Arcade Fever

Book titleOrder this bookStory: Originally titled Arcade Planet in early sales materials (compare the original and final covers), Arcade Fever is an irreverent, never-too-serious look back at the video game era’s greatest boom, the early 80s, fueled by the arcade game craze. Now, I know a thing or two about this subject myself, having written almost a book’s worth of material in the form of’s own Phosphor Dot Fossils section, so I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to accuracy (even though I myself have gotten it wrong from time to time, sometimes spectacularly). And in Arcade Fever, ’80s trivia expert John Sellers, who has created questions for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? as well as writing ’80s trivia books of a more general nature, proves that he’s got a good grasp of the quarter-munching hits (and misses) of old.

Review: Sellers’ text is amusing, observant, and conveys both the essence of the games and the author’s estimate of a given game’s place on the “cool” scale. Each article is accompanied by MAME screen shots aplenty, as well as some gorgeous photos taken by Steve Belkowitz at the well-stocked traveling Videotopia retro-gaming exhibit. The photos, which really bring out the long-forgotten beauty of many games’ controls, cabinet art and design work, put “Arcade Fever” on a plane above Van Burnham’s “Supercade”, a book that a lot of us assumed would be the definitive history work on classic arcade games. Anyone could’ve slapped a bunch of MAME screen shots together with a bit of commentary and called it a book. Sellers goes the extra mile, offering some pop-culture context for the years covered.

Arcade Planet - original cover mock-upNot that this doesn’t have its downside; occasionally that commentary goes a little overboard (jeez, was Pooyan really that bad?) and there are a few places where I feel like it would’ve been better to squeeze in a couple more game reviews. Extraneous features like the “glossary” at the back – much of which is the author’s invention – and pieces on video game characters’ fashion flubs and video game-inspired movies that thankfully didn’t happen…well, your mileage may vary, but I tend to skip those sections whenever I pick up “Arcade Fever”.

Overall, “Arcade Fever” impresses as a nice, somewhat cursory history of the arcades about 20 years ago – back when the games were fun – and is aimed at those who are casual fans of that era, not die-hard game collectors. And that, ultimately, is the book’s greatest strength.

Year: 2001
Author: John Sellers
Publisher: Running Press
Pages: 160 pages