Title  : Arcade Fever: The Fan's Guide to the Golden Age of Video Games
Author  : John Sellers
Length  : 160 pages
MSRP  : $18.95
ISBN  : 0762409371
Release date  : August 2001
Publisher  : Running Press
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Who ever said nostalgia isn't what it used to be? 

Today's kids may not believe it, but there was an entire generation that grew up in video game arcades. Modern gaming centers don't hold much to support that truth, but for those who remember the draw of decades past, this book is for you. 

Arcade Fever: The Golden Age of Video Games is a chronology of the arcade era that lasted from 1978 to 1985. It is written and compiled by John Sellers, pop culture writer and Donkey Kong 1983 world champion. 

Unlike other historical records, Sellers' book is not a report on the industry itself; gamers can turn to other excellent chronicles such as Game Over, The First Quarter, or the recently revised Phoenix: The Fall and Rise of Video Games for that information. 

No, Arcade Fever is a history not of the powers behind the medium, but of the medium itself: the games that we saw, touched, played, and grew up with. There are interviews with programmer Eugene Jarvis and Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, among others, but primarily this book brings you back to the arcades of twenty years ago. 

Fifty classic games comprise this walk down memory lane, beginning with Pong and Computer Space, the first coin-operated arcade games, and ending with Punch-Out!! and Gauntlet. Other highlighted titles include Pac-Man, Dragon's Lair, and TRON. Each entry includes Sellers' description of the game, as well as pictures of gameplay and cabinet art, when possible. Sidebars describe failed sequels and spin-offs, but there are no screen shots or other pictures to envision the turkeys Sellers describes. 

Arcade games did not exist in a vacuum, and neither does Sellers' presentation of each game. Each year of games highlights what was also hot that year in headlines, movies, TV, and sports. From the title to the writing, Sellers invokes the era he describes, incorporating aspects of popular culture such as quotes, brand names, and themes. He has a penchant to overuse some words, such as "titular" and "arguably", but I'm willing to chalk it up to the throes of arcade fever. 

Sellers also writes from the perspective of someone firmly entrenched in the present, who is nostalgic yet realistic. Fond memories do not cloud his opinion that, looking back, some of these games did not deserve accolades. He gives honor where due, but don't be shocked if the next comment slams a game, or even some of the people who played it. 

Arcade Fever is not wanting for material, but it devotes only four pages to home consoles and such memorable games as Adventure, Pitfall!, and Lode Runner. Though such games are not the focus of this book, I hope Sellers or someone like him will take it upon himself to create a similar volume for those memories created in dens and basements, not arcades. 

Arcade Fever is not a reference or resource, but more so than any other book, it is a look into the hearts and minds of a generation of gamers. It helps us to understand not only the roots of the gaming industry, but the people who ensured the pastime's place in American culture. It warrants a place on the bookshelf of any gamer, young or old.


This article is copyright (c) 2001, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 17-Sep-01