Wesley Upchurch is a Certified Internet Web Professional and CIW Professional Designer. He is also the Columbia, Missouri-based visionary behind entertainment venues The Virtual Arena and Gunther’s Games. Recently, Upchurch chatted with the staff of ZRYLW about the history of gaming arcades.
ZRYLW: What got you started learning about arcades?
Wesley Upchurch: Well, I was seriously thinking about going into this business, and knew it would be worth my time to learn some more.
ZRYLW: How far back do arcades go?
Wesley Upchurch: Really, about as far back as carnival midways or boardwalks. As far back as you can think.
ZRYLW: What were some early arcade games?
Wesley Upchurch: Most of them were mechanical games—stuff like shooting galleries, pinball machines, mechanical fortune tellers, things like that.
ZRYLW: In what kinds of places would you typically find arcade games?
Wesley Upchurch: Really, about any place where people have time to kill—laundromats, bowling alleys, supermarkets, bars, truck stops, etc.
ZRYLW: So the games weren’t strictly for kids then?
Wesley Upchurch: No, not at all. It was recreation and fun for anyone, all ages.
ZRYLW: When did a new generation of interactive games start?
Wesley Upchurch: By the 60s, electromechanical games were starting—things like car-race games, flying simulators, gun games—all with projected film for backdrops.
ZRYLW: Were they well-received?
Wesley Upchurch: Yes, they were fun, but pretty limited. They also required a lot of maintenance. Not that many of them left anymore.
ZRYLW: What was the next advance?
Wesley Upchurch: Well, the earliest, really primitive video games came along in the early 70s.
ZRYLW: What were some of those games?
Wesley Upchurch: Computer Space and Galaxy were a couple of early ones, and Pong came along not too much later.
ZRYLW: And so things were off and running with video games…
Wesley Upchurch: Yes, they were. The whole industry of arcade video games really came into its own by the late 70s.
ZRYLW: What were some of those early games?
Wesley Upchurch: That second generation of video games included titles like Galaxian, Space Invaders, Frogger, Pac-Man—that sort of thing.
ZRYLW: Was that when places like Dave and Busters started, too?
Wesley Upchurch: Yes, places like that or Chuck E. Cheese.
ZRYLW: Those are great venues.
Wesley Upchurch: Yes, the idea is to combine restaurants with arcades. “Fun for the whole family,” as they used to say.
ZRYLW: What happened in the 80s?
Wesley Upchurch: Really, by the late 80s, we saw the market begin to drop off.
ZRYLW: Why was that?
Wesley Upchurch: More home game consoles were coming on the market, and it ate into the arcade video games.
ZRYLW: What do you see as the niche for them now?
Wesley Upchurch: I think there will always be a niche for video arcades. They’re just fun places to be, and have a whole social/community aspect to them that isn’t a part of playing video games at home.