If you were born before 1990, chances are you've long bemoaned the disappearance of a meaningful pillar of your upbringing: video arcades. There used to be 13,000 of them across the country, back in the early 1980s when arcades were a $3 billion industry. Now there are too few to merit counting. Where did they go? You fed them all the quarters in your mom's purse! Why did they leave?
The rapid tumble of American arcades -- the real arcades, the loud dark rooms with gross carpets and no parents -- has left a hole where a piece of culture used to be. Rather than try and recreate that vintage arcade experience, Japanese video game maker Namco is rolling out a "restaurant-centered, destination entertainment concept." The arcade pioneer, which produced such golden-age gems as Pac-Man and Space Invaders, is poised to roll out a chain of the arcade-restaurants in Chicago. They're called "Level 256," a reference to the mythical final level of Pac-Man.
“It’s no secret that we’ve been exploring a number of new business models and noodling the future of Out-of-Home entertainment for several years now, and out current planning does include an upscale restaurant with entertainment elements," Namco Vice President David Bishop told Polygon. "And yes, we’ve been working with an established American restaurateur, as well as some other really talented external professionals, to develop the concept."
Namco was bought by Bandai and then redirected to focus exclusively on building out video arcades and amusement parks. For the Level 256 project, Namco is teaming up with a Kansas City-based restaurateur who "runs a variety of upscale European bistros in the Midwest," says Polygon. It's hard to doubt Namco. After all, this is the company whose arcade games pulled in $400 a week in quarters back in the 1980s.
Unfortunately, details at this point are sketchy. We can only pray that Namco's idea of food-fun fusion doesn't look anything like Dave & Buster's. What would be cooler is something more akin to Insert Coin(s), a "videolounge and gamebar" in Las Vegas that recently hosted De La Soul. Or Ground Kontrol, an arcade-pub in Portland that hosts Nintendo quiz nights. Just make it anything but a grimy Chuck-E-Cheese for the type of sad souls who needed a more exciting alternative to the Applebee's bar. Namco, please don't screw this up. We arcade fiends need this.