Walking around any department store or toy shop with my 10- year-old son on a weekend usually brings with it exclamations of awe at the latest PS5 or XBox Series X, as he excitedly reels off all the games that can be played on them.
I was no different at his age, coveting the newly released Sony Playstation, desperately wanting to experience the futuristic scenes of Wipeout, pugilistic thrill Tekken 2, or spending entire mornings round Phil Chatterley’s house playing GoldenEye on his Nintendo 64.
Today, esports has turned into a billion dollar phenomenon, 5G gaming has transformed the landscape and big tech companies are trying to muscle in on a market that so far has eluded them. Microsoft has form in the field, but is still committed to dominate the sector with its acquisition of the UK-based gaming company Activision.
Back to my son though. Even though he’s bewildered by a Nintendo Switch Oled, there’s still equal amounts of intrigue and curiosity as he spies a Blast handheld controller packed with 37 retro games or a Legends Mini Gaming Console. Picking it up with reverence his eyes glaze over as the game titles promise a thrilling time of excitement and action with Dig Dug, Galage, Xevious, New Rally-X and, of course, Pac Man prompting his adrenal gland to go into overtime.
Why are arcade games still so popular?
The popularity of arcade games can be put down to several reasons. One of the most powerful factors is obviously nostalgia. Many adults (usually middle aged men) will still have fond memories of spending hours at the leisure centre, arcade or round friends’ houses playing Golden Axe or New Zealand Story and these games offer a way to reconnect with their now-vanished childhood. Moreover, sharing this retro experience with their children is fun, enabling gaps to be bridged and bonds to be reinforced.
Arcade games also create a unique social environment. Playing in your bedroom on a console can be a collective experience to a certain extent, but all playing together in the same room on a tactile piece of equipment takes it one stage further.
Adding to this is the physicality of arcade games. The use of joysticks, buttons, and in some cases, the movement of one’s entire body as you near the final level, gives the player a tangible connection to the game. This tactile element introduces a distinct dimension to the gaming experience, one that’s sometimes missing in FIFA 2023.
Also, these latest tabletop arcade games just look cool. Companies such as Namco and Sega have found a niche and cornered a different part of the market instead of trying to compete with Sony. Retro box-like styling, 45-degree angle of the screens and the almost technologically backward simplicity of the games gives something for children and adults to rediscover, wonder and marvel at. How can 37 games fit into something the size of my smartphone? Sonic the Hedgehog was £20 back then? “Dad, Asteroids looks amazing, can we play that?”
Maybe It represents not so much how far we’ve come as how much we’ve lost – be that innocence, the time spent playing them and even pure fun, now usurped by multiple companies in their pursuit of industry dominance.
For my son and I, we’re just going to have a quick two player on Galaga for the fifth time.
Digital Daze is brought to you by Phable