Obsessed: A look at our obsession with redemption style arcade games

Everyone has been there at some point in their life. It becomes an obsession that you can’t seem to get a handle on. You do it over and over knowing the payoff is never going to be anywhere near what you’ve put into it. At times you feel as if you have some sort of out of control addiction and you ask yourself “Why do I keep putting myself through this?” with every cent you spend. I’m talking about redemption games at your local arcade. Whether you’re at the local mall, a family fun center or some big time amusement park the outcome is always the same. It’s you pumping token after token into some machine that misleads you into thinking your skilled enough to hit the jackpot and win those 750 tickets with that one token. The reality is the hundreds of people that stood in front of that game before you were also under the false impression that their skill at the wonder wheel was going to pay off big time.

My question here is what makes redemption game so appealing to us? It’s definitely not the payoff, for every $5 you pump into redemption games the return is usually somewhere between 10 to 50 cents worth of prizes. Sure every blue moon you’ll hit that jackpot worth 200 or 250 tickets but those occasions are far and few between. It’s not the emotional distress it causes us to feel either, believe me I’ve had my moments of sudden outbursts of random profanity or the urge go completely incredible hulk on the game. For every reason we have to walk away from redemption games at the arcade there is one thing that continually draws us back in… The challenge that the game themselves provide.

As human beings we naturally oblige the opportunity to be challenged. We love solving problems as it plays into our natural instinct to learn and progress as an individual. Redemption games prey on this trait and the gaming industry realized this. With the rise of home game consoles throughout the 80’s and 90’s the arcade industry was scrambling for ways to bring its revenue out of the red and redemption games were the perfect answer. They were always around but the shift in the late 90’s was tremendous as the arcade cabinets went out the door and the redemption games and prize machines (claw games etc.) came flowing in. Most arcades you step foot into today have a higher ratio of redemption games than they do actual video games. The profitability of redemption games versus arcade cabinets is no comparison at all, the redemption games bring in profit hand over fist and can easily stay relevant for ten years or more. Compare that to a new video game that’s lucky to see any tokens at all after two years.

The amusement industry knows we will aggravate and torture ourselves beyond belief for a good challenge and as long as we show that weakness they will continue to suck money out of our wallets and tokens out of our pockets. Our ability to learn and adapt to situations in an advanced manor is what sets humans apart from other species on our planet and if there’s a chance we can win some candy and a new IPOD compatible clock radio in the process then we’re all for it.

Jason Burum


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