For the most part, Stranger Things 2 offered a faithful recreation of ’80s culture. Set design is always an important part of any production, and with it playing such an important part in the story, it was especially integral to get an accurate portrayal of Hawkins’ local video game hub, the Palace Arcade. At first glance, everything seems spot-on, but for hardcore enthusiasts, several things stood out as being just slightly off. Let’s take a look at some of the things they got wrong.
Fun Fact: Living outside of Atlanta and being part of the arcade collecting community, I was approached by a representative for the production company to supply some of the arcade games for the set. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any of the specific titles they were looking for, but I was able to point them to several different local sources, including my friend Patrick (co-host of the Gameroom Junkies podcast with me) and it’s his Missile Command you see opposite Dragon’s Lair in the establishing shot. The arcade set was only featured in two episodes, but they kept games for nearly six months of their filming schedule before returning them to their owners.
1. LCD Monitors
This may have been a purposeful choice by the production team, but arcade games in the ’80s used cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors, not flat-panel LCD screens. If you’ve ever filmed a standard tube television, then you may know that a CRT’s sync doesn’t match video camera’s frame rates, and gives off what we call “scan lines.” Not ideal for a top-quality Hollywood production, it’s understandable the Duffer Brothers didn’t want distortion on such a key ingredient in Stranger Things 2, but for preservationists, swapping out an original CRT for an LCD is a cardinal sin.
2. High Scores
“Mad Max” sure is a cool name to enter into a high score table and a key plot point of Stranger Things 2, but sadly, that wasn’t possible for Dig Dug. While many of the earliest games only allowed two-lettered entries to record high scores, most only allowed three. Dig Dug was one of these 3-lettered affairs, so although champions deserved the recognition, they’d have to think a little harder to find a creative moniker. (Link is mildly NSFW). Bonus points, however, for the addition of a vending machine distributor sticker in the top right of the game’s bezel.
3. Gameroom Decor
That lighted Asteroids sign sure would look good in my basement, but it probably wouldn’t have adorned the walls of most arcades back in 1984. I’m not calling this one totally impossible, just pretty unlikely. Atari, among other manufacturers, did release promotional materials for their games including posters and hanging cardboard signs, but in my many years of collecting arcade games, I have never seen a large-scale lighted marquee. Also, if you’re going to hype up a game, why would you devote valuable real estate to a game that came out 5 years prior? The newer Asteroids Deluxe would make more sense, but even that came out in 1980, four years before. In the red-hot golden age of the arcade, Asteroids would have seemed ancient by 1984. Props though for adding small details like promo flyers for Crystal Castles and Q*bert in the background shots for the office scene below.
4. Space Knife
Most viewers probably paid little attention to the inoperable arcade game stuffed in the back corner of the Palace Arcade offices, but hardcore video game geeks sure did. That’s probably because Space Knife never existed. While it isn’t uncommon for movies and television shows to replace real video game marquees with fictional titles to avoid paying licensing fees, that wasn’t the intention in this case. Nope, Space Knife was a purposeful plant, and a recurring reference to Stranger Things’ set dresser’s synth-pop music production. Super hardcore geeks would recognize that cabinet as a former Galaga, anyway. This one didn’t upset me that it made its way into the final cut, but rather that I can never play a game called Space Knife!
5. What We Didn’t See
The Palace Arcade certainly had some heavy-hitters of the day, including Dragon’s Lair, Missile Command, Pole Position, and Ms. Pac-Man, but with the setting being October 1984, it’s pretty interesting what we didn’t see. It would have been entirely possible for the few electro-mechanical pinball machines from the ’70s to still be in service, but with the late ’70s and early ’80s renaissance of solid state pinball, it would have been much more likely to have seen a few of the many hits from Bally or Williams gracing the floor. Where’s Kiss or Flash Gordon, or other of the top-selling pinball games of all times? Also, after coming out in 1983, Dragon’s Lair was still a top-earner in 1984, but did this arcade not have ANY game newer than ’83? Sure, the arcade crash after 1983 dealt a blow to many arcades across the country, but where was the Karate Champ, Return of the Jedi, or Pac-Land?
Did we miss anything else? Let us know what else the show got wrong in the comments section below.