Player Bill Saling fights waves of attackers on the video game Centipede. February 16, 1982. Photo by Mel Schieltz. Rocky Mountain News Records WH2129, Box 459
Video Game Arcades: The 'Hottest Thing Walking' in Early 1980s Denver
By 1981, video game fever had hit the Denver area. Speaking to the Rocky Mountain News, Robert Pregel, co-owner of Pinball Wizard arcade in Louisville's Village Square Shopping Center, remarked on the phenomenon:
Video games are the McDonald’s of the 1980s. This is where it’s at, it’s the hottest thing walking.
Lydia Garey plays Dragon's Lair at Celebrity Sports Center, September 9, 1983. Photo by David Cornwell. Rocky Mountain News Records, WH2129, PhotoBox 459
While video games are mostly played in the comfort of one's home today, gamers partook of them largely in public spaces—such as video game arcades—during the latter half of the 1970s and early 1980s.
In 1974, the New York Times wrote about video games (calling them the “space age pinball machine") and noted their surprising presence in airports and Dairy Queens—venues where other coin-operated amusements hadn't gone before.
It was 1978's Space Invaders—a fixed shooter arcade game featuring music(!) and the ability to record names of high scoring-players—that brought video games to a new level of popularity in the U.S. Soon bars, restaurants, convenience stores, and supermarkets were installing coin-operated video game cabinets. Game arcades, which had sprung up in the 1970s as places (located usually in shopping centers) for youth to play coin-operated pool, pinball, and foosball, added video games to their repertoire. Arcades offering video games—and only video games—also opened up during this boom time.
Many people sought to cash in on the video game trend—and for good reason. An October 20, 1981, Rocky Mountain News article ("Zap! Zap! And Another Asteroid Bites The Dust") revealed that coin-operated amusement devices (primarily pinball and video games) generated $5 billion in revenue in 1980 alone. In 2020, that figure equates to nearly $16 billion.
Video game enthusiasts line the aisle at Cinderella City's Funway Freeway arcade. January 17, 1982. Photo by Steve Groer. Rocky Mountain News Records, WH2129, PhotoBox 459
Even the City of Denver once considered video games as a way to get cash into their coffers. In September 1981, City Council Member Edward F. Burke, Jr. suggested coin-operated electronic video games be installed in all 25 of the City's recreation centers. Burke remarked,
These kids have money. Every 7-Eleven in town is paying the rent and the lights with two machines.
Conversely, City Council Member Cathy Donohue opposed the proposal:
As a mother, I'd rather have children go to the recreation center to play. They just might by accident do something healthful.
And Donohue certainly wasn't the only one concerned about the impact of video games on children. Nationally, there was widespread worry amongst adults that youth were wasting a significant amount of time and money on video games.
At a Louisville City Council meeting In May 1982, Middle School Principal Walt Grebing spoke against expansion plans for Turk’s video arcade on Main Street, pointing to concerns about students crossing a busy street at lunchtime and after school, adding,
They (the video games) invite children to spend their lunch money; it brings stress and violence...
A couple of young wizards put a coin-operated electronic machine through its paces at the Nautilus Video Arcade in the Southglenn Mall. October 20, 1981. Photo by Steve Groer. Rocky Mountain News Records, WH2129, Box 459
The eastern Colorado town of Dacono perhaps took the harshest measures against video games when on June 14, 1982, city council members adopted a law prohibiting anyone under the age of 16 from playing video games in public places unless accompanied by a parent.
Dacono city officials were concerned that youth were "financing video game habits with sex and crime." A report of a daylight burglary in which cash and coins were stolen, as well as a disturbing incident in which a minor was sexually assaulted in exchange for "video game pocket change," were cited as primary reasons why the law was enacted.
The controversy surrounding coin-operated video games wouldn't last but a few years. On the horizon were a plethora of home gaming consoles available for purchase. By 1982, the Denver Yellow Pages had added a new section: "Video Games - Home." Listed here were businesses specializing in the sales and repair of Atari, Intellivision, Activision, and Coleco systems.
While coin-operated video games certainly didn't go extinct, their popularity never returned to early 1980s levels once home gaming systems like Nintendo moved in.
Today, the classic games from the "golden age" of arcade games (1978-1984) can be played on computers and gaming systems in the comfort of one's home. They're good replications, but they fail to capture what made video arcade games fun: the smell of nachos and pizza; the absolute glory of typing your initials into the high scorer board; the thrill of a pocket full of quarters.
Russ Kanzenbach takes a break at Arcade in Aurora before it is closed down, April , 1993. Photo by Dean Krakel. Rocky Mountain News Records, WH2129, PhotoBox 459
Some of the arcades Denverites may remember:
- Bijou Arcade (28080 Douglas Park Rd., Evergreen)
- Boardwalk Arcade (9525 W. 58th Ave.)
- Buckhorn Arcade (16399 S. Golden Rd., Golden)
- Celebrity Sports Center (888 S. Colorado Blvd.)
- Challenge Arcade (2575 W Evans Ave.)
- Cosmos Video Game Room (3932 S. Broadway)
- Family Arcade (6731 W. Colfax Ave.)
- Fun 'N Games (14200 E. Alameda Ave.)
- Funway Freeway (Cinderella City)
- Galaxy Amusement Center (10260 E. Colfax Ave.)
- Gibbs Arcade (2017 E. Colfax Ave.)
- Miss Piggy's Pinball Palace (1306 Centaur Village Dr., Lafayette)
- Nautilus Family Amusement Center (6911 S. University Blvd.)
- Nickelodeon (multiple locations)
- Old Chicago Arcade (1134 13th Ave.)
- Pinball Doctor (5511 Vance)
- The Shooting Star Arcade (5659 Wadsworth Blvd.)
- Timber Wolf Arcade (2401 W. 32nd Ave.)
We had a small one in my neighborhood in Virginia Vale, it was in Johnny W's trophy shop on Holly and Leetsdale.
There was a small arcade in shopping center of 38th and Sheridan.
It's a Liquor store now, it was in the North West side of the shopping center, almost in the corner. The King Soopers on 38th and Sheridan is adjacent to the shopping center.
We lived on 38th and Vrain, I remember walking there Christmas morning, might've been 1983. They were doubling the quarter pay out if you went the first hour they opened. I took $20 and received $40 in quarters.
I was just thinking about this place. Wasn't it called LaMan's or LeMann's? It's driving me nuts!
I spent a lot of time and money at that one!
Love this article, and seeing a bit of video game history from before I was born.
This is a neat thing to use for some school projects, it has a lot of good images that describe what the gaming industry was like back then
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