Thursday, May 08, 2014

Off Their Game

The sordid history of video game panics:
Video game arcades did not exist before the 1970s, but amusement arcades have been around for more than a century, giving people a place to play pinball and other coin-operated entertainments. They were tightly packed, anonymous environments filled with young people and working-class immigrants, a perfect recipe for middle-class anxieties. (There were even rumors of girls being kidnapped at arcades and sold into white slavery.) Throw in the fact that gambling was known to take place on the premises, and the venues' shady reputation was assured.

Moral opposition led to legal crackdowns. The most infamous effort began in 1942, when New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia sent his gendarmes to seize the city's pinball machines. They brought in more than 2,000 on the first day, and newsreel crews filmed the mayor smashing some of them with a sledgehammer. New York did not relegalize pinball until 1976.

When video arcades started booming in the early '80s, many of those fears came rushing back. Parents worried that Pac-Man dens would encourage truancy, that kids would smoke cigarettes or buy drugs, that young children would come into contact with bad elements, that violence might break out. In 1982 The New York Times quoted a Long Island mom who believed video arcades "mesmerize our children," "addict them," "teach gambling," and "breed aggressive behavior." Zoning and permit fights were common, as fretful grown-ups urged the authorities to keep the arcades away.

These days, the arcades have virtually disappeared. But the anti-arcade scare petered out first.
Society somehow survived, even as old panics were replaced by new ones.

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