Nov 28, 2016

Video Arcades.. a 1980s escape for kids

by Darrin Vindiola

I was quite surprised to see my fifteen year old jump for joy yesterday because she had found five dollars in her pocket.  This of course was the perfect segue for me to tell her exactly what five dollars could get you back in 1982.

I explained that in the Regan era.. five dollars could buy me four hamburgers, a Big Gulp, and a few hours at the video arcade.  To help drive my lesson on inflation home.. my bride who was listening in at the time, threw in her two cents by telling my daughter, "Wow! Daddy is really old".

Where have all the arcades gone?

The home video game market has all but killed video arcades. Sure there were home video game systems back in the early 80's, but the graphics and sound couldn't hold a candle to what the giant CPU's inside of the old standup arcade games produced.  I saw the decline of video arcades coming a long time ago when I bought my first 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System in the late 80's.  My friends and I immediately started spending more time in front of the TV, having video game tournaments for hours on end.

I can't begin to count how many quarters I pumped into video games as a kid.  Seeing as twenty five cents was still a decent amount of money in the early eighties, there was plenty of motivation to improve your game play skills, in turn squeezing as much play time as you possibly could from every game.  Heck.. I used to be able to play Donkey Kong and Mario Brothers for about forty minutes on one quarter, and I was by no means the best player around.

indeed it was

Most arcades had a certain feel to them, and anyone who was a kid in the 80's knows what I'm talking about.  Upon crossing the arcade threshold, your senses were immediately bombarded with a multitude of sights and sounds.   I can still hear the "wakka wakka wakka" blaring from the Pac Man game, the sound of pinball machine bells and bumpers going wild, and the reverberation of skee balls infinitely rolling towards their targets.  Within a few minutes, the sounds slowly sorted themselves out one by one, until you were immersed in a cornucopia of harmonious intonation.  

Air conditioning was a must to prolong the life of the video games, so the air temperature of most arcades was very comfortable.  They were also usually dimly lit so as to reduce glare on the video game screens.  Most of the arcades I visited were kept very tidy, and were always clean smelling.  Arcades if designed properly, reeled you in and made you want to stay until your pockets were empty.

The very best arcades could facilitate the needs of the average kid for most of the day, as many had snack bars or concession stands.  One such arcade that was a hangout of my friends and I for most of the 80's, was a joint called "W.C. Franks" in my hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado.  One side of the establishment housed a kitchen that sold nachos, hot dogs, chips, etc., and an eating area with a jukebox that was always filled with the latest music.  The other side of the room was dedicated entirely to video games and pinball machines.  

Many an afternoon and evening was spent at W.C. Franks with my buddies during our high school years.  I even took my wife there on one of our first dates.  I ordered us a couple of foot-long chili dogs, and some nachos with sliced pickled jalapenos.  It was the first time she had ever eaten jalapeno's, and she's been hooked on them ever since.  Vivid memories such as this one are jam packed in the recesses of my mind.

I love reminiscing about the recent (and not so recent) past.  In particular, memories about Americana and pop culture from my youth.  Things we experience during childhood and our younger years tend to make a bigger impression on us, because so much about life is new and exciting.  This helps to make for some sharp and detailed memories that stay with us for our entire lives.  That being said.. I feel bad for my kids sometimes.  I just don't see many parallels in this day and age to the prolific period of pop culture we experienced during the 70's and 80's. 

Am I getting so old and jaded that I can't see a wondrous and exciting period of pop culture going on right in front of me?   My 25 year old is already reminiscing about his childhood in the 90's, are my youngest kids going to be reminiscing about the 2010's in ten or fifteen years time?   Can playing video games online with friends while sitting on the couch possibly compare to what kids had in the 80's?  What do you think?  I'd love to hear your thoughts, memories, and comments on this topic.


  1. I used to hang out at WC Franks in Campus West. I'm FCHS class of '85. The peak for me for that place was summer 1983. It's been so long some of my memories blur with games at Panhandlers on the north side of West Elizabeth. But I'm sure WC Franks had USA vs USSR hockey, a non-video game with little plastic players. The music at the restaurant was U2, The Police, Def Leppard. Pretty good times.

    1. Whoah! I'm FCHS Class of '88! Those were the glory years of Campus West! Panhandlers, WC Franks, The Finest Record store. Gosh I miss those days. Sometimes if we got bored at WC Franks, we'd go around the corner and meet up with some of our headbangin' friends at Odyessy. Good times.

  2. I noticed you live in FL, have you been to the Arcade Museum in Daytona Beach? It's awesome!

    1. I have NOT!! Sounds like a road trip is in order. Thanks for the heads up!


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