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What are Vintage Arcade Games?

Pong, one of the first video games, is now highly prized by collectors.
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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2014
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The term vintage arcade games covers a wide spectrum of mechanical and electronic devices made popular in amusement parks and street arcades. Pinball machines, Skee-Ball lanes, shooting galleries, fortune telling machines, and even first generation videogames all qualify as vintage arcade games to collectors. Some vintage arcade games are refurbished for use in private homes or offices, while others are prized more for their history or aesthetics than their gameplay. A few are still in active use in arcades around the world.

Some vintage arcade games aren't really games at all, but more akin to novelty toys. Fortune telling machines featuring early animatronics provided users with a printed fortune card and a few minutes of fascination as the mechanical gypsy blinked and breathed while moving her head and hands. Other machines tested the user's strength or sex appeal through a series of lights and levers.

Other vintage arcade games duplicated the actions of popular sports such as bowling or golf. A player could slide a metal puck down a simulated bowling lane and knock over pins through contact with sensors hidden beneath the pins. Golf games were usually more mechanical, allowing players to manipulate their putting stances and tap a ball bearing into selected holes. Other vintage arcade games allowed players to control boxers in a ring or race horses around a track. Auto racing was also a popular theme, using scrolling tracks to simulate movement.

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Since many of these vintage arcade games were popular during wartime, manufacturers occasionally modified their themes to match popular culture. During World War II, for example, some aircraft shooting games incorporated anti-Japanese artwork and titles. Some of these games were retired or destroyed, making any surviving examples very collectible. Other vintage arcade games were ordered destroyed by state legislators who defined them as gambling devices, not legal games of skill.

Perhaps the best-known vintage arcade games are pinball machines. From their first appearance in the 1920s to their nadir during the 1970s and 1980s, original pinball machines have been a source of fascination for players and collectors alike. Once vilified as gambling machines, pinball machines survived the ups and downs of public interest right until the introduction of the first generation of arcade video games. In fact, many of the video games which replaced pinball machines are now considered to be vintage arcade games themselves.

First and second generation video games with titles such as Pong, Galaxian, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, and Galaga are now highly-prized vintage arcade games. Many collectors from the baby boomer and early generation X decades remember playing these arcade games as teenagers or young adults. Although many of these first and second generation video game titles are available for home game systems, some collectors and enthusiasts still prefer the feel and nostalgia surrounding the original vintage arcade games of their youth.

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