September 9, 2005

Chuck E. Cheese on Fortune’s Wheel

by Nick Montfort · , 12:31 am

Proud Americans will recall the other great corporate innovation of Atari founder Nolan Bushnell: Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theater, where one room featured a band of mechanical animal automata and others housed a resplendent array of video games, not to mention that great cash cow, skee ball. International readers and nostalgic Americans alike can find copious information online about the history of Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theater and Showbiz Pizza Place. Curious readers can learn about the different stage configurations and the transition from a band of robot entertainers to a single animatronic rat/mouse supported by video screens; they can even read reviews of shows. Those who remain puzzled after reviewing these documents may need to study this nation’s cultural context further.

I still remember whining to be taken to Chuck E. Cheese’s the last time I spotted one, but no matter how much I pleaded, Scott wouldn’t stop the car. I guess that may be one of those rare occasions when he knew best. Franchises are now showing Department of Defense propaganda to pizza-eating children and calling in the police to taser a patron suspected of stealing from the salad bar. Despite nostalgia, I think I’ll be finding another outlet for my whack-a-mole urges.

7 Responses to “Chuck E. Cheese on Fortune’s Wheel”

  1. Jeremy Douglass Says:

    The last time I saw automata pushing food and endorsing a Department of Defense presentation was during the “cocktail making” scene from the beginning of “Short Circuit.

    For those interested in the conjunction of pizza and national defense (minus the droids), I’d recommend the Dominos “covert channel” meme, which has been documented going back about 15 years. “Covert channels” are unexpected paths by which information leaves a controlled system, and the example is a claim that any time the Pentagon was planning a big operation, pizza orders to the local Dominos would skyrocket.

    There is a good summary of the Dominos covert channel meme at About.

  2. tWB Says:

    Considering the size of the Pentagon workforce, it would need to be a lot of pizzas to get over the noise level. I’d always heard it as the number of White House deliveries, but it’s always been apocryphal. Be interesting for a scholar to get the order database for Washington-area pizza houses and compare them against a control sample through time and see if there’s a significant correlation.

    Actually, wait a minute. I’ll be right back …

    … Anyway, I noticed that the CEC “show lists” for recent years include a lot of Christian entertainment, which is a bit unusual for a mainstream outlet. Given this, it’s surely probative that the CEO of CEC attended Hope College, a Reformed Church in America liberal arts college. This certainly doesn’t mean there’s a dark agenda at work — the RCA is a denomination similar to other mainline Protestant churches from the Calvinist tradition — but it suggests that CEC is going for message-based entertainment in its outlets based upon its executives’ preferences.

  3. greglas Says:

    Thank you, Nick, for pointing to the Wikipedia entry on skee ball. Skee ball is the Kyudo of the New Jersey arcade scene — I’m proud to know it originated in Philadelphia. :-)

    Re Chucky — I’m not sure what’s worse for America’s children, those singing animatronic robots, or the DoD footage? It’s a close one…

  4. Don M Says:

    it is such a tragedy that these places of filth are not regulated like schools, daycare centers or even hospitals. I guess I am a little different I enjoyed my NBC training in the military, but were did it get me at CEC?In bad shape employess not even allowed to ware gloves,just read below:

    I took a job as a Tech. Manager at Chuckie E. Cheeses, hoping for a nice quite job, what the hell happened? With in the first weeks of this job, I got the flu, momo, and a server staph infection. The workers comp lady came to see me in the hospital and ask me very personal questions, like what I did I do in the military and was I sexual active, and how old was my son?
    I did some checking and these restaurants have been sighted for many, many health violations. I did not have ax to grind with the Chuck but when the GM came in and said to a cast member who had acne bad, you need to shave! I went off! The GM told me that nice guys finish last, and this is a place to take the kids?
    Go ahead violate the I-9 forms, while the real Americans stand in line at the employment office.
    I use to take my son to the chuck and cut him loose, now, Oh no; we will go to the park, fly a kit before I take him the cesspool of bacteria/virus at the Chuckie….

    Another lady told me this:I would never take my daughter here again. This place is not clean and the people that work here are young kids trying to make a couple of dollars and they do not care. I think that this place can be better if they did a re organization. My friend took her kid here as well and got sick from another kid because that kid had pink eye.
    Do not take your kids here!

    Check the DPH web site before you go to any chuckie cheeses, and I feel you will make another choice.

  5. Sammy Hammy Bammy Says:

    Chuck E. Cheese is the bomb! You guys are just jealous. Maybe if you’d watch your kids better they wouldn’t get near a sick kid. They shoud know better than to play with a kid that has pink and puffy on his eyes. whatev.

  6. Nick Montfort Says:

    Here’s a recent (December) Wall Street Journal article about Chuck E. Cheese violence, with some interesting speculation on why these restaurants have often been arenas for rage.

  7. Anonymous Says:


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