Panzer Dragoon Saga on the shelf and thinking “someday I’ll pick that up”
I remember telling people I couldn’t buy their Atari Jaguar through FuncoLand but I’d be happy to give them cash… It’s how I got my Jaguar and my 3DO.
I really wish I had a time machine.
In the late 70s and early 80s in my rural Ohio town we had an arcade that was decent. The Stranger Things S2 arcade looks a lot like it. The arcade was called Todd’s Time Dimensions and was loaded with 12 to 35 year olds.
Every grocery store and local market had arcade games, some unique; I used to go to an IGA to play Star Castle.
Every KMart type store had arcade machines in their foyer.
Every drugstore sold Atari catridges, no need to go to the big department stores in ‘the city’.
Yeah, it’s often forgotten just how common arcade games were in the early '80s. The cocktail machines were even in food courts. It was like every part of a mall had video games.
I grew up in Southern California and my local arcade (Western Arcade which eventually became Super Arcade) was actually world famous and home to Nobu Uematsu (SF2 champion). The Arcade was biking distance from my house and I would spend hours there. We also were home to the Malibu Showboat and Grand Prix (also 5 minutes from where Back to the Future Twin Pines Mall scenes were filmed).
Around 1993-4 the gang element started to rise and Western Arcade and Showboat were attracting the wrong crowd at night and even experienced some drive-by shootings (totally not uncommon in suburban Los Angeles area in the 90s). Thankfully, a pool hall opened up near Western Arcade around that time and the element was more attracted to that and the arcade became a little less scary. Around the same time we started seeing SF2 being ported to home consoles and that became the defacto SF2 experience and many of us just abandoned the Arcades due to convenience and danger.
Grocery stores were great for playing new games in my area. I played Magic Sword, Strider, Superman, and quite a few others for the first time while my parents shopped. Also read EGM and later Gamefan in the magazine sections.
Cool to see a fellow local, NeoZeedeater. Great writeup!
Thanks. Did I miss any cool stuff locally worth mentioning?
I hear Playdium is coming back, this time to Brentwood Mall when they finish doing all that major construction.
Yeah, I heard the same. Curious how it will turn out. I assume more Dave N’ Busters style.
Video games were pretty absent in my hometown and the best you could find was maybe a SFII or pinball in the fish and chip shop if you were lucky.
My favourite hangout was the dank attic in the video store which housed all the Sega Master System and Mega Drive games. I’d spend hours up there agonising over which game I’d hire with my pocket money. They had a small handful of SNES games, which I thought looked strange.
Even in the wider city there were only a few arcades at best, most of which are gone now, even in the heart of the city.
The same as it is now: nonexistent. I always had to go to other towns for videogames. No arcades, though those weren’t even really a thing in the entire country. No videogame specialty shops, no imports. The best we had was a videostore that rented out some games, but really nothing special.
I got all my info from magazines a local shop sold and those really opened up my eyes to what I was missing out on and that was frustrating because I didn’t have any means to get my hands on all those wonderful overseas games like Earthbound, Final Fantasy III or CT, not to mention Japanese imports.
So with the advent of the internet I started the great catch-up race that I’m pretty much still in. I don’t mind though; outside of me having to pay more money for games, having missed out on all those games in the nineties means I still have loads of games to discover. If I haven’t played it, it’s new to me!
To add to NeoZeedeater’s excellent writeup, I’d add using the ferries in our area ended up being a great area to play arcades. As a kid, playing arcades on the ferries was one of my chances to play them; you take the ferries here between the mainland and the island. As I had family on the island, we went a fair amount. Lots of time spent playing various fighting, racing, beatemups, etc. on there. Some favourites I remember include playing Simpsons, X-Men, Daytona USA, Hydro Thunder, Virtua Fighter 2, Street Fighter 2, and San Francisco Rush. I remember playing some shmups but forget which ones at this point, lol. But yeah, lots of fond memories begging my parents for some change after lunch or breakfast on the ferries.