A Social History of the British Amusement Arcade
The story of the British amusement arcade from the 1800s to the present.
Amusement arcades are an important part of British culture, yet discussions of them tend to be based on American models. Alan Meades, who spent his childhood happily playing in British seaside arcades, presents the history of the arcade from its origins in traveling fairs of the 1800s to the present. Drawing on firsthand accounts of industry members and archival sources, including rare photographs and trade publications, he tells the story of the first arcades, the people who made the machines, the rise of video games, and the legislative and economic challenges spurred by public fears of moral decline.
Arcade Britannia highlights the differences between British and North American arcades, especially in terms of the complex relationship between gambling and amusements. He also underlines Britain's role in introducing coin-operated technologies into Europe, as well as the industry's close links to America and, especially, Japan. He shows how the British arcade is a product of centuries of public play, gambling, entrepreneurship, and mechanization. Examining the arcade's history through technological, social, cultural, biographic, and legislative perspectives, he describes a pendulum shift between control and liberalization, as well as the continued efforts of concerned moralists to limit and regulate public play. Finally, he recounts the impact on the industry of legislative challenges that included vicious taxation, questions of whether copyright law applied to video-game code, and the peculiar moment when every arcade game in Britain was considered a cinema.
“Alan Meades upends the dominant narrative of the mythic US arcade and offers a passionate, century-spanning history of the British arcades, painting them as a lively intersection of leisure, business, technology, and political struggles.”
Jaroslav Švelch, Assistant Professor at Charles University, Prague and author of Gaming the Iron Curtain
“Meades's exhaustive detailing of the tentacular national and international British amusement arcade is without equal. Arcade Britannia's social and industrial history of the UK is a remarkable achievement.”
Alex Wade, Senior Research Fellow at Birmingham City University and author of Playback: A Genealogy of 1980s British Videogames and The Pac-Man Principle: A User's Guide to Capitalism
“Arcade Britannia is a sweeping and, at times, tender history of Britain's distinctive arcade and amusement history. Built from extensive interviews, this is a wonderful contribution to more localized understandings of video game and entertainment history.”
Carly A. Kocurek, Professor of Digital Humanities and Illinois Institute of Technology, author of Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade
“Arcade Britannia offers a nuanced, detailed, and invaluable account of how the arcade industry became a key feature of British leisure culture and has adjusted to survive the homogenizing tendencies of corporatization and globalization. It is highly recommended.”
The open access edition of this book was made possible by generous funding and support from MIT Press Direct to Open