Chicago’s Game Culture: From Murals to Museums to Arcades


chicago art

Chicago’s Game Culture: From Murals to Museums to Arcades

Chicago is a city known for its culture. Chicago’s history and diversity pave the way for a distinctive culture made from art, music, food, sports, and even gaming. Chicago is home to world-class art museums, music festivals including Lollapalooza and the Chicago Blues Festival, passionate sports fans and historical stadiums, and, of course, deep-dish pizza. 

Chicago’s game culture overlaps with art, museums, and murals all around the city. Some classic arcade games can claim Chicago as their hometown. Modern Chicago games include the party favorite, Jackbox Games. The annual Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2) brings together game, comic, and pop culture fans from around the world. The Chicago Video Game Summit discusses some of the less fun but incredibly important aspects of the gaming industry. 

Arcades in Chicago range from recreations of classic golden age arcades to modern eSports lounges and arcades in family fun centers like Wintrust Sports Complex. 

Chicago Art: Murals and Street Art

chicago street art

Chicago is well-known for its street art and murals. The murals, from the Instagram-able “Greetings from Chicago” wall to the Mural of Mexican Culture, play an important role in the city’s cultural landscape. Chicago art and gaming culture perfectly intersect with a collection of retro video games and comic books inspired by the art along 49th Street on the South Side. The art, created over a three-day period by dozens of independent artists, features illustrations from Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros, and Legends of Zelda, among others. Across the street is a mural featuring characters from the video games Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter.

 Mortal Kombat has an even stronger connection to Chicago than being the inspiration for a mural. NetherRealm Studios, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Games and the company responsible for developing the Mortal Kombat games, is headquartered in Chicago. 

History of Arcades in Chicago 

The arcade scene in Chicago rose around the same time as the rest of the United States. The mid-1900s saw the rise of pinball machines and other early games. Arcades were often part of bowling alleys and amusement parks. 

The golden age of arcades lasted from the late 1970s through the mid-1980s. Chicago played a critical role in the golden age. Chicago was home to companies including Midway Games, the producer of “Pac-Man,” “Ms. Pac-Man,” and “Galaga.” 

Even as arcade popularity began to decline, competitive gaming and tournaments remained popular. Chicago was and still is a hotspot for competitive gaming. Tournaments attracted players from across the country to see who was the best player in games such as “Street Fighter II.” 

While traditional arcades declined by the late 1990s, they are making a comeback. The feelings of nostalgia are leading to the resurgence of arcades. Chicago has also seen the rise of barcades – the combination of a bar and arcade that is increasingly popular among young adults. Chicago has a handful of barcades, in addition to more family-focused and classic arcades.

Games in Chicago Museums 

museum of science and industry

Games, especially video or arcade games, are not usually the first thought when talking about museums. However, gaming exhibits and even entire museums are becoming increasingly more common. These facilities help maintain the history and impact of gaming culture. The National Video Game Museum, located in Texas, opened in 2016. The World Video Game Hall of Fame, overseen by the International Center for the History of Electronic Games and part of the Strong Museum of Play, is in New York. The Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, Washington, has a permanent exhibit on the “Indie Game Revolution.” Smaller museums include the American Classic Arcade Museum in New Hampshire, home to over 450 vintage pinball and video game machines from before 1990, many of which are playable. Chicago is no exception to game-related museums and exhibits. 

Chicago Gamespace 

Chicago is home to Chicago Gamespace, a museum dedicated to the history and cultural impacts of video games. Museum visitors can learn about and play some of the most culturally significant and important video games from history and today. The museum has a permanent collection, special exhibits, and even a library.

Video Game Art (VGA) Gallery 

If there is one place Chicago art and Chicago games really overlap, it’s the Video Game Art Gallery. The Video Game Art Gallery, founded in 2013, aims to increase the cultural appreciation of video games and other related media. Events and programs feature the work of artists and game developers from around the world. Programs include screenings, talks, and programs for students. The Video Game Art Galley understands that video games are a form of art, and that the artistic aspect of video games should be celebrated.

Best Arcade in Chicago 

With classic arcades, modern barcades, and family-friendly arcades to choose from, the arcade at Wintrust Sports Complex is the best of all worlds. Our redemption arcade blends classic arcade games with a family-oriented environment, plus an on-site bar and restaurant. The Station Grille serves classic favorites; our full kitchen can cater to your party or event. We even have a laser tag arena to really get it into the action part of an action game.