Digital City: New York and the World of Video Games

PODCAST The history of video games and arcades in New York City.

New York has an interesting, complex and downright weird relationship with the video game, from the digital sewers below Manhattan to the neon-lit arcades of Times Square.  It’s not all nostalgia and nerviness; video games in the Big Apple have helped create communities and  have been exalted as artistry.

First — the relationship between the city and the arcade itself, once filled with shooting galleries and see ball. When pinball machines were introduced in the 1930s, many saw them as a gateway into gambling.  Mayor Fiorello La Guardia personally saw to it that they were taken off the streets.

The era of Space Invaders, Pac Man and Donkey Kong descends in New York during its grittiest period – the late 70s/early 80s – and arrives, like an alien presence, into many neighborhood arcades including one of the most famous in Chinatown – an arcade that is still open and the subject of a new documentary The Lost Arcade.

While the video game industry is not something New York City is particularly associated with, the city does in fact set the stage for this revolution of blips and joysticks at the start of the 20th century and from such unconventional places as the West Village and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

In Queens you’ll find one of America’s great tributes to the video game, in the spectacular arcade collection at the Museum of the Moving Image.

Finally — A look inside the games themselves to explore New York as a digital landscape that continues to be of fascination to game developers and players alike.

So are you ready Player One? Grab your quarters and log in to this New York adventure through the world of video games.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

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Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #208: DIGITAL CITY: NEW YORK AND THE WORLD OF VIDEO GAMES

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The trailer for The Lost Arcade. It opens today in San Francisco at the Roxie and Friday, August 12, in New York at the Metrograph. Check out their Facebook page for more information about upcoming events and screenings.

The current exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image — ARCADE CLASSICS: VIDEO GAMES FROM THE COLLECTION — continues until mid-September.

Courtesy Museum of the Moving Image
Courtesy Museum of the Moving Image

 

Children at a penny arcade in Schenectady, NY, in 1910

Photo by Lewis Hine, courtesy US National Archives
Photo by Lewis Hine, courtesy US National Archives

 

Mayor La Guardia was not a fan of pinball. Here, in a 1942, he rounds up the pinball balls. Read more in Seth Porges’ article for Popular Mechanics:

laguardiapinball.banner.AP.jpg

 

In a photo taken in 1948 by Stanley Kubrick for LOOK Magazine, prizefighter Walter Cartier plays an arcade game with a young woman.

Courtesy MCNY
Courtesy MCNY

And another by Kubrick, from 1946, at Palisades Amusement Park.

MCNY
MCNY

A couple images of a penny arcade and shooting gallery in 1950, photo by Robert Offergeld.

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Courtesy MCNY
Courtesy MCNY
Courtesy MCNY
Courtesy MCNY

 

Playland on 42nd Street, courtesy the film Taxi Driver

Courtesy Scouting NY
Courtesy Scouting NY

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The other Playland at Broadway and 47th Street, pictured here in the 1950s. GIANT MALTED 15 CENTS!

Office for Metropolitan History
Office for Metropolitan History

And later from the 1970s….

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New York City arcade, 1981.

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Courtesy Twin Galaxies
Courtesy Twin Galaxies

 

The original Chinatown Fair sign, near its closure in 2011. It reopened the following year, perhaps a bit more family friendly than its precursor.

Courtesy Giant Bomb
Courtesy Giant Bomb

 

Screenshot from Mario Bros. (1983)

Courtesy GamesDBase
Courtesy GamesDBase

 

Screenshot from Amnesia (1986)

Courtesy Hazlift
Courtesy Hazlift

 

 

Images from Manhunter: New York (1988)

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Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 12.14.12 PM

 

Screenshot from Grand Theft Auto‘s Liberty City

From GTA Wikia
From GTA Wikia

The area of Bowling Green, after the Great Fire of 1776, as depicted in Assassin’s Creed III.

Courtesy Assassin's Creed Wikia
Courtesy Assassin’s Creed Wikia
  • Brandon

    This particular podcast made every dollar I’ve donated through Patreon worth it! Great stuff. Thanks for coming out to Astoria!

  • Mac Pohanka

    I really enjoyed the episode. The Chinatown arcade is pretty amazing.

    Have you checked out Sunshine Laundry for pinball in Greenpoint Brooklyn? This place is gem with a great story. It is NYCs top pinball mecha and its in the back of a laundromat. It has been around for a while as an oddball pinball destination but with recent renovations they changed up the whole setup and renovated to turn half the laundry into a pinball speakeasy with a small bar behind a couple of false dryer door. There are tournaments every week and the finest selection of new and old pins around.