John Sellers. Philadelphia , PA : Running Press Book Publishers, 2001. 160 pp.
Review by James McGovern
Clear off the coffee table kids, this one’s a keeper! Arcade Fever, a pictorial and commentary by John Sellers covering the golden age of classic video games is a must-have for any arcade aficionado. Teeming with glossy pictures of arcade cabinets, video game screenshots and related artwork the book provides a great visual tour of the notable games of the past. This is not just a picture book with bland text either. John Sellers provides spicy commentary about game-play, notable milestones, and insider trivia sure to wet the appetite of arcade nostalgia geeks everywhere.
At first glance, the artwork, especially on the cover, appears a bit cheesy. To be honest, I was not optimistic upon seeing the book, but proving the old maxim about a book and its cover, the cover art as well as the images within are right on target. The book is effectively presented with graphics and fonts reminiscent of the early 80’s. It reminds one of the various video game strategy books of that era such as Win at Pac-Man by Ernest Zavisca or Video Invaders by Steve Bloom. Upon perusing Arcade Fever, the reader is brought back to that wonderful time not only in content, but also in the book’s overall graphic design.
Starting with the author’s recollections of his “first time” at the helm of a video game, Sellers uses metaphors indicative of the chronological correspondence of these games debuts and many of our own pubertal timelines. The parallels of this nature drawn in the foreword continue throughout the book.
From the first coin-operated video games, Computer Space and Pong to the last games of the golden age such as Punch Out and Gauntlet just before the proliferation of the all-to-familiar fighter clones that drove many of us from the arcades, Sellers masterfully hits the highpoints and milestones of the video game phenomenon. He also adds juicy details surrounding the games and their creators. You will find an interview with Nolan Bushnell in which he explains the need for an oak beer tap on the side of his desk at Atari. In another, Eugene Jarvis tells the reader about his stint as Honorary Supreme Star Admiral, a title bestowed upon him by an all too frantic and persistent fan of the Defender and Stargate franchises.
Other tidbits of trivia such as the legal wrangling that caused the Tarzan-like avatar in Taito’s release Jung King to be replaced with the nerdy pith helmet wearing explorer of Jungle Hunt are peppered throughout the book. The reader will find nuggets such as the many cameo appearances by Galaxian flagships in other Namco classics and the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Peter Bukowski’s death by heart attack while playing the 1980 Stern release, Berzerk.
Sellers includes notable influences in pop-culture that are attributable to the video game craze of the Reagan years such as an interview with songwriters Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia of the 1982 hit, “Pac-Man Fever.” Look for references to the Saturday morning cartoon extravaganza known as “Saturday Supercade” and a piece on the TBS arcade game show known as Starcade in which decidedly geeky contestants answer video game trivia questions and match reflexes on the CRT battlefield de jour for bragging rights and prizes.
The long and the short of it is that this book delivers images, memories, and trivia any arcade guru would appreciate. Often using language last heard in the arcades of old, the author brings back such favorites as “nerfherders” to describe those arcade denizens that refused to give up games like the Star Wars cockpit though others were waiting with quarters at the ready. So if you are looking for a book to grace the game room coffee table or your children need some schooling on the rules of the arcade, look no further than Arcade Fever, guaranteed to bring back memories and compliment any vidiot’s classic collection.