For a near-future / alternate-history setting, I wanted to maintain the importance of some technologies and cultural fixtures that have already declined on our earth. As a first test, let's try one that doesn't have such a long history: Arcade games. I can't see this one being very important to the nature of the setting, but anyway...

I know that arcades existed before electronic games, but I don't have a clear idea of what they were like. But once video games arrived, they became the dominant element. The heyday of arcades seems to have been brief. They've been in decline for 20 years. It's easy to see why. Most types of electronic gaming don't gain much if anything from being in a public place. And with internet communication, remote multiplayer games are possible.

Is there any good reason why arcades could have remained important in the 2010s and be expected to remain important for decades more?

"Slower computer development" isn't an answer. Consider those years to refer to a level of technology, not an exact year in our universe.

"Hostility to technological and social change" isn't a good answer. I'm asking if there's any reason why game centers could be an optimal means of satisfying gamer desires.

  • $\begingroup$ Some of the things you would find in arcades (in the UK) other than video games are low-stakes gambling in the form of fruit machines and coin cascades, coin operated roulette and coin operated miniature mechanical horse racing. Crane grabber type machines. Pinball. Shooting games that use light guns, but the target is not a computer monitor. Air hockey. Minature 10 pin bowling and other rolling a ball on target games. radio controlled vehicle in an enclosed area. Bingo. Whack a mole and variants. Pool tables. $\endgroup$ Oct 28, 2015 at 18:35
  • $\begingroup$ This sounds like Idea Generation. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Oct 28, 2015 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 It seems to fall into the constructive subjective bin. Constructive subjective questions: inspire answers that explain “why” and “how” It's also well confined, excluding some possible types of answers while defining a specific goal. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Oct 28, 2015 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Samuel Definitely, but does it provide any criteria for choosing any one answer over another? $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Oct 28, 2015 at 21:01

2 Answers 2


Nostalgia and high-tech gaming systems.

We have an arcade here in Portland, Oregon called Ground Kontrol. The cool thing about this arcade is (obviously in Portland) that it is also a bar. Arcades are cool, but they are waaay more fun if you can play the games while drinking a whisky. Ever played the Simpsons arcade game with a healthy buzz? It's a lot better. I imagine that arcades will always have a niche to fill.

It's also possible that future highly immersive games, like full virtual reality systems, will require significant equipment costs, space to occupy, and bandwidth simply not available in a typical home. This would require people to come play at the arcade. If an arcade had a Matrix type immersion via TMS, the equipment to run that would be insanely expensive, but also insanely fun. I'd frequent the arcade for such an experience.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I was just about to answer with your second point. Computers will always have video games, but not all computers can play the best video games. $\endgroup$ Oct 28, 2015 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ Dang. Your points echo a part of my answer. I'm still leaving mine around, but had I only seen this question a few minutes earlier....... $\endgroup$
    – user
    Oct 28, 2015 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for buzzed gaming. There's also Dave & Busters, which is a US chain of restaurants with a bar & arcade. Arcades are a social place. So they shouldn't be looked at solely a place to play games, but rather as a place to socialize with friends out in the physical world. $\endgroup$ Oct 28, 2015 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ Live multiplayer fully-immersive halo-meets-vr-lasertag. I'd go to an arcade for that. $\endgroup$
    – Josiah
    Oct 28, 2015 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ Drat, you and Michael identified both the reasons that immediately came to my mind: defraying a high capital cost over many users and the social gathering/LAN party aspects. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Oct 28, 2015 at 21:14

Consider that arcade halls and LAN parties are very similar to each other. In both, you have a a group of people getting together in one place for the purpose of playing computer games.

The big difference, as I understand it, is that arcade halls were basically set up with single-player games. Because the technology wasn't very far advanced at the time, the games were also, by modern standards, relatively simple. But there is no reason why it has to be that way.

I can think of two ways arcade halls could remain a desirable element from a gamers' perspective:

Access to some types of games is restricted.

Maybe the government feels much more strongly than in our world about games where the action is centered around theft or violence. (That would probably cover a huge fraction of today's popular computer games.)

Maybe the world took a different direction after a September 11-style event, instead opting to further restrict not just aviation but also things like flight simulators.

These types of games or software could be restricted to a certain amount of play time per month or something like that. An easy way to do that is to only allow access to those games in government-run (or government-approved) arcade halls where play time is logged, centrally checked and logs regularly audited.

Restricted access would be harder to police in a world where fast, easy, worldwide data communications is available basically to everyone, but you could make the penalties for getting caught with contraband games suitably harsh and the probability of getting caught suitably high, which would dissuade most people.

Maybe game vendors simply never added multiplayer capability, or didn't expand on multiplayer capability beyond the most basic forms, to games available to ordinary people.

There is any number of ways you could plausibly make this happen.

Add a significant element (social, perhaps) to the arcade hall experience that cannot readily be replicated elsewhere.

Some ideas might be to offer unique multiplayer game experiences, or hardware that is so top-of-the-line and expensive that most people can't afford it, or some way and reason for people getting together just for the social activity and the game being merely an aside to that.

A dedicated arcade game hall that charges per game or per hour could, in principle, invest in hardware that would be beyond the reach of all but the most devout players. This, in turn, could allow players to play games that are far beyond the ability of most peoples' computers to run at an acceptable performance.

Consider that people still go to movie theaters, even though large-screen televisions, surround audio systems and high-quality digital copies of movies are available. Then, try to replicate the reasons why people go to movie theaters, but in the context of computer games instead.

TL;DR: make it so that arcade halls can (and do) offer players something that they can't readily get at home, at a reasonably affordable price, and demand is likely to remain.

  • $\begingroup$ To add to your first point, the government isn't the only one who wants to restrict/regulate games. Just look at all the DRM, always-online, mandatory-update stuff that's been going around recently. The Xbone wasn't even going to let people share games. $\endgroup$ Oct 28, 2015 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh Good point. Added a note about something like that. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Oct 28, 2015 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, I don't get why anyone goes to movie theaters anymore. I personally don't. (I have ADHD, and watching in a public environment is too distracting.) That's probably why this is a hard one for me to predict. $\endgroup$ Oct 30, 2015 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ @TristanKlassen Bigger screen, better sound, less distractions? $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Feb 11, 2020 at 10:40

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