Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Arcades in the landscape of the popular imagination III

Going through this new stash of comics, something odd is revealed -- virtually all of them date from the summer of 1990, as though a comic shop had closed down in August and the comics' former owner just took home all the unsold new merchandise on the shelves at that time. This means that there isn't much of a variety of game ads represented, just the same six over and over again. Fortunately, this was a moment in time where video games and especially arcades were still part of the cultural scene so I've been finding plenty of references to them in comics which, if made today, would not involve video arcades.
This one is interesting, showing the seamy heart of NYC before Giuliani "Disneyfied" it, another bygone sign of the times. In addition to neon signs proclaiming such lurid delights as "XXX CLASSIC", "FUN FUN FUN", "SEX" "STAGE" and "ALL NEW FILMS" (as well as "FAST FOOD AND DRINK" after you're done, and the puzzling "BRODERICK AND NELSON LIVE"), in the bottom right there's "VIDEO GAMES" "ARCADE VIDEO" and it looks like the sign says BOOKS TAPES on the awning also. Whatever you want, if it's dirty, they've got it! (Dirty arcade games: about the unsexiest thing there is.)

It's a glimpse into a receding history, when video games were a pimple on the butt of pinball, which were a wart on the back of other mechanical diversions (notably slot machines), which were a sideshow to mob-run live sex shows, prostitution rings and other vice squad business. Now there's far too much money in gaming to get mixed up with that nonsense. Besides, now you're far more likely to see strippers in a video game than video games in a strip bar. (The big question is: under which system do the pole dancers earn more?)