Bring Back The Arcade!

December 12, 2014

The Smithsonian Art Museum and Renwick Gallery turned it's courtyard into the largest arcade of throwbacks and newly innovated games that would mesmerize the wildest teenage imagination from 1970 to the present.  The lure of nostalgia and communal opportunity drew large crowds of people of all ages and all walks of life.  Our game "We The Jury" was featured at the Games for Change table along side Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna), Papers, Please, Fat Chicken.  "We the Jury" was featured on a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet provided by American University, another partner of the event. 

Many of us associate gaming with some coming of age experience.

Through the duration of the Indie Arcade, I could hear people sharing cheats and stories about gaming.  Eyes lit up as attendees exchanged intimate details on how certain games changed their perspective on life.  I grew up in the 90s in a segue where gaming was leaving the arcades and moving toward a democratized, but isolated console experience.  Everyone could have a game console for around $250-$350 and you could go to your local video store to rent the games your parents refused to buy.  I fondly remember going to school and looking at a friends' gamer magazine to find the clues and cheats for games like Sonic the Hedgehog and the Street Fighter series.  Now days, kids can go straight to places like YouTube and wikis online to get tips, facts and cheats about the games they obsess over.  But the frenzied excitement of waiting for a new game to come out is still alive and well and may never die.


The Indie Arcade was a beautiful sight with just the right balance of people watching and people playing and politely taking turns.  Sitting down at the console and feeling the joy stick in hand, you observe how everyone has that same far away look in their eyes as they are transported into imagined worlds of bitmap images, pixelated colors and computerized music.  This whimsy makes us all feel the same.
People love games; and there's something special about them that connects us to each other. I forgot about this until I stepped foot into the Indie Arcade.  With the invention of the console, many of us moved out of the mall arcades and onto our sofas, but there's something special about human contact and arcades provide that for us.  Here are a few obserations:
  1. Games are communal.  I watched 6 grown men 

    who never met, hover around the X-Men arcade game.  They were about to move on to the next level as the crowd behind them cheered fervently, many of which yelled tips and cheats of their own.

  2. Games are therapeutic.  I witnessed fussy kids instantaneously calm themselves as soon as they sat down in front of a game. Games allow us to tap out of reality, fail without judgement, feel a sense of accomplishment and let's not forget they provide sheer enjoyment.
  3. Games are generational.  Parents who brought kids, nostalgically shared stories about their teen years.  Newer parents watched in almost awe as their own toddlers and young school aged children masterfully breezed through games they grew up enjoying.
  4. Games are multidimensional.  You can define a "game" in any way you please.  This event provided simulators, card games, consoles, arcade style games, games for hand held devices and virtual reality.
  5. Games are eternal.  Games are here to stay.  They will only get better as we learn ways to improve graphics and experiences through storytelling.
This Indie Arcade was on to something.  Granted today's consoles provide online capabilities which provide an opportunity to connect globally with people through play; but there's something about zoning out next to a guy on an arcade game for hours that the online game experience can't provide.  We need to bring back the arcades.
If you're still not convinced, check out the iCivics Recap of the Smithsonian Indie Arcade:


Amber Coleman-Mortley serves the iCivics community as the Digital Media Manager, where she supports users in all aspects of iCivics.org. Her favorite iCivics game is Activate. In her spare time she is a part-time superhero who blogs about parenting and discovering other nerdy life experiences.  Most likely you’ll find her productively answering questions while having a dance party at her desk.