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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Things That Really Existed: Starcade, TV's First Video Arcade Game Show

Posted By on Tue, Jun 19, 2012 at 9:30 AM

click to enlarge sc_67_starcade.jpg

The game show Starcade, in which contestants competed on video arcade games, was doomed from the start. It ran from 1982-84, when the industry was in a serious decline, a period now generally referred to as the Video Game Crash. It was also hampered by the fact that watching video games being played is fantastically boring -- and I'm speaking as someone who spent a lot of time in arcades in the eighties. But Starcade itself remains a lovable, easily watchable show.

While it mainly ran on TBS, Starcade was produced by the San Francisco-based jm Production Company, and many of the contestants were from the Bay Area and elsewhere in California. For example, in this clip (which also includes the great Starcade opening theme song, and establishes that contestants always run from Point A to Point B) one of the kids says he's from Coalinga, and that he was in the arcade during the '83 earthquake. Hey, I used to go that arcade when I visited my great-aunt in Coalinga! I'm almost famous!

Now, I could be wrong about this, but I don't think host Geoff Edwards liked teenagers very much. At the very least, he doesn't do the Coalinga Kid's nerves any favors, resulting in one of the worst games of Journey ever. (There are no good games of Journey.)


Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that the cheering audience may not have actually existed.

Starcade always had an interesting mix of contestants -- a full list is available on the official website -- and often it was kids with their parents. The phenomenon of parents being good at video games is relatively new, as these two parents failing at Tron demonstrates.

The prizes on Starcade were always the latest in soon-to-be obsolete technology, like RB5X, The Intelligent Robot!

(Sidebar: There was a strange obsession with domestic robots as a sign of affluence in '80s movies. For further study, see Rocky IV and Wall Street.)

The contestants weren't always just kids and parents -- sometimes they were even grown-up adults on their own! Nor was Geoff Edwards always the host. The original host, whom Edwards replaced after two-dozen episodes, could be listed as a definition of "unctuous" in the next edition of the OED.


Setting aside the questions that come to mind when the male contestant says he "enjoys home video" -- I mean, does he enjoy it in a Videodrome way, or more of an Auto Focus way? -- the host is just brain-meltingly sexist toward the female contestant, even by 1983 standards. You're pretty! You're pregnant! Say, what's your husband do? And you don't actually play video games, do you? You're just a girl! Ye gods.

Those unpleasant moments aside, Starcade is lots of retro fun. jm Production Company has 61 full episodes available to stream on their website, as well many of jm's own goofy little games. Go play!

--

Sherilyn Connelly is a San Francisco-based writer. She also curates and hosts Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room, every Sunday at 8pm.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF (follow Sherilyn Connelly on Twitter at @sherilyn) and like us on Facebook.

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