Slot Machines and Coin-op Games | A Collector's Guide to One-Armed Bandits and Amusement Machines by Bill Kurtz, published in 1991
This post only contains the notes I have taken while reading the book. I read it as background research for Understanding Game Experience essay.
The first penny arcades became popular with the Great Depression of the 1930s in North America. The machines served as a inexpensive way to escape problems. High-scoring players could gain small prizes such as cigarettes and candy. "For only a penny, the players could escape the harsh realities of the world around them."
Back in the 30s, Coin-op games were located targeting the men. There were machines anywhere the men used to hang out, such as in taverns, barbers' shops and cigar stores.
"Coin-op games became a symbol of the 1950s." At the time the post-war mechanisation was sweeping the USA, and people were fascinated by machines. Especially teenagers loved to coin-op games. Back then, the machines did not have a respectable reputation. Though, in sixties the arcade games started to be located in locations where it was also reachable to children. The youngsters could play with these machines in places like mall arcades while their parents did their shopping. In seventies and eighties the arcades flourished and developed to futuristic electronic games with digital scoring, sounds and high-tech screens.
In some communities, the arcade machines were banned, because they were considered as gambling devices.
"The line between gambling and amusement was always thin." (page 8)
While the most of the coin-op machines are really gambling devices disguised as amusement games, some of them includes or considered as including skill based gaming. In the case of iron-claw digger machines, which can award a small prize, players easily spend up to 5 times more money then the value of the prize itself in exchange for winning this small prize. Even though they are branded as gambling devices, still most people perceive them to be games of skill.
Why people play arcade games:
Some people find them relaxing.
Others enjoy the physical rush they get from manipulating a mechanical device.
"The machines offer a welcome break from everyday life."
Players are able to suspend reality for a short time and enter a make believe world where anything is possible. You can hop from one reality to another by just changing the machine and playing with the other, which is only a few steps away.
They do not require no previously learned information or physical skills. You do not have to memorise a mathematical formulae or go on a low-fat diet to play. (A hobby, a sport takes time, energy and dedication to learn and do. To play a comprehensive card game you need to deeply concentrate, learn the rules and practice. The machines offer cheap pleasure, and do not demand much investment.) You just need a few spare coins, free time and superficial concentration.
Coin-operated games have been around more than a century and endured through two world wars, a depression and the computer age.