I’ve admired The Strong’s vintage Drive-Mobile arcade game since the first time I stood in front of it with Martin Reinhardt, the museum’s arcade game conservation technician. It was exciting to see how the first arcade driving game—a popular and enduring genre—actually worked. Martin opened the back of the game for me and demonstrated the mutoscope drum design in action. Early mutoscope machines contained a revolving flipbook on a spindle to create the illusion of a moving image when a customer looked through the viewfinder. The International Mutoscope Company first made coin-operated mutoscope machines before they eventually branched out to produce arcade games such as Drive-Mobile.
The objective of Drive-Mobile is to complete a journey across a map of the United States, from New York City to Los Angeles. To start that trip, a player uses the steering wheel that controls a small car on a metal arm inside the cabinet. The car glides along the surface of a rotating drum that displays a changing scene of a painted road with obstacles to avoid. While players cruise along, the backlit map at the top of the game shows a light for each city on the route. If you stay inside the white lines edging the highway, the map charts your progress; however, if you go off the road, lights and buzzers alert you, and your advance across the map slows.