Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade is a cultural history of the early video game arcade in the United States. It is forthcoming from the University of Minnesota Press in 2015.
Coin-Operated Americans centers on the reframing of boyhood that took place in the popular discourse surrounding early video gaming, but it is not another story about young men. Rather, it charts Americans’ efforts to make sense of video gaming as an emergent medium through news coverage, films, television programs, and other media. The book explains how video gaming both challenged and reinforced existing ideals of masculinity, and how efforts by industry advocates and cultural critics alike to make sense of gaming helped shape and restrict gamer identity.
Using diverse archival sources alongside popular films and television programs and a series of original oral history interviews, Coin-Operated Americans offers insight into the construction of gaming in popular imagination. Early coin-operated video games like PONG (Atari, 1972) emerged from the same industry that popularized pool and foosball tables and pinball machines in bars and bowling alleys. As this book details, the transition by which video gaming became strongly associated with boyhood was heavily influenced both by the coin-op industry’s efforts to establish respectability and by existing cultural narratives surrounding technology, masculinity, and youth.