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Arcade game facts for kids

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Daikeien amusement arcade 2018-05-10
An amusement arcade featuring several different types of arcade games, located in Chiba Prefecture, Japan

An arcade game or coin-op game is a coin-operated entertainment machine typically installed in public businesses such as restaurants, bars and amusement arcades. Most arcade games are presented as primarily games of skill and include arcade video games, Pinball machines, electro-mechanical games, redemption games or merchandisers.


Broadly, arcade games are nearly always considered games of skill, with only some elements of games of chance. Games that are solely games of chance, like slot machines and pachinko, often are categorized legally as gambling devices and, due to restrictions, may not be made available to minors or without appropriate oversight in many jurisdictions.

Arcade video games

Arcade games at ZBase in Tampere
Arcade video games at ZBase Entertainment Center in Tampere, Finland

Arcade video games were first introduced in the early 1970s, with Pong as the first commercially successful game. Arcade video games use electronic or computerized circuitry to take input from the player and translate that to an electronic display such as a monitor or television set.

Carnival games

Dave Busters 10
Skee-Ball was one of the first arcade games developed.

Coin-op carnival games are automated versions or variations of popular staffed games held at carnival midways. Most of these are played for prizes or tickets for redemption. Common examples include Skee-Ball and Whac-A-Mole.

Electro-mechanical games

Electro-mechanical games (EM games) operate on a combination of some electronic circuitry and mechanical actions from the player to move items contained within the game's cabinet. Some of these were early light gun games using light-sensitive sensors on targets to register hits. Examples of electro-mechanical games include Periscope and Rifleman from the 1960s.

EM games typically combined mechanical engineering technology with various electrical components, such as motors, switches, resistors, solenoids, relays, bells, buzzers and electric lights. EM games lie somewhere in the middle between fully electronic games and mechanical games.

EM games have a number of different genres/categories. "Novelty" or "land-sea-air" games refer to simulation games that simulate aspects of various vehicles, such as cars (similar to racing video games), submarines (similar to vehicular combat video games), or aircraft (similar to combat flight simulator video games). Gun games refer to games that involve shooting with a gun-like peripheral (such as a light gun or similar device), similar to light gun shooter video games. "General" arcade games refer to all other types of EM arcade games, including various different types of sports games. "Audio-visual" or "realistic" games referred to novelty games that used advanced special effects to provide a simulation experience.

Merchandiser games

A Claw Crane game machine containing unicorn plushes in Trouville, France, Sept 2011
A claw crane game, where one must time the movement of the claw to grab a prize

Merchandiser games are those where the player attempts to win a prize by performing some physical action with the arcade machine, such as claw crane games or coin pusher games.


Pachinko is a type of mechanical game originating in Japan. It is used as both a form of recreational arcade game and much more frequently as a gambling device, filling a Japanese gambling niche comparable to that of the slot machine in Western gambling.

Photo booths

Further information: Purikura
Purikura Booth 2
A purikura photo sticker booth in Fukushima City, Japan.

Coin-operated photo booths automatically take and develop three or four wallet-sized pictures of subjects within the small space, and more recently using digital photography. They are typically used for licenses or passports, but there have been several types of photo booths designed for amusement arcades.

At the Amusement & Music Operators Association (AMOA) show in October 1975, Taito introduced an arcade photo booth machine that combines closed-circuit television (CCTV) recording with computer printing technology to produce self-portrait photographs. Two other arcade manufacturers introduced their own computerized arcade photo booth machines at the same show.

A specific variety designed for arcades, purikura, creates selfie photo stickers. Purikura are essentially a cross between a traditional license/passport photo booth and an arcade video game, with a computer which allows the manipulation of digital images. Introduced by Atlus and Sega in 1995, the name is a shortened form of the registered trademark Print Club (プリント倶楽部, Purinto Kurabu). They are primarily found in Asian arcades.

Pinball machines

Pinball machines are games that have a large, enclosed, slanted table with a number of scoring features on its surface. Players launch a steel ball onto the table and, using pinball flippers, try to keep the ball in play while scoring as many points as possible. Early pinball games were mostly driven through mechanical components, while pinball games from the 1930s onward include electronic components such as lights and sensors and are one form of an electro-mechanical game.

Slot machines

In limited jurisdictions, slot machines may also be considered an arcade game and installed alongside other games in arcades. However, as slot machines are mostly games of chance, their use in this manner is highly limited. They are most often used for gambling.

Sports games

Air hockey 2
Air hockey tables at an arcade

Sport games are indoor or miniaturized versions of popular physical sports that can be played within an arcade setting often with a reduced ruleset. Examples include air hockey and indoor basketball games like Super Shot. Sports games can be either mechanical, electro-mechanical or electronic.

Redemption games

A general category of arcade games are those played for tickets that can be redeemed for prizes. The gameplay itself can be of any arcade game, and the number of tickets received are proportional to the player's score. Skee ball is often played as a redemption game, while pachinko is one of the most popular redemption games in Japan. Another type of redemption game are medal game, popular in Japan and southeast Asia, where players must convert their money into special medal coins to play the game, but can win more coins which they can redeem back into prizes. Medal games are design to simulate a gambling-like experience without running afoul of Japan's strict laws against gambling.

"Game of skill" versus "game of chance"

Arcade games have generally struggled to avoid being labelled wholly as games of chance or luck, which would qualify them as gambling and require them to be strictly regulated in most government jurisdictions. Games of chance generally involve games where a player pays money to participate for the opportunity to win a prize, where the likelihood to win that prize is primarily driven by chance rather than skill. Akin to sweepstakes and lotteries, slot machines are typically cataloged as games of chance and thus not typically included in arcades outside of certain jurisdictions.

Pinball machines initially were branded as games of chance in the 1940s as, after launching the ball, the player had no means to control its outcome. Coupled with fears of pinball being a "tool of the devil" over the youth of that time period, several jurisdictions took steps to label pinball as games of chance and banned them from arcades. After the invention of the electric flipper in 1947, which gave the player more control on the fate of the ball after launching, pinball manufacturers pushed to reclassify pinball as games of skill. New York City's ban on pinball was overturned in 1976 when Roger Sharpe, a journalist, demonstrated the ability to call a shot to a specific lane to the city's council to prove pinball was a game of skill.

Prize redemption games such as crane games and coin drop games have been examined as a mixed continuum between games of chance and skill. In a crane game, for example, there is some skill in determining how to position the crane claw over a prize, but the conditions of the strength and condition of the claw and the stacking of the prize are sufficiently unknown parameters to make whether the player will be successful a matter of luck. The Dominant Factor Test is typically used to designate when arcade games are games of chance and thus subject to gambling laws, but for many redemption games, its application is a grey area.

Nearly all arcade video games tend to be treated as games of skill, challenging the player against the pre-set programming of the game. However, arcade video games that replicate gambling concepts, such as video poker machines, had emerged in the 1980s. These are generally treated as games of chance, and remained confined to jurisdictions with favorable gambling laws.

Trade associations

American Amusement Machine Association

The American Amusement Machine Association (AAMA) is a trade association established in 1981. It represents the American coin-operated amusement machine industry, including 120 arcade game distributors and manufacturers.

Japan Amusement Machine and Marketing Association

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