"Winners Don't Use Drugs" -- the first time I remember ever seeing this PSA appended to an arcade game's attract mode was, hilariously, Narc (1988, WMS... though oddly the Wikipedia link suggests the campaign began the following year, in '89.) Do you suppose William S. Sessions might have fried my ass with a rocket bomb after I told him "I give up!"?
Next up is obviously Ms. Pac-Man (who else rocks go-go boots quite like that?), though I must confess I can't locate the source of that particular presentation of her. And the "READY!" is also authentic Pac-Man! Then we see some Ms. Pac-Man game sprites, seamlessly segue-ing into Galaga ships -- seemingly a non sequitur, but they're both Namco games, the former from 1982 and the latter from 1981. So our trip through time here isn't necessarily in chronological sequence, but we haven't seen any tremendous leaps yet.
Next up looks like Atari's 1980 Missile Command, though again I've never seen those specific instructions before. Next a return back to Namco and 1982 with Dig-Dug, with a Pooka being blown up (inflated, that is) taking over the foreground. Those don't look like Fygars in the background, but I'm not sure what else they might be, unless there's some game mash-up going on in this particular sequence. (We will be seeing a great deal more of it.)
We're maintaining a 1980 holding pattern with a classic title from still another company, this time Stern and their game Berzerk, complete with quotes from its early and expensive sampled speech synthesis. Then we see another classic from another historical also-ran, the unmistakable Q-Bert from Gottlieb (1982), but instead of the typical enemies Coily and Slick on his Escherian pyramid, here we have a "Sidestepper" crab from Mario Bros. (1983, Nintendo) and what appears to be the titular frog from Frogger (Konami, 1981).
I don't recognize the rainbow that the pyramid dissolves into, but the face behind it is that of Donkey Kong (Nintendo, 1981) and it is into his scaffolding platform level that the rainbow resolves, with a new champion having reached the top to best Mario -- the ostrich-riding knight from Williams' 1982 game Joust. Something else is fishy two levels below that knight, with what appears to be a happy ambulatory bean jumping around -- a character or power-up I feel I ought to be able to place but can't quite lay my finger on. (Is it one of the early arcades' numerous eggplants?) Below the legume is a chef, apparently the protagonist of Data East's 1982 BurgerTime.
Donkey Kong's scaffolding eventually resolves, dumping a final barrel into the playfield of Atari's Centipede (1981), which is populated not with insects but the Grunt and Hulk robots of Williams' 1982 Robotron: 2084. Rounding the bend, that scene resolves into a background of the keys-on-chains of Nintendo's 1982 Donkey Kong Junior with a skeletal Dirk the Daring from one of Dragon's Lair's (1983) countless death sequences.
That's about it. A price of 67 cents with the message "push to reset" is unclear to me, a final mystery (well no, that would be the filename "DECAR"), reminiscent of a redemption mechanical game, but it may just be a reference to the artist's handle, resetsurvivor. And there we are. With the exception of the anti-drug message, all games depicted in this work date to a period of just a few years -- a "golden age" of the arcades -- from 1980 to 1983.
(Final contextual clarification: large rectangular "glitch"es you may have observed scattered throughout the piece are just ANSI shading blocks writ large 8)
ETA, clarification from the artist:
"thanks for the awesome dissection of the DECAR (decade arcade) piece, Rowan! The Ms Pacman is actually an original. A combination of the Japanese and American versions of MsP. I liked both designs and decided to mash em together.And now you know the rest of the story!
The 'defend cities' pops up before the wave and volley of missiles in missile command.
The things in the dig dug tunnels are the humans from defender.
The rainbow is indeed from tron. It's the MCP ... I think? I forgot already. That pattern in the 'rainbow' is a simulation of fighting the mcp in tron. when you threw the disc it would take away a little block .
That 'bean' is the hot dog from Burgertime.
Also the 'push to reset' is just a play on my name combined with the 'push to reject' instructions on coin slots." (and 67 cents = 6lock7ronics)