Check out the floor of any penny arcade.
Among scruffy Keds and battered
oxfords see the wing tips. The Guccis.
Notice the bodies. Prosperous. Professional.
Three-piece suits. Observe them stuff
quarters into coin slots, and wonder as
they battle a blip of a flying saucer with a
wedge of a spaceship. Then ask yourself:

Invasion OF THE Asteroids


Men prefer four things to women: fast cars, guns, camping equipment "tested on the slopes of Everest," and the World Series. This is a thought-provoking list and good as far as it goes. But lately there's been a fifth contender: a coin-operated, computerized video game (I hesitate to call it a game) named Asteroids.

It's lunchtime in Manhattan, and the Playland arcade at Forty-seventh Street and Broadway is crowded. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Playland's traditional clientele of Times Square drifters and truant schoolboys is what appears to be a fullscale assault team from the corporate towers of nearby Rockefeller Center. You can hardly move from one end of the place to the other without grinding your heel on somebody's wing-tip shoe. Over near the Seventh Avenue entrance, a tall, thin man with a briefcase pressed between his knees is hunched over a flashing pinball table called JAMES BOND. At a change station near the center of the room, a portly lawyer type is converting the contents of his wallet into enough quarters to bribe a congressional subcommittee. There are three-piece suits everywhere. But the densest agglomeration of gray wool by far stands at

the very front of the arcade by a long bank


of thumping, thundering machines, where a veritable legion of young executives is lined up three deep to play Asteroids.

Asteroids, at the moment I am writing, is the most popular coin-operated game—video, pinball, or other—in the United States. It jumped to the number-one spot not long ago by out-earning Space Invaders, a simple-minded but wildly successful Japanese import that swept this country after creating something close to mass hysteria (not to mention a coin shortage) in Japan. Introduced in December 1979, Asteroids quickly became standard equipment in bars, arcades, and airports all over the country. Tavern owners who had previously been scared away from coin-op games by pinball's underworld reputation now began to clamor for Asteroids. Atari Inc., the game's manufacturer, had trouble keeping production in step with demand. There are now sixty thousand Asteroids machines on location worldwide, most of them in the United States and most of them astonishingly popular. Machines in hot locations have been known to bring in as much as one thousand dollars a week, enough to pay for themselves in a little more than a fortnight. Operators who tend fleets of machines are finding they have to make


extra trips to their locations just to empty the coin boxes of the Asteroids machines.

As impressive as the sales and collection figures are, one of the most intrigue facts about Asteroids is not how main people are playing it but which ones. Continuing a trend begun by its immediate predecessors, 'Asteroids has helped open up the coin-op market to a brand-new clientele: not just chain-smoking teenager; with time on their hands but responsible well-paid men in their twenties, thirties, forties, and even fifties, who in some cases haven't seen the inside of an amusement arcade since the days when pinball games had pins. And now these men-these sober minions of the gross nation product—are backing out of expenses count lunches and sneaking away from elegant restaurants to play Asteroids.

"I've pretty much eliminated lunch as an ongoing part of my daily routine," says a thirty-four-year-old stockbroker. "I'd rather play this game than eat. Along about four o'clock my stomach begins to growl but Asteroids has made me a happy man.

You would think any game that could make a grown-up man do without fully on third of his daily intake of food would be a heart-stopper to look at, with pictures of

David Owen is a New York-based writer whose book High School will be published by Viking in April

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