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June 6, 2012

"When Defending Earth Cost 25 Cents" — American Classic Arcade Museum

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Long June 3 New York Times story by Ethan Gilsdorf short: "Spend a few hours here [Laconia, New Hampshire] inside the American Classic Arcade Museum, perhaps the world's largest public collection of classic arcade games, and you'll lose track of not only the time of day but also the era. Red lights overhead create a perpetual Martian dusk. Eighties pop hits leak from hidden speakers as if some nostalgia-inducing gas. And though all of the more than 300 games are from 1988 or earlier, this is no collection of relics behind glass.'

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More excerpts from the article follow.

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Above and below, photos of the museum.


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A group of die-hard players converged here for the 14th Annual International Classic Video Game Tournament to celebrate a time when successful gaming meant entering initials on a high-score screen. The tournament, which attracted some 130 contestants, is a flashback to the days of Toto, leg warmers and "Pac-Man Fever."

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"As far as I'm concerned, if you're into classic games, this is as big as it gets," said Robert Macaulay, 40, who journeyed here from Adelaide, Australia, for his third year of competition. "We don’t even have arcades like this at home."

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Or anywhere. The games that once invaded malls and bars in 1970s and '80s have evaporated into pixel dust. Computers, home consoles, and the Internet largely killed arcades, once a booming business. Younger gamers who have never set foot inside of a classic arcade may not appreciate the role these hulking machines played in the history of digital entertainment.

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While the Wii and online gaming have reclaimed some of gaming's social dimension, arcade games were always a public performance. Players had distinctive postures, often throwing their bodies into the act of punching buttons and yanking on joysticks. The rivalrous gesture of placing a quarter on the machine to declare, "I got next" — a hangover from the pinball era — has all but disappeared.

"Once the games played out, people just junked them. No one thought to preserve them," said Gary Vincent, the president and founder of the museum and a 31-year employee of Funspot, the arcade complex housing his exhibits. "We are trying to save the history of competitive game play."

That heritage is in jeopardy. In an era before hard drives these games ran on memory chips that are now three or four decades old. Spare parts are rare, and most technicians specializing in such repair have retired.

"The greatest pleasure I get is finding an old relic of a game in an old barn and bringing it back to life and letting people play it," Mr. Vincent said. He found one of the two dozen machines selected for this year’s tournament, Buggy Challenge, in a Connecticut warehouse. "It had mouse nests in it."

The pioneering games are all here, including Computer Space (1971), perhaps the first coin-operated video game; Pong (1972); and Space Invaders (1978). Visitors will find familiar names like Asteroids and Centipede as well as rows of obscure titles like Gun Fight, Bosconian, Qix, Dragon's Lair and Tapper. Another 150 games in storage could be added to the collection, though space and money for an expansion are scarce.

June 6, 2012 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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Dude, I would go apeshit to play the two-screened Cyberball 2072 game again . . .

Posted by: Jester | Jun 12, 2012 4:10:17 PM

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