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The Town That Banned Pac-Man

Arcade games may have been a source of great joy and entertainment for millions across the world in the 1980s, but for the small town of Marshfield, Massachusetts, they were nothing but trouble.

Fearful of the effects arcade video games would have on Marshfield and its inhabitants, in 1982 the town outlawed the use of public coin-operated video games, in effect banning arcades and all the classic games that went along with them.

It was argued that, according to an earlier 1972 ban in the town on “coin-operated amusement devices”, arcade games definitely fell into that category. It was also argued that having the games in public places would somehow adversely affect the town’s image as a traditional Massachusetts seaside village.

The ban was brought into effect after a vote in an “open town meeting”, and has meant that for the past 29 years, everything from Pac-Man to Donkey Kong to Street Fighter to Daytona has been outlawed within Marshfield’s town limits.

(It’s important to note the ban only extends to public arcade machines; the use of consoles in the home and handhelds in public spaces was still permissible).

While it sounds like incredible that such a ruling could be brought into effect in the United States, the town was actually taken to the Supreme Court by local businesses in 1983 and prevailed, the court ruling that the ban was a “proper exercise of the town of Marshfield’s police power”.

Now, however, things may finally be about to change. Citing both the outdated intent of the law and the fact that the town is full of coin-operated gambling machines, a new vote is to be held in a town meeting seeking to repeal the ban.

The Chair of Marshfield’s Selectmen (its “executive branch” of local government”, Patricia Reilly, is certainly open to change.

“I think the whole hysteria back in 1982 was the use of money, that the kids would steal money from parents. It was a whole different mindset of children going wild”, she told WCVB (via Game Politics).

She’s backed by local business owners like Steve Drosopoulus, who owns a bar and restaurant. “People want to have a couple of drinks and play some games and enjoy themselves. If the repeal came through, I would put in bar top screen games, even the old school pinball machines.”

Perhaps the biggest chance for the ruling’s repeal, however, lies in the fact the town is full of electronic gambling machines and games like Keno, making a ban on relatively harmless video game machines seem more than a little much.

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