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How It All Started: The History of Video Games

Before you could fight dragons, sail the seven seas, create a whole world, or transport yourself to another universe in the comfort of your living room, there were arcade games.

It was the most popular activity for kids, teenagers and young adults in the 1970s and 1980s pop culture and marked the start of an industry that would leave its mark on the world for years to come. 

And how better to celebrate Video Games Day than with a rundown on how it all started and remembering some of our favourite arcade games.

The Beginnings

Now, a lot of people tend to credit Nolan Bushnell and his company, Atari, for creating the arcade games. That, however, is a bit of an overstatement. Yes, he was responsible for some of the most popular video games of all time and the fame of the arcade, but coin-operated ‘amusement machines’ were a thing since the 1940s.

However, the first arcade game to cost the now-famous “quarter per play” was ‘Periscope’, released in 1966 by Standard Games (now Sega). A year later, Taito introduced ‘Crown Soccer Special’, a two-player football simulation and that was about it for the next 4 years. 

Until 1971. That year, Nolan Bushnell developed ‘Computer Space’, the first mass-manufactured game, for Nutting Associates. And that’s when things started to grow fast. A year later, Bushnell and Ted Dabney formed Atari and the company basically created the coin-operated video game industry with the highly successful table-tennis game ‘Pong’.

pong arcade game

The Golden Age - The Late 1970s to Mid 1980s

During this time, arcade games were a superpower not to be reckoned with in popular culture and some of them still are. Who doesn’t know what Pac-Man (1980) is?

If you’ve never been inside a “real” arcade, here’s a pretty accurate picture. Imagine lots and lots of video games and pinball machines – never forget the pinball machines. They were dark spaces (to facilitate playing games) and they never sold food – except for the odd vending machine. It was a place for kids to be with other kids, teens to be with other teens, and young adults to serve as ambassadors for the younger generations.

kids arcade game

The good old days, eh?

The Fall Of An Empire

With time and the commercialization of computer technology came an explosion of arcade video games. They were in songs, cartoons, and films – pretty much everywhere you looked. And just as if you listen to that new favorite song too many times, the novelty of arcade games began to wear off in the late 1980s. 

This decline continued with the rise of home video game consoles such as Sony’s Playstation and Microsoft’s Xbox. Sure, there were other home consoles before, like the Atari 2600, launched in 1977, but there was none so popular as the two soon to be giants.

atari game console

But arcade games are not gone. If you are a fan, and reminiscing the old, fun days there is a pretty good chance that your favorite arcade game has been adapted for mobile. Or, if you’re after the authentic thing, usually bowling alleys and some bars/pubs have arcade machines. 

It’s safe to say that arcade games haven’t disappeared, they have just become part of the larger entertainment mix. 

The Top 5 Arcade Games

All this talk about the history of arcade games made us remember all the fun we used to have while playing them so we decided to share our favorites with you. 

1. Pac-Man

pacman

This classic doesn’t need an introduction. Coined the most influential game of all times, Pac-Man has conquered the hearts of everyone that played it. It founded the maze chase game genre, is said to have opened gaming to the female audience, and the yellow character was the first gaming mascot. 

Simply put, there’s just no way to not love Pac-Man.

2. Mario Bros

Similar to Pac-Man, there’s just no way you haven’t at least heard of Mario Bros. (regardless of whether it is the newer versions). Published and developed by Nintendo in 19830, Mario Bros. saw the first appearance of Mario and Luigi. Simple, yet addictive, Mario Bros rapidly won us over and we’ve been fans ever since!

3. Space Invaders

One of the earliest shooter games, Space Invaders is credited as having started the ‘golden age’ of arcade games. In classic arcade games fashion, Space invaders was simple and addictive, actually being the best selling video game of its time.

4. Galaga

galaga arcade game

That man is playing Galaga! If you didn’t understand that reference, it’s okay we can explain. That is a line from the first Avengers movie said by yours truly, Robert Downey Jr. We just had to say it, after all, if you couldn’t tell from our Electro Hero Kit, us here at Tech Will Save Us are pretty big Avengers fans.

Okay, back to our normal program. Where were we? Ah, yes, Galaga! 

Part of the ‘best games of the golden age’ group, Galaga has remained one of the most popular games ever released, regularly appearing on retro game compilations and providing an unforgettable experience.

5. Whack-a-Mole

If you can name a more infuriatingly fun game than Whack-a-Mole, be our guest. We’ve tried and nothing better came to mind. 

The concept of Whac-a-Mole is fairly simple. You get a rubber mallet and you have to smash a mole back into a whole. Plot twist? It keeps coming back in other wholes!

If you were a fan of the game, we have some great news. Whack-a-Mole is one of the integrated games in our newest kit, the Arcade Coder. You can get more info about it HERE and get it delivered just in time for Christmas!