Video Game Museum Seeks Extended Play

Jason Bennett,

May 2, 2020 7:16 AM

Even though its doors are temporarily closed, Gary Vincent is hopeful that gamers can come together in common cause to lend a helping hand to keep the American Classic Arcade Museum and its vast arcade game collection primed and ready to go once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

When Gary Vincent walks into the American Classic Arcade Museum every morning, the incredible variety of arcade titles from the Golden Age of gaming are still there to greet him. What’s missing, though, are the people - the experienced gamers who have come together for competitive play, the long-lost gamers who stumbled across a game they haven’t played in over 30 years, a group of 20-somethings that recognize some of the arcade names from their parent’s yarns about the 1980s, or a new generation of players that need a little help from mom or dad to reach the joystick. 

Founded in 1998 with the mandate to promote and preserve coin-operated arcade games, the ACAM is located within the 70,000 square foot entertainment complex known as Funspot in Laconia, New Hampshire. Originally established in 1955 by the legendary Bob Lawton, Funspot offers all manner of outdoor and indoor diversions from mini golf to candlepin bowling. Coin-operated machines were a central feature of the facility from the beginning, changing over time with new trends and technologies. Gary joined the Funspot team after college, and with the passing of the Golden Age of gaming as the arcade industry moved into the 1990s, he recognized that Bob had amassed a special collection of games that documented the birth of the modern gaming industry -- a collection that deserved to be preserved for the enjoyment of gamers both young and old. Funspot ownership agreed with Gary, and the non-profit museum was born.

Declared the largest arcade in the world by Guinness World Records, Funspot has provided over 7,000 square feet of floor space to ACAM following its establishment in 1998, taking visitors back in time with rows of both rare and iconic arcade games. [Image source: ACAM]

As the site of numerous classic arcade game events over the years such as the International Classic Videogame Tournament, the ACAM holds a special place in the pantheon of arcade life for a generation that was raised with pixelated spaceships or moustached plumbers. But for the past seven weeks, the ACAM has been closed to the public due to the state of New Hampshire’s social distancing measures in response to COVID-19. While the closure has prevented visitors from experiencing the history of the museum in all its 8-bit glory, the true revenue impact for the ACAM has come from the loss of the Bingo games hosted on-site every Tuesday at Funspot. Crucially, the weekly games provide the museum with its primary source of funding for its operations. Gone are the days when these machines generated hundreds of dollars a day at the height of the arcade boom. Instead, these 40 year old games require far more funds to maintain and keep operational than is recouped from the purchased tokens used to start a game. Gary explained on-line that “at minimum, we are looking at nine weeks of lost fundraising.” With the recent extension of the stay-at-home order from May 4 to May 31, the museum is now looking at several more weeks of depleted revenue.

Gary Vincent, President and Curator of the American Classic Arcade Museum, preparing to speak with school groups about the history of coin-operated arcade games. [Image source: ACAM]

The ACAM has a rich array of activities in support of its mandate, such as providing education opportunities for game development students around New England, rotating exhibitions about the history of video game creators and their games, and the preservation of documents and source code used during game development. But as Gary explained on-line, “despite not being open, we still have many fixed expenses and other monthly costs to cover.” This includes the most visible activity of the museum - acquiring and maintaining over 250 arcade games dating back to the 1980s and beyond - which is also its most costly. As any classic arcade game collector can attest, simply keeping a game turned off does not mean it will turn back on when you want it to. Most parts for these games are decades old and replacement parts ceased to be available years earlier, and with such a large collection it’s always an uphill battle to keep the largest number of these games operational for the enjoyment of visitors to the museum.

Although the ACAM has a small cushion of funds set aside, they are being depleted quickly. To weather the lockdown, the museum has put out an appeal to the public to seek their help. Donations at the ACAM’s Gofundme site will permit Gary and his staff to keep up with on-going repairs and associated operational expenses so the museum will be on a more solid footing to navigate the gradual return of visitors as COVID-19 restrictions are slowly eased based on a future timetable that is still unclear to everyone.

So while the museum is closed, Gary continues the work of maintaining arcade history so everything is ready for new and experienced gamers alike. And with some help, we can be sure that with Gary at the helm it will always be “Game On.”

For more information about the American Classic Arcade Museum and how to help, visit:

https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/acam-needs-your-help

https://www.classicarcademuseum.org/



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