February 2012

The South American arcades
are still going strong, but why?

The arcade is as good as dead in North America, Europe, and much of the Western world. The home consoles have replaced the places where people used to play video games. However, it seems to be not dead after all, at least not yet in South America. Now the question, why is that?

By: Tom van Vledder
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Utrecht – Netherlands

Arcade games
Photo: Melle Bos

Back in the late 70’s and early 90’s there was a place known as the arcade, a place where people went to play video games, usually paying a quarter for about 5 minutes a game. The arcade became the birthplace of the gamer-culture, and the birth of franchises such as Pacman, Space Invaders, and videogame’s main man himself, Mario.

However, it wasn’t meant to last. After the release of consoles like the Nintendo 64, people stopped going to the arcade, because now they had a more powerful machine at home. Even the revival of 2D fighters, such as Street Fighter II, couldn’t save it. The arcade died a slow painful death in North America and Europe alike.

There have been attempts to revive the arcade. Take for example the Mana Bar in Brisbane, Australia, and Insert Coin(s) in Las Vegas. Both attempt to mix an arcade with a bar, with effective results. The Mana Bar was so successful that a second one opened in Melbourne. But it’s not about those arcades; this article is about the continuing popularity in South America.

The main character of our story (let’s call him Billy) first noticed the popularity of arcades while on vacation in Brazil. In the summer of 2011, Billy was in Foz de Iguazu to go to a shopping mall. It felt like any normal mall; it had an electronics store, clothes store, food court, you name it. However, near the food court was an arcade. An honest-to-God arcade hadn’t graced Billy’s eyes in years, so excitement came naturally.

The arcade had the standard things like Air Hockey and pinball machines, but also arcade cabinets which had a bunch of fighting games. It was a great day for him.

Billy started to wonder why the arcade scene seemed bigger in Brazil than in the rest of the world. He just shrugged it off as pure luck and never bothered with it again, until Billy decided to take a trip to Bolivia. While walking the streets of Cochabamba, Billy noticed kids playing Dance Dance Revolution (DDR - a dancing game where you hit a bunch of arrows with your feet) in an arcade which also had some classics and some new games.

WHY!? Why are these places not dead in South America? Is it dying a lot slower? Is it not dying at all? To get some proof, Billy decided to ask some of his South American friends how the situation is in their country. His friend Francisco Velo from Venezuela said that it isn’t very huge in his country.

This may be due to President Hugo Chavez having banned all violent video games since 2009. Gerardo Mejia from Colombia stated that while they were a lot more popular 10 years ago, there are still quite a few in certain malls, though it does lack variety, featuring mostly DDR and racing cabinets.

So while arcades aren’t the definition of life in South America, they certainly have it a lot better here than elsewhere. But why? After all, home console technology has come a long way since the bleeps of the Atari 2600. With Brazil, Billy had an idea why arcades are still somewhat popular, and that’s price. The recent Xbox 360 Slim (with about 4GB of memory) was launched in October for R$700. That’s about €304, or 2700Bs. Meanwhile, it launched in the States and Europe to about $250, and that’s for the 250GB version.

But what about Bolivia? Are the prices for these consoles as expensive as Brazil? Unfortunately, yes. Tibo.bo sells the Nintendo Wii for 2400Bs. That’s US$350, which is ridiculous, since the Wii cost US$250 when it debuted in 2006. Same goes for the PS3, which costs US$505, while it costs 300 in the US today.


Arcades playroom
Photo: Melle Bos

This is where the problem lies. Bolivians don’t have much expendable income to spend on video games. Even Brazil, with its booming economy, feels its money is better spent at the arcade than with an Xbox. After all, isn’t it better to pay 2Bs to play about 5-10 minutes of DDR, rather than 2400Bs for a Wii?

To be sure about the state of arcades, Billy asked Danny Rico, who owns an internet café in Tarata. He said it is a profitable business because of modern games such as Call of Duty and Left 4 Dead, and that people who play the arcade are in their 30’s and 40’s (odd, since Billy definitely saw kids play). He gets about 50-70 clients a day, and states that the arcade isn’t as popular anymore because of modern games pushing the medium forward.

This was eye-opening for Billy. While arcades are popular here, it seems they will reach a point where they will vanish. Luckily, that still hasn’t happened, so we can still enjoy the classics.

There we have it. In a sense, the arcade has never truly vanished. Lots of old arcade staples have made it not only to the App Store, but also to Xbox Live and PSN. However, I prefer my arcade games on a good old fashioned cabinet, because that’s the way it should be played. I’d like to thank the whole continent of South America for keeping the tradition alive, even if it´s only temporary.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to an arcade to play some Space Invaders. Those aliens won’t shoot themselves.

The “joy makers” of Cochabamba

But who are they? Where do they come from? And is it actually an affordable job to make other people smile? In this and the coming issues of Cocha- Banner you will get to meet some of the “joy makers” of Cochabamba. This time, we have met Ivir Korania, a rather unknown, but talented, painter and sculptor living on the highest point of Cochabamba.

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