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Coin-Operated Americans

Coin-Operated Americans

Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade

Carly A. Kocurek

How and why video gaming culture became the domain of young men and boys

272 Pages, 6 x 9 in

  • Paperback
  • 9780816691838
  • Published: September 30, 2015
  • eBook
  • 9781452945217
  • Published: September 30, 2015
  • Hardcover
  • 9780816691821
  • Published: September 30, 2015


Coin-Operated Americans

Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade

Carly A. Kocurek

ISBN: 9780816691838

Publication date: September 30th, 2015

272 Pages


8 x 5

"Carly A. Kocurek provides a fascinating cultural history of arcade gaming and, in doing so, offers keen insight into our ongoing conversations around gender and gaming. This is a must read for those interested not only in game studies but in the evolution of American boyhood."—T.L. Taylor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"An excellent study of the early history of the video game industry and how it came to define the gamer as male."—Library Journal

"The great contribution of Kocurek’s Coin-Operated Americans is its attempt to historicize a relationship that often appears natural to cultural gatekeepers and other onlookers, not to mention reactionary “gamers” themselves."—Public Books

"This detailed study provides a lucid, compelling narrative that will interest a very diverse audience."—CHOICE

"Coin-Operated Americans is an invaluable contribution for those interested in the intersection among media, technology, and critical questions surrounding children and youth."—Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth

"Kocurek invites readers to imagine the sensory environment of the early arcade, its sights and sounds, which serves as a vivid backdrop for the compelling cultural history the book chronicles."—Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth

"Productive contributions to studies of masculinity, and to studies of gender and digital play more broadly."—Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality 

"Coin-Operated Americans will make an excellent addition to undergraduate courses on gender studies, American culture, and the recent past."—Oral History Review

Video gaming: it’s a boy’s world, right? That’s what the industry wants us to think. Why and how we came to comply are what Carly A. Kocurek investigates in this provocative consideration of how an industry’s craving for respectability hooked up with cultural narratives about technology, masculinity, and youth at the video arcade.

From the dawn of the golden age of video games with the launch of Atari’s Pong in 1972, through the industry-wide crash of 1983, to the recent nostalgia-bathed revival of the arcade, Coin-Operated Americans explores the development and implications of the “video gamer” as a cultural identity. This cultural-historical journey takes us to the Twin Galaxies arcade in Ottumwa, Iowa, for a close look at the origins of competitive gaming. It immerses us in video gaming’s first moral panic, generated by Exidy’s Death Race (1976), an unlicensed adaptation of the film Death Race 2000. And it ventures into the realm of video game films such as Tron and WarGames, in which gamers become brilliant, boyish heroes.

Whether conducting a phenomenological tour of a classic arcade or evaluating attempts, then and now, to regulate or eradicate arcades and coin-op video games, Kocurek does more than document the rise and fall of a now-booming industry. Drawing on newspapers, interviews, oral history, films, and television, she examines the factors and incidents that contributed to the widespread view of video gaming as an enclave for young men and boys.

A case study of this once emergent and now revived medium became the presumed enclave of boys and young men, Coin-Operated Americans is history that holds valuable lessons for contemporary culture as we struggle to address pervasive sexism in the domain of video games—and in the digital working world beyond.

Carly A. Kocurek is assistant professor of digital humanities and media studies and director of digital humanities at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Her work has appeared in journals including Game Studies, Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds, and Visual Studies and in the anthologies Before the Crash and Gaming Globally.


1. The Microcosmic Arcade: Playing at the Cultural Vanguard
2. Gaming’s Gold Medalists: Twin Galaxies and the Rush to Competitive Gaming
3. Adapting Violence: Death Race and the History of Gaming Moral Panic
4. Anarchy in the Arcade: Regulating Coin-Op Video Games
5. Play Saves the Day: TRON, WarGames, and the Gamer as Protagonist
6. The Arcade Is Dead, Long Live the Arcade: Nostalgia in an Era of Ubiquitous Computing
7. The Future Is Now: Changes in Gaming Culture