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When Pac-Man just didn't cut it anymore for 'arcade addicts'

Once they'd mastered Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, video gamers just weren't interested in arcades any more in London, Ont.

'Video game burnout' in 1985 meant venues just weren't the draw they used to be in London, Ont.

Video arcades not as popular in London, Ont.

38 years ago
Duration 1:56
People are going back to pinball as the allure of Donkey Kong and Pac-Man wanes in 1985.

Arcades in London, Ont., were in a slump. 

And not because they were "sleazy hangouts" where kids under 14 weren't allowed, as was the case in Charlottetown

"Video game burnout seems to be doing what many parents could not do," said Joe Coté, host of the news roundup show This Week in Ontario on Feb. 28, 1985. 

"And that is closing down video parlours."

The number of arcades, where players had once lit up games including Donkey Kong and Pac-Man, had declined by 50 per cent in the southwestern Ontario city, said Coté.

Pac-Man scorn 

Pac-Man was one of the games that had inspired how-to books explaining what players could do to achieve a high score. (This Week in Ontario/CBC Archives)

In one such arcade, reporter John Lees groaned in frustration after losing at Donkey Kong.

"I guess I must be what one might call a digital dope," he said. "However, for some of the video wizards around here, stuff like this has become just child's play."

Pac-Man, for example, was among the games "scorned" by "video game junkies."

"They're just too easy to play," said Steve Edgar, a young man with a mohawk hairstyle. "They've been around too long and now they've got books out that tell you what you have to do. You just memorize patterns and play."

'Too expensive' at 50 cents

Newer games with more sophisticated graphics were available, but players balked at the 50-cent cost to play. (This Week in Ontario/CBC Archives)

He gestured at another game, Robotron, and said it was "still fun," because there was no book for it.

Lees asked Edgar about the arcade's supply of a new generation of games, like Nintendo's Punch-Out!!, featuring graphics resembling "cartoon characters."

"They're too expensive," said Edgar. "They're like 50 cents every time you play ... you've got to waste a bunch of money to get good at it."

Arcade owner Rob Smeenk said there were a number of factors to explain what might "zap his business," as Lees put it.

Reasons for the slump

"That baby boomers are getting a little older," said arcade owner Ron Smeenk, listing the factors contributing to the slump. (This Week in Ontario/CBC Archives)

First on his list was that baby boomers were "getting a little older."

Somehow, he noted, there was "less money available now" than there had been at the height of the recession earlier in the decade.

"The industry's gotten a little bit stale," he said. "The equipment isn't coming as fast and as furious as it once was." 

But the "burnout" video-game players felt meant that some equipment was getting dusted off.

A return to pinball

Dave Watson had returned to "that old standby of arcade addicts," pinball games. (This Week in Ontario/CBC Archives)

Pinball machines, Lees said, was seeing a comeback as "video whizzes" were once again pumping quarters into "that old standby of arcade addicts."

By Lees's telling, it wasn't a ghost that brought about Pac-Man's demise. 

"[Pinball machines] are making a comeback as a lot of those high-tech games go the way of a pill-starved Pac-Man."

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