By Joe Hadsall
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Adam Enlow, of Springfield, celebrated his 31st birthday Friday with a 1980s theme. He, his wife and many of their friends dressed up in headbands, muscle shirts, leg warmers and Don Johnson suits, and hit the town to celebrate.
They felt quite at home in the 1984 Arcade, a retro-style video arcade in downtown Springfield. Being surrounded by “Centipede,” “Tron,” “Pole Position,” “Ms. Pac Man” and other classic games took Enlow back to memories of growing up in the ’80s.
“The games today, they are visually pretty, but they are not as fun as the games from back in the day,” Enlow said. “They had much more playability.”
Enlow’s friend Chris Stewart, already glued to “Donkey Kong,” agreed.
“Any game with more than 16 bits, I don’t trust,” Stewart said.
The 1984 Arcade features more than 50 classic, stand-up video games from the ’70s and ’80s, including “Asteroids,” “Karate Champ,” “Robotron,” “Defender,” “Xevious,” “Pong,” “Missile Command” and “Frogger.” Players don’t need a roll of quarters to play the games, however. All of them are set for free play.
The arcade is run by seven friends who have had a passion for stand-up video games. It started with two video games, “Tron” and “Asteroids,” that Devin Durham bought for his brother, Jason Durham.
Those two games stayed in Jason Durham’s bedroom for years. Later, the Durhams would meet others who owned similar stand-up games.
Then, they decided they wanted to have a place where they could plug in all their games at the same time.
“We thought it would be cool to find a cheap warehouse, a place where we could take these games and get them out of our living rooms,” said co-owner Jason Macdonnell. “It would be a place where we could turn them on all at once and play each other’s games.”
As word got out, others wanted to pay to play, helping out with the cost of rent.
“We thought about starting a club,” said co-owner Amy Durham. “We did the numbers and thought about how much we would all be willing to pay to keep this open.”
The demand from their friends encouraged them to open the games to the public. Because co-owner Lincoln Whisler used to operate an arcade in the ’80s, they knew the best way to operate was to charge admission at the door.
“We knew we didn’t want to roll quarters for the rest of our lives,” Macdonnell said. “The most aggravating things on these games are the coin slots. After doing some research, we decided the best thing to do is to set everything to free and charge admission by the door.”
The concept worked. The group set an admission price of $5 per person, and in the first month covered the opening costs. An average weeknight can bring around 175 people.
“The success of this has been a pleasant surprise,” Macdonnell said. “We were looking mainly for a place to store machines.”
An ’80s museum
The 1984 Arcade is named after the quintessential year in the decade of excess and electronics. Video games were staples of ’80s entertainment, and the best, most advanced games could be found only in the arcades.
Within the walls of the 1984 Arcade are black lights, TVs playing ’80s music videos and a high-score board, where top players can be recognized for their knuckle-busting achievements. There also are big couches, stools, chairs and cushioned bay windows where people can rest.
Macdonnell said the arcade’s “brightly dark” decor was meant to pay tribute to the ’80s, not duplicate it exactly.
“Arcades were either bright and loud with neon everywhere, or dark and creepy to where you didn’t want to get quarters from the guy sitting on the stool,” Macdonnell said. “Our look gives a really good atmosphere. It’s bright enough where no one is threatened, and there are no corners people can get backed into.”
The decor, which is the brainchild of co-owner Chris Stuart, makes the arcade fun for kids and adults alike.
“There are a lot of games here that I saw when I was growing up and that I haven’t seen since,” said Chuck Moore, 54, of Springfield.
His grandson, Zachary Moore, 10, also liked the arcade. He played “Donkey Kong,” the game that introduced Mario to the world. (Mario originally was named “Jumpman”; he didn’t get his name until the sequel, Donkey Kong Jr.)
“They are a little harder. I’m not used to the controls,” Zachary said. “The games are awesome. My mom talks about these games a lot.”
Every game has a history, Amy Durham said. Some were bought from restaurants, others at auctions.
Getting the games working also takes some engineering. The co-owners have bought multiple versions of a single title, just to get enough parts to get one of them working.
“Every one of these games has its own unique story,” Amy Durham said. “Part of what we are doing is actively seeking out and rescuing these games. We’re like a preservation museum for a big part of ’80s culture.”
The co-owners say they know of no similar arcades in the Midwest. The arcade provides a low-cost, entertaining experience full of happy memories for customers.
“They have taken things that would be sitting around in a basement and done something with them,” said Jeremiah Baker, 27, of Springfield. “There is nothing like this around here. You definitely get your money’s worth.”
Jim Moss 6/29/08 with $50 logo
Destination: 1984 Arcade, Springfield.
Directions from Joplin: Take Interstate 44 east to Springfield. Exit and turn right at Chestnut Expressway. Go about five miles east on Chestnut, then turn right on Jefferson Street. Go about a mile south to Walnut Street. The 1984 Arcade is on the southeast corner of Jefferson and Walnut streets.
Features: The arcade has more than 50 stand-up video games from the ’70s and ’80s. But don’t worry about burning through a roll of quarters. Pay $5 at the door, and you can play all you want. Pinball machines are available for a quarter a play. Refreshments, T-shirts, buttons and other ’80s items are available.
The arcade is in downtown Springfield, so there are many great restaurants within walking distance. Our advice: Eat before you play, because the arcade is open later than most of the restaurants, and time flies quickly once you start playing.
Distance from Joplin: About 80 miles.
Cost of round trip (assuming your car gets 30 mpg, and gas is $3.75): $20.
Admission: $5 for all ages. Those younger than 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
Contact information: (417) 831-3665, www.1984arcade.com.
Hours: 4 to 11 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. The arcade is closed this week for the Fourth of July holiday and will reopen Wednesday, July 9.
<img src="http://www.joplinglobeonline.com/images/zope/extra.gif" border=0> 1984 Arcade re-creates staple of ’80s entertainment <font color="#ff0000"> w/ Arcade sound-slide show</font>
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