Arcade machines are often thought to be confined to the realm of niche gaming and themed bars. However, research from the past decade shows that it’s not all just about fun and games.
Games have come a long way from their origins in the noisy and excitable arcades of yore. The same principles that make them fun and addictive are now being applied across multiple areas including education, employee engagement, and physical rehabilitation.
This has elevated the arcade cabinet beyond entertainment. Machines are popping up in places you won’t typically expect to find them. Below, we’ll explore how people are using arcade games to level up learning, productivity, and business.
Games are all about positive reinforcement. There’s no beating the rush of reaching the mythical Level 256 of Pacman or finally defeating the ridiculously overpowered M. Bison in Street Fighter II.
The same reward system can be a powerful incentive for students. Alabama-based Wilkerson Middle School used a game room complete with arcade machines to motivate good behaviour. “If they read a certain number of books, make the honor roll, or are student of the month, they can earn passes to the game room,” shares teacher Vivian Waller.
The games themselves can be used to learn, contrary to the still widely held belief that they’re only for entertainment. Research in 2015 from the Graphics Interaction and Learning Technologies in Portugal found that games can help improve linguistic skills. “Games make it easier to memorise some difficult ideas,” says one student. The study used retro-style games like Manic Miner and a language game inspired by Space Invaders.
Some time ago, playing games during work hours would’ve raised some eyebrows–possibly landing you in trouble with the boss. But today’s startup culture and a new generation of employees–many of whom grew up playing video games–are changing how our offices are built and how employers think about the working day. It’s now normal to see break rooms fully kitted out with air hockey, pinball, and, of course, arcade machines.
Beyond being a PR strategy for attracting younger employees, there are real benefits to turning part of the office into a gaming haven. One of them is giving your brain the reset it needs to push past lulls or mental blocks. “Some video games are built to give you a short experience where you can be competent or autonomous,” says psychology professor Chris Ferguson. Arcade games are perfect for short and focused bursts of play, given their fairly simple yet often challenging mechanics.
They can also be a way to foster collaboration and improve communication between coworkers. Arcade cabinets can allow as many as eight people to play together, without having to commit to lengthy campaigns of modern games.
The social nature of arcades is a large part of why they were so popular. Today, gaming has become solitary–it’s just you and a screen for hours. Even online multiplayer, which lets you play with virtually millions of people, is a disconnected affair compared to being surrounded by the buzz of other people and the clicking of buttons. “Going to a concert and listening to a CD at home are two completely different things, even if the song is the same. It’s the same principle with arcades,” says arcade owner Minoru Ikeda.
Arcade machines bring the social back to co-op, which make them a useful addition to many hospitality venues, including bars, cafes and even restaurants. “Our goal is to allow people to put down their phones to connect, laugh and enjoy each other’s company in a way that’s becoming more rare in our fast-paced world,” says Kings Dining & Entertainment COO Josh Rossmeisl.
The longer people stay in a pub or restaurant, the more they spend. There’s even an official metric establishments use to measure how long customers loiter: “dwell time”. Increasing dwell time directly affects sales. According to research by PathIntelligence, prolonging dwell time by as little as 1 percent can increase customer spending.
There are many factors beyond a restaurant’s control that can affect dwell time, like the weather. Whilst controlling the weather may be wishful thinking, businesses can play around with their inhouse entertainment options, which can have a significant impact on how long your guests stick around. Rossmeisl points out that his customers spend as much as two to three hours flitting between the various entertainment options, which includes arcade machines. In comparison, the average restaurant goer only sticks around for 45 to 60 minutes.
Keyboards can’t compare to the feel of joysticks and buttons. That’s why owning an arcade cabinet is the dream for many retro game fans, especially those who grew up when video games were growing up themselves in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Yet many are intimidated by the sheer bulk of the machines and the large catalogue of games available–how do you choose between iconic games like Pacman and Donkey Kong?
Thanks to emulators, you don’t have to. Arcade cabinets today can be loaded with hundreds of games. They also come in different shapes and sizes, which makes limited floor space less of a problem. Bartop machines, for instance, can easily live on your desk.
No longer just a source of entertainment, arcade machines are finding a new lease on life outside arcades. The versatility of builds and powerful emulation technology makes it possible to experience the classics in the way they were meant to be played–and to devise new ways to fit them into our lives.