PopMatters: 'Coin-Operated Americans' Tells of the Time When Arcades Took the Children of Displaced Workers

By James Orbesen

Coin-Operated Americans (Carly Kocurek)Most video game arcades today are either relics of the past, preserved through sheer will and by the weight of history, or are newer, modern (yet retro) spaces that traffic in craft beer and nostalgia. However, as professor and author Carly A. Kocurek demonstrates in her latest book, Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade, arcades were once big business, expanding from a niche market into something major, and nabbing national attention throughout the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, until an economic crash in 1983 submerged many, kicking off a slow, not always assured, decline.

Kocurek’s book comes at a prime moment. Between widely disseminated and examined controversies like GamerGate and the growing impact of video games on our culture, and wallets, examining the roots of this once subculture is long overdue. Indeed, for many non-gamers, the explosion in popularity of, as Kocurek notes, “an entertainment industry so substantial it regularly outperforms Hollywood’s profits, and an arena for competition so fierce as to support an entire professional circuit” is a shock. With this steadily growing power, “video gaming has come of age as an established industry with its own standards, professional organizations, degree programs, and lobbying groups.”

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