An unassuming converted garage space in Rochester is bringing back memories for people who grew up in the 1980s and ’90s, and creating new ones for kids today.
Two years ago, three investors decided to re-create the sensory experience of going to an arcade to play classic video games such as Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Defender and Centipede. Late last year, they opened the Machine Shed arcade near Rochester’s downtown.
Owners Branden Strong, James Aakre, and Darek Davidson hope it provides a welcome contrast for many modern gamers who are more likely to connect with other participants on headsets through the internet. Participants can embrace the experience of being shoulder-to-shoulder, joystick-to-joystick, with others who share a similar passion.
“People are really missing the social aspect of what it was like to play video games in the arcades,” Strong said. “It’s so cool to have a little kid come up to you and say, ‘Would you like to play?’ I say, ‘Of course. Awesome.’ ”
The owners have some bona fides. Aakre, for instance, is a former Street Fighter II national champion.
Strong’s prime playing years were in the 1980s and ’90s, when he rode his bike to the mall to play, getting 15 tokens for a dollar. At the time, his game of choice was the beat-’em-up Double Dragon. Now, at age 40, he admits he doesn’t care for it that much anymore. Still, he never lost his belief in the business and in the power of play.
He found himself with the chance to pursue his long-held passion after being laid off from an IT job, and now puts in 60-hour weeks at the arcade. He and the other investors began collecting and refurbishing old 300-pound video games through Craigslist postings and a network of enthusiasts who modify old video game hardware, known as “modders.”
In addition to repairing and maintaining games for the arcade, they can also custom-build games for personal use. They’ll also rent out games for parties or corporate team-building functions. They also repair computers and mobile devices as well as take in computers, mobile devices, and some HDTVs for recycling.
The video arcade emerged in the early 1970s, with its “golden age” generally considered from 1978 to around 1986. At one time there were an estimated 13,000 video game arcades in North America, but the advances of home computer games changed the landscape.
In recent years, there has been a resurgence of the classic video games at places known as “barcades,” which combine the chance to play the games with cocktails. There are also arcade co-ops, where members pay a fee to belong. Strong says Machine Shed’s intent is to be family-friendly and accessible to everyone.
“We really want a place where a kid can feel comfortable,” he said.
They now have 20 machines crammed into the building and other “multi-cade” cabinets with several hundred games. For the time being, advertising is a Facebook page. They’re still waiting for outdoor signs to arrive to announce the location at 11 2nd St. NE.
So far, response has been favorable. They’ve added 11 a.m.-2 p.m. lunchtime hours to their weekday hours of 4-8 p.m. Saturday hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays 1-5 p.m.
In one nod to modernity, quarters aren’t needed anymore. There’s a flat $10 fee for players 13 and up, $5 for those 8 to 12, and children under 7 play free with an adult or older sibling.
Even if things don’t work out, Strong says he’ll remain positive about the experience.
“At least we’ll have a collection of great games to play,” he said.