Hopewell hall of fame, museum celebrates retro arcade games
Y ou might be old enough to know the feeling of quarters burning a hole in your pocket.
You might know the fear that somewhere there are alien invaders/asteroids/giant centipedes going un-zapped, barrels going un-jumped and power pills going un-gobbled.
If so, you're the target market for the new Pennsylvania Coin Operated Gaming Hall of Fame and Museum, opening with VIP events this weekend in Hopewell.
Consider this the origin story, where all the Playstations, XBoxes and iPad games began: as clunky arcade games that would mercilessly gobble your quarters, as you slowly developed the hand-eye coordination and experience to keep playing just a little bit longer.
The site is a nonprofit museum, a hall of fame for games and one of the world's biggest working arcades, with more than 400 vintage arcade games and pinball machines in 10,500 square feet of space in a former Dollar General store. There are 1,200 more games stored in another building, many awaiting restoration.
“I'm 46,” says Chris Akin, vice president of the museum. “People our age — people who grew up in the late '70s and early '80s — we're all watching kids play these new games. That sort of pushed us out of the loop — we want to play these old games again. That's why I think there's been a retro (gaming) resurgence. Now that pop culture is doing its cyclical swing, it's coming back into being cool again.”
The interest in retro/arcade gaming is high. The Professional Amateur Pinball Association hosts the World Pinball Championships at its massive warehouse in Carnegie, which is only open a few times a year. Pinball Perfection in West View bills itself simultaneously as a museum, arcade, repair shop and store with more than 250 games. Adam's Sandler's gaming action/comedy, “Pixels,” opens July 24. And the ReplayFX Arcade and Gaming Festival is scheduled for the David Lawrence Convention Center from July 30-Aug. 2
“These games never went away,” Akin says. “Most of them are as big as refrigerators, and a lot of times people didn't throw them away — they just put them in their garage to collect dust.”
The hall of fame and museum project started as a hobby that sort of grew and grew.
“My partner Ed (Beeler) has been collecting video games and pinball machines for 25 years,” Akin says. “Steadily picking them up, some rare ones, lots of normal stuff. He built a warehouse in his backyard for friends and family to come over and play games.
“He's always been in the coin-operated machine business: vending machines, coffee. He had access and knew where machines were. As bars came up and went down, he'd know where there was a machine he wanted to get. His knowledge of the games themselves is really unbelievable.”
The Pennsylvania Coin Operated Gaming Hall of Fame and Museum hopes to distinguish itself by sheer size and the rarity of its collection.
“Some of the stuff we have is not available anywhere,” Akin says. “We have several games where there's under 10 of in the world. One game, a pinball machine called ‘Thunderball,' they only made 10, and it was a prototype. There's only four in the world, and one available to play, and we've got it. Ed and I came to agreement that these games are made to be played, not just looked at.”
The plan is to let visitors play as many games as they want for a flat price ($19.99 for two hours, $39.99 for all day), so fumbling for quarters while “Continue?” flashes on the screen won't be necessary.
Akin hopes to see the location become a regional destination, drawing visitors from Ohio, West Virginia, even Philadelphia. There's room for kids' parties or corporate team-building events, even live music.
During the VIP Grand Opening on May 23, there will be live music by '80s rocker Ron Keel, a catered lunch and all-day play for $50. On May 24, all-day play will be $30 with DJ Wayne Smith. The official opening will be May 30.
“Hopewell Shopping Center has lot of walk-up traffic,” Akin says. “There's a fitness place, a pizza place, a bar, a more modern gaming place. On a Saturday night, you can get a slice of pizza, come over, play some pinball, and go to the bar next.”
Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7901.