Arcade Museums: The Next Best Thing to a Time Machine
May 7, 2012 | Permalink
Those of us in our thirties and forties who spent our childhoods in video-game arcades may not think about those dimly-lit oases from the world of adults all that frequently anymore. But when we do, we think of them fondly—remembering a simpler time when all that mattered was the clink of quarters in our pocket and the ring that our favorite games made when we were winning.
There are fewer arcades now than there were when we were young, due to the popularity of vastly improved home-gaming systems, and those that are still around tend not to feature the classic games we nostalgically remember. Luckily, though, there is, on the East Coast, an arcade museum that features the legacy games that bathed us in their glow in the 70s, 80s and 90s. And on the West Coast, there is an arcade museum where our parents and grandparents can relive their youths (which is still kind of hard to imagine them ever having).
· The American Classic Arcade Museum
This museum housed in Laconia, New Hampshire’s Funspot, the Guinness-certified largest arcade on Earth, is dedicated to the history and preservation of a fast-fading feature of popular culture, but it is also dedicated to fun, fun, fun. An arcade museum is really a misnomer—even though the room does have display cases containing things like antique video-game catalogs and gamer magazines along its walls. The main exhibits at this “museum,” more than 250 classic video games, are there to be played—just like when we were young—not to be gazed upon and discussed.
And just like when we were young, the sounds of 80s hit makers, like Madonna, Pat Benatar and Van Halen, provide the gaming soundtrack—along with the charming bleeps, bonks and booms from games like Galaga, Double Dragon, Spy Hunter, Tetris, Pong Doubles and Punch-Out! The only thing that would make this pleasantly dim room (they put red gels over the florescent lights, just like a lot of the old arcades used to do) seem like more of a time machine is if the gamers were all wearing Hammer pants and the room was full of cigarette smoke.
This museum, at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, has games and mechanical attractions going all the way back to the late nineteenth century. Originally housed at San Francisco’s legendary Playland, which was demolished in 1972, the Musée Mécanique has many 1950s, 60s and 70s arcade games—such as 1973’s Upper Deck, a mechanical baseball game in which you hit an actual ball to make your little men physically run around the bases, and 1961’s Sharpshooter, a game in which you shoot hard plastic bullets at animal targets. It is the perfect place to bring back memories of childhood for members of the Baby Boomer Generation.
When you walk into the game-filled room, the first thing you encounter is Laughing Sal, a giant female dummy with a missing tooth and a very lifelike-sounding wheezy laugh. She is the iconic figure that greeted visitors in Playland from 1940-1972. Walking further into the room, you hear the sounds of the seagulls outside on the San Francisco Bay and antique player pianos playing songs that were popular in the early twentieth century. As the Musée Mécanique is evocative of old-time San Francisco, it is the perfect destination for Road Warriors, who are looking to relive their youths for an afternoon, or for history buffs, who are curious about the important history of popular amusement.
You’ll remember, if you’ll think back to your childhood, that play can be just as exhausting as work. After playing for the afternoon at the American Classic Arcade Museum or the Musée Mécanique, you’ll need a place to rest and relax. Luckily, there are affordable hotels with kitchens, laundry facilities, and free Wi-Fi within driving distance of San Francisco and Laconia.
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