Arcade video games
Arcade video games are coin-operated electronic games played on a screen set in an upright cabinet. Users stand in front of the cabinet and control the game with buttons and joysticks.
These games’ arrival in New Zealand in the 1970s heralded a new form of entertainment. They were housed in arcades such as Wizards, Doghouse, Fun City, Luna Park, Time Out and Timezone, as well as in dairies, fish and chip shops, movie theatres, camping grounds and other public places. The arcades were known as ‘spacie parlours’ after the popular early game Space Invaders. Each game could be played for 20 cents (equivalent to nearly a dollar in 2012).
As in the milk bars of the 1950s and 1960s, young people congregated in arcades for hours on end, leading older generations to view these places with suspicion, especially when kids truant from school ended up there.
Spacie parlours endured into the 1990s and some remained open in the early 2000s. However, home computers and gaming consoles slowly lured away their clientele.
In 2001 journalist Stephan Herrick wrote about the spacie parlours of his youth, and those who spent time in them: ‘Each arcade had its aces, the guys who had nicked enough milk money to become really good. When they walked in people stepped aside. If you were on their machine you either got off or got the bash. They could make 20c last for hours.’ 1
Home computers and consoles
Sinclair and Atari computers were available in New Zealand by the early 1980s, as were gaming consoles like the Atari 2600 that connected to televisions. Some people even made their own simple games on home computers.
Before long, gaming was no longer the exclusive province of spacie parlours. New Zealanders continued to buy new computers and gaming consoles as they became available.
In the early 2000s people also played games on smartphones and on the internet, sometimes multi-player games that could include people from around the world.
In the early 1990s pinball machines made a comeback after gathering dust during the 1970s and 1980s. They had become vintage items – a novelty for young people of the 1990s and a trip down memory lane for older generations. In the early 2000s a number of companies hired out and maintained pinball machines in New Zealand, suggesting the pinball revival was long-lived.
New Zealand gaming companies
New Zealand companies have made both games and consoles. Around 11 New Zealand-based companies made games for arcade machines in the late 1970s and 1980s. One leading company was Kitronix, which made the games Malzak and Panix. Early New Zealand-made consoles were the Sportronic, Tunix, Fountain and Videosport.
In 2012 New Zealand’s foremost gaming company was Sidhe, established in 1997. Sidhe and other New Zealand companies have developed games for international corporations as well as making their own. In 2010 the New Zealand games industry was valued at just over $150 million.
Social concerns about gaming
The violent nature of some games, and debates around gaming’s addictive qualities, has led some to express concerns about potential negative effects on users. These range from children leading more sedentary lives to acts of violence committed in the real world but based on games. Results of international studies on violent games and behaviour are mixed, with some studies finding links and others none. There is more evidence that games have the potential to influence the beliefs and views that people hold, rather than behaviour out in the real world.
New Zealand’s classification system acknowledges that violent or sexually explicit games may be harmful, particularly to children and young people. Since 1994, electronic games have come under the purview of the Office of Film and Literature Classification. The office has the power to restrict some games to certain age groups and ban games deemed objectionable. By 2012 seven games had been banned, meaning it was illegal to import, trade, possess or play them.
A 2012 study by the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association found that 93% of New Zealand households had a device used for playing games, and 58% of gamers played daily or every other day.
The average age of a gamer was 33, and 53% of gamers were male and 47% female. Most gamers played for between half an hour and one hour at a time. Only 3% played for five or more hours.