April 18, 2013

Do you like this?

When I was but a boy, I used to beat my brother bloody.

Oh, he would try to defend himself. Valiantly, almost. But it did little good; I would, at the very least, beat him unconscious, and, if I could remember how, I would occasionally tear out his spine.

Arcades in the 1980s were the equivalent of bars for disaffected youth. An afternoon there was as social an experience as the player cared it to be. You could drink alone on Pac-Man or share a round on Captain America and the Avengers. Instead of going “online” and “queuing” in a “lobby,” we got in line and queued in a lobby. Claims to the throne were announced with upturned quarters. Opponents were looked in the eye. Or one could jump in to save a noob who was getting overwhelmed by Willy’s firepower. Sometimes cooperation became competition—everyone, after all, envied the reach of Donatello’s stick.

Matt Belinghiere and Jason Wilson met online a few years ago inside of a retro gaming forum to discuss these glories from a bygone era. Acquaintance became friendship and friendship fostered commerce as they sold to each other prize picks from private collections. Wilson, a curator of rare and classic games, had had some success building hobby arcades in Antioch, Tenn., and Hunstville, Ala. Belinghiere recalls, “I found myself in a position to open a retail retro game store, and he asked me if I would open my store inside his arcade ... it was an answered prayer, really.”

Game Galaxy, the fruit of this collaboration, opened inside of Northgate Mall on the Ides of March for 2013. The arcade features cabinets that cover the gamut of the gaming heyday, from 4-bit pioneers to the colorful and cacophonous quarter-munchers that held court when home systems started to become miniature Skynets and overthrew the established order.

Your money, which is to say your specie, is no good here. The games do not accept quarters or tokens. All of the dip switches have been set to Free Play.

“Jason came up with the idea of paying for time instead of per game after noticing customers would come in with a roll of quarters, play for 20 minutes or so, then leave and not come back for a month or two,” Belinghiere said.

His innovative system evolves the primordial arcade into what it was meant to be: an eternal Valhalla of battle, death and rebirth. You can ascend to this Nordic paradise for a half-hour at $4, an hour at $6 and all damn day at $10. The hour of your doom is denoted in marker on a fluorescent wristband (which you would do well to wear next to a watch). This old hand recommends getting the hour at a minimum; I spent my entire 30 minutes on the creatively crass ultra-violence of Battletoads.

Game Galaxy’s palpable love for the Old Ways is not restricted to arcade cabinets. Discount shoppers and completionists can hold hands and skip through a relatively vast inventory of vintage home consoles from every era, including Ataris of every stripe (including the Jaguar) to Turbografix 16 to an I-shit-you-not Panasonic 3DO. Have no fear that you’re buying an exceptionally sweet paperweight; there are enough classic, cult, collectible and even foreign language cartridges to ensure that you get at least six months behind on your student loans.

In these halls, wizening adults reverently point out to small children the artifacts of the Before Time, in the Long, Long Ago. Offering this opportunity for veterans to prove what fun looks like to the next generation is part and parcel of Game Galaxy’s design. “Nostalgia is a primary appeal,” Belinghiere explains. “If, for a moment, I can provide that glimpse of the glory days of their past, that youthful glimmer in their eyes, I have done my job.”

April 18, 2013

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