Is it really game over for arcades?

Computer gamers flocked to the Norbreck Castle Hotel for the annual Play Blackpool exhibition. Driving on a vintage arcade racer.
Computer gamers flocked to the Norbreck Castle Hotel for the annual Play Blackpool exhibition. Driving on a vintage arcade racer.
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Their inhabitants were the pixelated pals which rid a generation of its pocket money and left myriad piggy banks destroyed, but now the arcade games machines of the past are in a seemingly irreversible decline.

Their inhabitants were the pixelated pals which rid a generation of its pocket money and left myriad piggy banks destroyed, but now the arcade games machines of the past are in a seemingly irreversible decline.

Think computer games and your mind probably jumps straight to a picture of a lonesome acne-ridden teenager, perhaps not so different from the protagonist of Radiohead’s 1993 hit Creep, spending untold mind-melding hours up in his room button-bashing and staring mindlessly at a screen while his despairing parents downstairs tut repetitively at the old wives’ tale about “his eyes going square if he looks at that telly all day”.

However, it wasn’t always this way and there was a time when gaming was a wholesome social activity undertaken by whole groups of friends together in the actual, real, physical world.

It was the heyday of the video arcade game, and Andy Brown – organiser of Play Blackpool, a convention which sees gamers and nostalgia fans come together to the Norbreck Castle for one weekend each May to relive those days – remembers them fondly.

“It was something you had to go out to do,” recalls Andy, who grew up in Teesdale Avenue, North Shore.

“I like the fact you had to go out with friends to play them.

“It was a whole social experience and now things have moved away from that a little bit.”

The 1980s saw the fashionable newfangled gizmos spring up everywhere.

Their names are legendary – Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Paper Boy, Star Wars, Track & Field, Asteroids, Defender and, of course, Space Invaders.

Andy added: “It wasn’t just in the arcades, lots of cafes and places like that had them.

“When we got the school bus we’d go to this place called The Elbow Room, near the Devonshire Arms pub.

“We used to pile in there with our dinner money.

“We never used to eat and we’d save our money for games like Pac Land instead.

“I remember going out and playing the first Space Invaders game, too.”

However, as time progressed technology got smaller, more affordable and home-friendly to the point where the production and running of such machines is now no longer economically viable.

The Gazette contacted several arcades across the resort to enquire if they still kept such machines, but of the few who still do, none were interested in talking about them.

“I guess there’s just the convenience of having games at home,” lamented Andy.

“There was such a big culture shift from going out and having this experience away from your home.

“In the 80s it used to cost a huge amount of money to make these machines but now everyone has the equivalent of a very powerful arcade game in their own home.”

It seems then, that their time has passed – but could they evolve to suit the needs of a new generation, and once again get them out spending their pocket money on virtual worlds instead of in their own homes?

For Andy, there is a glimmer of hope.

He said: “I’d love to see some of it brought back, but rather than just games now you have companies. You have a whole sensual experience with big machines on hydraulic legs and air blasted at you – things you can’t do at home.

“If people do start to produce big machines again they have to make them on that kind of experience, almost like going on a ride at the Pleasure Beach.”

Perhaps it’s not Game Over after all then.