Before cell phones and laptops, kids only had a few things they could do to stave off boredom during the summer months. If you had loose change and a bicycle, you were probably off to the arcade. These coin-operated game consoles were big and bulky, and their rudimentary graphics won't wow anyone today. Yet, some of these arcade games from the 70s are so embedded in pop culture that they're still revered 50+ years later, and we can't stop playing them.
The Oregon Trail (1971)
Kids in the early 2000s know The Oregon Trail because of the computer game version that teachers everywhere tied their westward expansion history lessons to. It might blow your mind to learn that the game came out in 1971, decades earlier. Developed by Bill Heinemann, Don Rawitsch, and Paul Dillenberger, it brought the harrowing responsibility of surviving the wilderness right into your face.
As you led a caravan of settlers from Independence, Missouri to the Willamette Valley, Oregon on the historic Oregon trail, you'd have to battle many different challenges. Yet, the one that you probably still get nightmares about and never would have expected dying from was dysentery.
Although it wasn't the first video game ever made, Pong was the one that gripped the nation. Maybe it was right timing, or maybe it was because there's something addictingly fun about battling a friend over a digital version of table tennis.
Made by Atari, Inc. in 1972, Pong was first released as an arcade cabinet in roller rinks. Over time, its popularity grew, and Atari transformed it into a home video game console. Pong was one of a kind; a unique console where you didn't have to spend your money at the arcade but could have endless rounds of it on your fuzzy television screens.
Death Race (1976)
Created by the lesser-known developer, Exidy, Death Race was as dangerous as arcade games could get in the 1970s. Released in 1976, this game put you in the driver's seat where you and a friend manned a steering wheel and a pedal, and tried to take out 'gremlins' with your cars. As you wiped these gremlins out, they turned into tombstones, which you had to dodge.
Now, in an unexpected turn of events, a huge controversy bubbled up over the simulated violence, and while the game wasn't taken off shelves, it never reached the levels of fame that other consoles and cabinets did. What's incredible is that it's a tale as old as time; just look at Grand Theft Auto and the many, many complaints that came out of its gameplay.
Namco brought us bangers like Pac-Man in the 80s, but their sleeper hit Galaxian, from 1979, was one of the first space shooter games of its kind. As a little space ship that vaguely resembled a super soaker, you'd dodge oncoming enemy ships and try to shoot them all out of the sky.
The coolest part? It was programed with a rudimentary AI system that made the enemy ships move in an unpredictable pattern. Now, if this game sounds familiar, it's because it's the prequel to their more famous arcade game, Galaga.
Star Raiders (1979)
Atari had another smash hit on their hands in 1979 with Star Raiders. Jump into the cockpit of a starship and fight off enemy Zylons all while making sure your fuel levels don't drop too low. The best part of Star Raiders was that, coming just two years after Star Wars: A New Hope, you could take on your own Death Star-level space theatrics.
The game was so popular that they made a console version of it in 1980. After all, with science fiction on the rise and space seen as the final frontier in the 1970s and 1980s, who didn't want to prove themselves worthy of manning a space craft?
Lunar Landing (1979)
Atari's Lunar Lander arcade game from 1979 stripped everything they knew about gaming down to the studs. Using just a horizontal view of the moon's surface and vector graphics, you had to man a lunar shuttle and successfully land it without crashing or running out of fuel.
Obviously, this game came in the wake of the actual moon landing and tapped into all our childhood dreams of being an astronaut. Turns out, it's not as easy as it looks.
Where Did the Original Arcade Cabinets End Up?
Today, traditional arcades are few and far between. Just like roller rinks and malls, they're becoming a thing of the past, but some dedicated and passionate gamers have taken to collecting these old arcade cabinets and having them restored.
You can find various old arcade cabinets online for a myriad of prices - typically somewhere in the $500-$1,000 when they're unrestored. Restored ones can sell for closer to $3,000 in the best cases.
Yet, thanks to rental console companies, with modern arcade cabinets with thousands of games loaded onto them and contemporary consoles having access to remastered game files, these old consoles are depreciating in value pretty quickly. So, it might be in your best interest to keep any you've picked up for posterity.
1970s Arcade Games That Still Hold Up
In the 1970s, video games were in their infancy, and the simple point-and-shoot or vector-style games blew people's minds. Today, we've got the luxury of VR headsets that literally drop us right into the world we're playing in. Yet, some of these old games still hold up all these years later. Whether you play arcade games from the 70s on the original cabinets or on the newest consoles, you're doing your part to keep video game history alive.