Lost History: Arcade Glory in High School Yearbooks

South Plantation High School in Florida

Input:Last day of summer school year 82 commences. A disk of empty memory banks is set into motion as valuable input is inserted.

Memory: To excel in this program, you must put on your thinking cap, examine your schedule and methodically plan your strategy. It’s time to make your move.
South Plantation High School Yearbook opening statement, Florida, 1982

plantation high 1982 3I don’t know who Lorie Wentz and Leslie Kaliff, Editors of the South Plantation High School 1982 yearbook, were but I do know this: They were cool. They were vidiots. They loved Pac-Man and their neighborhood arcade. They left behind one of the best –although far from the only– high school yearbooks of the 80s that used a video game theme to remember their school days by. 

And why not? They graduated from high school at the height of the video craze, a time when thousands of arcades stretched across America and coin-op arcade games could be found everywhere  -in gas stations, in super markets, in 7-11 and even in school cafeterias and on-campus recreation rooms. Basically, wherever an electrical outlet could be found, there was usually a video arcade game or two plugged into it.

leslie kaliffThere’s a high probability this is a photo of the two young women playing Pac-Man on a cocktail table back 1982. It appears on the inside title page and bears their names and editorial titles above it. But I don’t know for certain. I’d be pretty stoked if it was, though, since modern day reflection on the glory days of arcade tends to consistently and falsely report “girls didn’t play video games” and/or weren’t all that interested in them. Most of the yearbooks I find online from 1980-1984 show young women doing just that  –playing arcade games.

Throughout the hundreds of online vintage high school and middle school yearbooks I’ve painstakingly spent hours going through page by page, Pac-Man appears more than any other game in 1982 with Tempest and KISS pinball coming in second. Most yearbook annuals from 1982 have at least one page that mentions video games as a “craze”, an “addiction” or are referred to in some fashion as a pastime interrupting  a student’s education for better or for worse. Curiously enough,  many of these yearbooks hail from Iowa proving in some respects that  Twin Galaxies arcade in Ottumwa, the once proclaimed video game capitol of the world, may well have truly inspired a state wide belief in the title at the time, and appears to not be a legend many of have panned for being used as only a clever marketing tactic. Iowa high school yearbooks are “arcade heavy” in imagery and graphics. More that any other State in the country.

1982 shield lancer impact year bookA perfect example of  the video craze influencing yearbook design can be found in North Scott High School, Class of 1982 Lancer Impact/ Eldridge, Iowa, which has become my absolute favorite yearbook. Its cover style is a hand drawn pastiche of video game and pinball imagery with a foreground of a star 80 rainbow, one of the most popular graphic patterns in 1982, inspired by Atari in the late 70s. But it’s what’s inside that is a real treat.

lancer impact 1982 yearbook video game theme

viceo game year book 1982 iowa

screen page 1

Yearbcathy perry iowa lancer impactook editor and student, Cathy Perry, as her superbly written afterword suggests, struggled without much of a staff to cover and create the book over the 1981-1982 school year as well as reflected on sports related drama that affected morale throughout the school. I suspect the video craze itself was to blame for a lot of it. Her afterword is a rather poignant testimony to these obstacles and rings as somewhat of an apology; although in hindsight what she and her staff left behind is so wonderful that I have looked into purchasing a copy of this yearbook as an item of video game and pinball collectible ephemera…because it is. From beginning to end, this yearbook and its gaming theme leaves an unmistakable impression of 1982’s arcade craze and how that craze may have negatively affected curricular activities  yet enhanced teen creative focus simultaneously. I can’t wait to have a real copy of it in my hands. It’s simple an amazing time capsule.

cathy perry afterward
North Scott High School, Class of 1982 Lancer Impact Online

If you have the time, I urge anyone interested in helping to bring to light  lost images of video gaming history to peruse various high school and university yearbooks online and share the photos as I have done here. Media left us only but a small percentage of the millions of images capturing a craze that shook the nation three decades ago. I feel most of the best images capturing the ultimate expression and excitement of the era and the arcade are kept tucked away in high school yearbooks  -images rarely seen and soon to be lost.

It’s a grueling task  but the reward is priceless. The images are so unique.

-Cat DeSpira/ RetroBitch

Assorted images from 80s High School Yearbooks

Targ 1983
Euchlid High School Yearbook, Cleveland, Ohio, 1983: Four students play a now impossibly rare 1980 Targ by Exidy in the high school lunchroom.

Cindu Hatcher and Kim Bernard Indiana fun and Games arcade defender
Moorseville High School, 1982: Two girls play Defender in Indiana’s Fun and Games Arcade.

Codys substation indiana 1982Unknown Indiana High School Yearbook: Mountain Dew and Centipede at Cody’s Substation Arcade, 1982.

Pac Man girl 1981
Loving every minute of it:  West Des Moines, Iowa 1981 yearbook.

cover 1
Atari rainbow influenced “star 80” design, Iowa 1980.

brockton highschool 83Brockton High School, MA. Yearbook, 1982.




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