Arcades and the Original “Streamers”

Streaming has become synonymous with the video game industry. Millions of players across the globe logon to various sites like and Twitch to broadcast play sessions and more to countless fans on a daily basis. Yet, while many would consider streaming to be a new phenomenon within the world of gaming, players have been participating in it since the dawn of arcades back in the 1920s.

By Robert Marrujo:: That's right, we're talking the '20s, not the '70s or '80s. At their inception, arcades were home to more midway-style games like shooting galleries and ball toss competitions. This was the norm for decades until the arrival of electro-mechanical games in the late 1960s. Sega introduced the world to Periscope in 1966, a game that boasted an interactive cabinet that featured light guns and bright light effects. Arcade goers couldn't get enough, even at the then-high price of 25 cents a play!

Image credit Bandai Namco.

It was in 1971 that the major sea change began to occur. Students at Stanford University cobbled together a Galaxy Game cabinet that required coins to play and offered a spin on a space shooter video game called Spacewar. 1978, however, is when fans really began to flock to arcades for what we now consider to be one of the true heralds of the video game industry as we know it. Space Invaders by Taito arrived in that year, setting arcades ablaze with its tight gameplay and unique challenge. Nothing was ever the same.

So that's all well and good, but what does it have to do with streaming? Well, in a world pre-online gaming and webcasts, pre-smartphones and social media, heck, even pre-television, communal locations like arcades were where people went to congregate. Flinging a ski ball up a short ramp for points was a way of blowing off steam, certainly, but it also allowed people to hangout and showoff their skills. With the advent of the video game in arcades, however, what was a mild curiosity became a full-blown phenomenon.

Once games like Pac-Man, Galaga, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, and more began appearing in arcades, the social explosion that ensued was unprecedented. Nowadays, gamers can fire up their PlayStations and PCs, hit the lights on their mikes and webcams, and instantaneously get a session of gameplay out to an audience in the thousands. 20 to 30 years ago it was a little different. Back in the '80s and '90s those numbers might not have been so grand and the delivery mechanisms not nearly so advanced, but the principle was the same: people love to watch each other test their skills at video games and they'd do everything they could to get in on the action.

Image credit International Arcade Museum.

Events like EVO draw millions of views online, but a local arcade in the '90s was the only way fans could go and see the best and brightest slug it out in titles like Street Fighter II. People picked sides and maybe even put some cold, hard cash down on a friendly wager, or simply stood to the side with a drink in hand to observe the proceedings. For those interested in demonstrating their prowess, it meant standing in line to await their turn, with rows of quarters pressed against the glass of the screen or above the control sticks and buttons to claim their spot.

It's amazing to look at the landscape of video games today and see so many parallels between how people gathered and connected then versus now. There's less face-to-face interaction, of course, but that's not to say video games have become more insular. Indeed, the bonds that are now formed electronically to start in many cases transition to the real world, as players look to meet beyond the walls of digital arenas and race tracks. Apps like Discord are a big part of this, but even titles like Pokemon Go are proving instrumental in getting players together like never before. No matter how it happens or where, one thing is clear: gamers love to share their games and passion with one another, and they likely always will.

About Robert Marrujo: A Senior Editor for and an Editor for San Leandro News. A lifelong Bay Area resident, you can usually find him puttering around writing, drawing, or playing video games. Check him out on Instagram @robert_marrujo

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