The Art, Aesthetics, and Materiality of the Arcade Videogame Interface: A Practice-Included JAMMA Era Arcade Platform Study

My PhD thesis was uploaded to the Trinity College Dublin open access repository in November 2019, and is available at the following link: http://www.tara.tcd.ie/handle/2262/90862

Thesis Abstract:

This research presents a practice-included platform study of the arcade videogame interface as a self-reflexive art medium. It frames the arcade as both platform and genre, with particular focus on the mid-1980s to late 1990s, the JAMMA era.

Arcade platforms represent a set of technologies designed for consumer level play but traditionally closed off to non-developers as creative mediums. This thesis addresses their nature as aesthetic interfaces, not just for game play, but also as expressive digital materials.

The view of the arcade videogame interface presented encompasses a holistic perspective reaching beyond the communicative link of the audio-visual feedback and input controls, to include the external physical form of the arcade cabinet and associated peripherals, in addition to all communicative links within the system architecture. This expanded view also considers the interface as defined by environment and user context.

In order to reflect the interdisciplinary nature of this research, the methodology draws heavily upon the platform studies approach. This includes technical and historic research alongside case studies of how the system constraints were harnessed to best aesthetic effect. Data sources consulted included archive materials, technical manuals, first-hand interviews, and feedback received from exhibitions and online reviews. These findings were complimented by first-hand tacit research of the arcade videogame interface as an artistic medium.

Control, Arcade Operator, and VR SuperGun are a trilogy of interactive self-reflexive meta artefacts that form the material art-practice element of this thesis. These experimental prototypes combine into an experiential, critically reflective composite overview of the arcade interface. Each artefact was created within aesthetic constraints equivalent or approximate to those faced by arcade game creators in the 1980s and 1990s, pragmatically augmented with existing and emergent technologies.

The overall resultant study contributes to understanding of JAMMA era arcade videogames as material and aesthetic forms, and their role as a convergent link across new media art, interface design, game studies, and indie-game development.