Created By: rjung on September 2, 2013 Last Edited By: rjung on September 10, 2013

Personal Arcade

Using arcade video games or pinballs to establish a character

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Just as a chessboard indicates a smart character and golf clubs indicate an upper-crust executive, a quick way to establish a character's frivolous personality is to show them having a pinball machine or arcade video game in a home, work, or personal environment. Such a character will typically be almost Always Male, and is either The Slacker, a Manchild, One of the Kids, a Cloud Cuckoolander, or something comparable.

Since a good-condition machine typically costs more than a personal computer, such a prop establishes some level of wealth for the owner; having multiple machines serves to further emphasize the character's extravagance or misguided priorities. Actually playing with the game is not required; simply having it in the background flashing its attract mode is enough to make the point.

If the game is actually based on the character, that could be a further sign or extraordinary wealth or an overinflated ego.

Note that this trope does not apply when the game in question is in a location that reasonably should have such things, such as a video arcade, bar, laundromat, or boardwalk. Similarly, having a home video game system doesn't qualify for this trope, as those are affordable for most people.

Also see Pastimes Prove Personality.


  • In the first night of the Ghostbusters franchise, the guys' upper-level loft includes two arcade video games (Ms. Pac-Man and Star Castle) and a Star Gazer pinball machine next to the fireman's pole. Notable in that Ray Stantz had mentioned less than a minute ago that they were out of money...
  • In Big, one of the things Josh (Tom Hanks) gets in his rapid rise up the corporate world is a Pin Bot pinball machine.
  • In Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj, Taj Badalandabad adorns the Cock and Bulls living room with several creature comforts, including a widescreen TV and a "Miss Nude America" pinball machine.
  • The Social Network has a Street Fighter 2: Alpha Warriors' Dreams game cabinet next to a conference room.
  • In What Happens In Vegas, Jack Fuller has a Free Fall pinball machine in his apartment.
  • There is a "Harlem Globetrotters" pinball in the guys' apartment in Three Men and a Baby.
  • The Thing has an Asteroids arcade machine at the ice station.
  • The schlocky America 3000 has several arcade video games in the Presidential Chamber.
  • There's an Asteroids cabinet in Pee-wee's Big Adventure.
  • The original 1986 comedy Running Scared shows a Battlezone machine in Gene Wilder's apartment.
  • The main character of The Game Plan, football start Joe Kingman, has a "Kingman" pinball game in his apartment.
  • Appropriately enough, in Ghost Rider there's an Evil Knievel pinball in Johnny Blaze's apartment.
  • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou features a customized "Zissou" pinball machine.
  • A pinball machine and several arcade games (including a large-screen Pong) are visible in the mansion party scene of North Dallas Forty.
  • The original 1981 Arthur had a pinball machine in the character's bathroom.
  • The spoiled rich kid in The Toy has a Centipede and Space Duel cabinets in his bedroom.
  • High School High has "Homeroom Homicide" and "Classroom Carnage" arcade games in the teacher's lounge.
  • In I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, Chuck owns a "Balica"[[note]]actually a modified Galaga[[/note]] arcade game.
  • A Hydro Thunder sit-down game appears in the Baxter Building in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, but no indication which of the team actually plays it.

Live-Action TV
  • In Silver Spoons, the Manchild father has several pinball machines amongst his collection of giant expensive toys. In the opening credits he starts up a game and dances along to the music it makes.
  • The Charlie's Angels episode "Homes, $weet, Homes" had a pinball machine in the house of a wealthy real estate agent.
  • The Columbo episode "The Conspirators" has Columbo and a suspect talking over games of pinball in the suspect's home.
  • One episode of In Plain Sight showed a vintage electro-mechanical pinball in the apartment of Mary's boyfriend Raphael.
  • One episode of Mr. Belvedere, the Owens family gets a Fireball pinball, only to get rid of it once Belvedere becomes addicted to the game.

Western Animation

Real Life
  • Steven Spielberg was known to have had a varying set of arcade video games in his home and offices, including Space Invaders, Missile Command, and Donkey Kong
  • On one segment of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Norm Macdonald was doing a series of jokes about selling his home in Los Angeles. One photo he showed was an exercise room with a Family Guy pinball machine, and Norm comments that the buyer can have the exercise equipment, but not the table.

Community Feedback Replies: 14
  • September 2, 2013
    ... Maaaaybe the pinball machine from Big?
  • September 2, 2013
    It's on the list, right after Ghostbusters.
  • September 2, 2013
    Flynn from Tron is a video game wizard as well as a video game programmer, and also owns an arcade.
  • September 2, 2013
    In Silver Spoons the dad, a Man Child, has a pinball machine amongst other giant expensive toys. In the opening credits montage you can see him starting up a game and dancing along to the music it makes.
  • September 6, 2013
    Much as I like the alliteration, there would definitely be confusion with Pinball Protagonist.

    His Own Personal Arcade perhaps?

    This has gradually become a Dead Horse Trope, the slow death of arcades (combined with the internet allowing you to buy ANYTHING) has made it easier and cheaper to buy coin-op games over time, plus perfect emulation of arcade games on computers and consoles means you don't actually need to own the hardware. Nowadays it's more akin to an esoteric and cumbersome hobby -- the primary problem isn't expense so much as the fact that these machines take up a lot of space in a home.

    EDIT: Oh, another Real Life example:
    • Gabe, artist of Penny Arcade, set up a fully furnished arcade in his garage. Chronicled here and here.
  • September 6, 2013
    I like His Own Personal Arcade, but I think it could be a little shorter.

    And sure, you don't need to own the physical machines given how today's computing power makes for easy emulation, but if anything that makes this trope stand out more -- a character who could just emulate everything but deliberately chooses not to, which says something about his wealth, priorities, or values.

    I'd also be a little hesitant to call this a Dead Horse Trope, given that arcade machines have gotten even more elaborate and specialized these days. A sit-down H2Overdrive cabinet in someone's den is still going to be an eye-catcher today.
  • September 6, 2013
    I agree with the issues for Pinball Protagonist, and I wasn't entirely sure what the trope was intended to be at first glance. If you want it shorter, simply Personal Arcade might do?
  • September 6, 2013
    ^^ I like Personal Arcade since it goes with the example I'm gonna give:

    In Tower of God (it's a webcomic) Hachuling, a member of Wolhaiksong, owns a full arcade that is placed in the middle of a jungle on the 77th floor.
  • September 6, 2013
    Thirding Personal Arcade.
  • September 7, 2013
    @rjung Yeah I guess you're right about it not being exactly dead, but I think almost all the examples are from 80s and early 90s shows and films. I don't think it's used so much now. (Mainly due to arcades being less of a "standard" teenage hang-out place - I think the Man Child connotations have faded.)
  • September 8, 2013
    Personal Arcade sounds good to me.
  • September 10, 2013
    Any more examples? Hats?
  • September 10, 2013
    Simon & Simon, live action TV series about private eye brothers. one of them bought a pinball machine for the office as they started getting better paying cases.
  • September 10, 2013
    Don't believe in yourself, believe in my hat, who believes in you!