Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade by Carly A. Kocurek (review)
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Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade. By Carly A. Kocurek. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015. 272 pages. Softbound, $22.95.

In Coin-Operated Americans, Carly Kocurek addresses broad questions of gender equity and technology through the classic arcade era of the 1970s and early 1980s. In addition to writing extensively about gender in gaming culture, Kocurek has authored video games, including her highly rated Web-browser game Choice: Texas (playchoicetexas.com), which invites users to experience the reproductive health care options open to different women in the state of Texas. She currently serves as assistant professor of digital humanities and media studies at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where she teaches courses on game design, digital culture, and media history. [End Page 424]

In her book, Kocurek examines early video game culture to understand how the specifically masculine image of the contemporary gamer took shape, a story that has important implications for gender inequity in today's tech industry and in the postindustrial economy more broadly. She traces the formation of the "technomasculine"—"an idealized vision of youth, masculinity, violence, and digital technology"; she begins with the space of the arcade itself and proceeds through the rise of competitive gaming in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the first "moral crisis" in video games, local efforts to regulate the arcade industry, representations of gamers in the feature films TRON and WarGames, and contemporary nostalgia for the "classic" arcade (xvii).

Kocurek situates this story, which mostly takes place during the first arcade boom between 1972 and 1983, in the context of the political and economic uncertainty of post-Vietnam America. She argues that with the decline of older sources of masculine authority, such as blue-collar manufacturing jobs and American hegemony in international affairs, competition in the arcade offered boys and young men the opportunity for validation. The arcade was also the place where many Americans first encountered computers, which would play an increasingly important role in the workforce for years to come. With that in mind, understanding how the arcade came to be defined as a specifically masculine space is a story worth investigating.

To this end, Kocurek suggests that arcade games had at first been aimed at both men and women—she cites Atari cofounder Nolan Bushnell's estimate that close to half of the "coin drop" on the pioneering video game Pong came from women (19). Several of the narrators that Kocurek interviewed for the book also maintain that women and girls made up a significant minority of arcade patrons. However, the popularity of violent video games associated with typically masculine themes, and the rise of a competitive gaming culture centered on the Twin Galaxies arcade in Ottumwa, Iowa, exacerbated early gaming's gender imbalance. These factors in turn produced the technomasculine gamer image, which was then cemented in popular culture through the Hollywood films TRON and WarGames in the early 1980s. This image resonates to the present day, in both the misogyny that permeates contemporary game culture, seen most prominently in the extreme vitriol hurled at media critic Anita Sarkeesian in the "Gamergate" controversy, and in the news media's treatment of Silicon Valley moguls such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg.

Despite its sustained analysis of gender, Coin-Operated Americans is largely silent on race. When Kocurek does raise the issue, it is largely peripheral to her discussion. She uses white as an inconsistent modifier for the young men who made up the arcade's emerging technomasculine cohort, but rarely subjects that whiteness to critical inquiry. It is entirely possible that Kocurek's sources make a sustained analysis of race alongside class difficult, but one wishes that, if that [End Page 425] were the case, that she had made it explicit. Furthermore, if her sources were silent on race, then that silence almost certainly speaks volumes. Moreover, the implicit whiteness of technomasculinity also reverberates to the present: according to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data from 2014, both African Americans and Hispanics are dramatically underrepresented in Silicon Valley, compared to the private sector as a whole.

Nevertheless, in articulating the technomasculinity, Kocurek makes an important intervention...