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Arcade Sounds

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Whenever someone walks into an amusement arcade or turns on a console, the same sound:


is often heard.

This trope can occur for a variety of reasons.

In some times and places, it's just Truth in Television; it was just a fact for arcades in the 1980s, and there are still plenty of arcades with vintage classics in their repertoire.

Another reason it's still used today is that high-quality sound effects and music coming from a game system could distract or confuse viewers - most real-world videogames made today are intended to sound realistic and to hold the viewer's attention; but a director doesn't necessarily want a videogame to compete with what's happening in the foreground like that or to define their soundtrack for the scene with its music, so they use older sounds that are recognizably "videogame-y" while remaining clearly distinct from the main audio track.

And while this is becoming less common, it can also occur as a result of writers who don't realize video games have changed since 1983; they are Two Decades Behind (though it's more like three decades now) and their reference pools for games come from that era.

Lastly, sounds from more recent and advanced games tend to have copyrights that require film and TV producers to pay royalties for their use; the older "bleeps and bloops" from the earliest arcade games, on the other had, are often in the public domain, or at least generic-sounding enough that they can't be easily traced to any specific game.

A variation occurs with Pinball games, where a pinball table will be depicted audibly with a combination of simple chimes and bumper thumps. In reality, pinball tables with such limited sounds ended with the advent of solid-state games, which supported programmable sound generators, voice clips, and background music.

Several recent series have averted this trope by scoring product-placement deals with current generation console manufacturers (cf. the debut of Heavenly Sword on Heroes). The deterioration of the arcade market in the West also makes the arcade version of this trope something of an irrelevant trope there, as fewer and fewer modern-day scenes are written set in arcades at all, let alone with 8-bit sound effects.

See also Gaming Audio and Pac Man Fever, which is the more general trope for the persistence of 8-bit games in TV and movies.

If you're too young to remember what Pac-Man was like on the 2600, check this out. And this for good measure. And, this is Donkey Kong on the same system. These two games probably account for the vast, vast majority of Arcade Sounds used on TV.


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  • This "Credit Fairy" ad features two guys on a couch playing video games with what appear to be modern controllers. However, full gameplay sounds from the infamous Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man can be heard.note 
  • A Listerine Mouthwash commercial aired in the UK features two young children playing a games console with what look like Xbox or PlayStation controllers, but sounds like a Galaga rip-off—admittedly, there have been emulations of old games for the PlayStation 2, et al., but it's unlikely children of that age (looking between 8 and 11) would be playing such old games. It doesn't even seem to have a pause function.
  • A rather well-known example, albeit slightly more high-tech, is in a rather infamous Westwood College commercial, where, instead of 1983 Pac Man Fever, we instead have generic laser ptcheeeew from roughly circa 1987 Galaga knockoffs. And this is supposed to be a commercial for game design courses.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In the manga version of Death Note, in one of Matt's earlier appearances, he is playing a game on what appears to be a Nintendo DS (or something along those lines), and the sound effects coming from it are this. In the anime, he still has the device and plays on it, but it doesn't make any noise. (It could be argued that he may have turned it on silent so as not to irritate Mello.)

    Film — Animated 
  • Inverted at the beginning of Toy Story 2, when Rex is playing a Buzz Lightyear game with graphics just as good as the rest of the computer-animated movie - on a Super NES. The Super NES was host to games with Digitized Sprites like Donkey Kong Country and the first Toy Story game, but even those games did not have nearly as many available colors as the more powerful (and probably more importantly, non-real-time) Pixar computers.
  • Thoroughly justified in Litwak's Arcade in Wreck-It Ralph. It has a mixture of old and new video game sounds because Mr. Litwak keeps old machines for as long as he can. By 2012, when the movie is set, there are games from nearly every era of arcade video gaming to that point. (There are no pinball machines visible though, and thus there is a total absence of any pinball sounds, stereotypical or otherwise.)

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In the Irish movie Accelerator, a character early on is seen playing Virtua Cop in an arcade, though it's dubbed with some of the sound effects from Doom.
  • At one point in the kids' movie Big Fat Liar, Jason plays a Pin Bot pinball table. Although the table came out in 1986, it makes electro-mechanical sounds and chimes.
  • The Charlie's Angels (2000) movie has a sequence in which Drew Barrymore's character Dylan stumbles upon two kids playing Final Fantasy VIII (a one-player game) with two 3rd party PlayStation controllers, buttonmashing unrealistically while out-of-place sound-effects play — though at least the sound effects are neither particularly old-sounding nor from Pac-Man.
  • In the horror movie Children of the Corn (1984), Malachai plays a solid state Medusa pinball with electro-mechanical sounds dubbed over it.
  • Justified in TRON. Being 1982, Flynn's arcade would stock games that make Pac Man Fever noises. It should also be noted that music ("Only Solutions" by Journey) is playing on the PA system as well.
    • Likewise with TRON: Legacy, because Flynn's Arcade apparently hasn't been touched since 1982 aside from the advanced supercomputer hidden in the back.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of 7th Heaven Simon challenged two bullies to a game of Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest and the sounds from the Game Boy sound nothing like the actual game play.
  • An episode of the soap opera All My Children features a character playing a game entitled "Dark Star" on the TV. He is, of course, mashing the controller (which appears to have come from a PlayStation), and we hear, in order, the "death music" from Pac-Man, the "begin level" music from Donkey Kong, and the BGM from Space Invaders.
  • Avoided in The Big Bang Theory, where game soundtracks are often heard where applicable.
  • A critical element in the Daredevil (2015) episode "Rabbit in a Snowstorm" is a 2014 Mustang (Stern) pinball game. When characters play it, however, it plays electro-mechanical chimes from fifty years ago.
  • House. In one episode, he is seeing if a mobster is in a coma. First he tries poking him with a needle, and then holds up a Nintendo DS to his ear while a game is playing. The game is Metroid Prime: Hunters, but generic arcade sounds are heard instead of ones from the game.
  • Averted in House Of Cards on multiple occasions. Frank Underwood is shown playing Killzone in earlier seasons, and in season 3 he is shown playing The Stanley Parable.
  • An episode of NCIS, averts this trope nicely. A co-worker of the kidnapped father of a young boy gives him a Nintendo DS to take his mind off things. The first thing we hear from it? The sound of user info being entered into a brand new DS.
  • An episode of NCIS: Los Angeles had one of the main characters playing a video game offscreen, complete with arcade bleeps and bloops. However, when you see the blurred screen in the background of another shot, the game has obvious PlayStation 2/Xbox 360 graphics. It also looks like they were either using the PlayStation Eyetoy, the Wii Balance Board, or the Xbox 360 Kinect to play the game.
  • In Australian soap, Neighbours, for most of the '90s, the only video game anyone on the show ever played was Magic Carpet (most of the time with the camera looking at the player from behind the computer monitor, so you just heard the distinctive sound-track and sound effects). Now, in 2010, when at least one family has a complete set of guitar controllers, one young cast member was sat playing on a DS Lite to the distinctive sound effects of Magic Carpet - unless a more recent game, that actually has a DS version, uses the same sounds...
  • In an episode of The Sopranos, Bobby Baccalier Jr.'s son Bobby III is playing a computer full of generic laser blasts, beeps, doots, and other such game noises. He's playing Max Payne.
  • Simon Pegg, Jessica Hynes, and Edgar Wright made a point to avoid this in Spaced, after being tired of all the generic video games in other TV shows made by people who don't play games.
  • In the episode "Everybody Loves a Clown," from the second season of Supernatural, a child is shown playing a Nintendo DS, but the sound effects emanating from the device are sounds from the original Atari 2600 release of Donkey Kong.
  • Weeds has an odd example: in one episode Nancy and Andy are playing Wii Sports. When the game is on-screen, it uses the correct sounds for the game; when the camera is on the characters (still playing, but the screen isn't shown), the foleys have inserted generic Pac-Man-style sound effects.
    • Well, if they were high on weeds, that's what they'd be hearing...

    Video Games 

    Web Original 
  • In the webseries The Guild, one of the characters is never seen without her Nintendo DS with her, which is making old style Mario sounds. It's eventually revealed that she is playing New Super Mario Bros., which specifically used old Mario sounds.

    Western Animation 
  • Played for laughs in an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force where Atari bleeps and bloops are heard coming from a smartphone.
  • In a Transformers: Prime episode, the kids staying in the secret government base of a bunch of alien robots from space are playing a video game on an ancient wood-paneled console TV where the sound effects of the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man can be clearly heard. Guess G1 fans aren't the only ones who can't stop living in the 80s....