RadioBDC Logo
Left Hand Free | Alt-J Listen Live
THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

New Hampshire video arcade keeps the classics alive

By Jack Pickell
Boston.com Staff / November 23, 2011
Text size +
  • E-mail
  • E-mail this article

    Invalid E-mail address
    Invalid E-mail address

    Sending your article

    Your article has been sent.

Video game arcades, in the form that 40-somethings remember them, are basically extinct. New arcades feature games that are far more sophisticated and realistic than the classics. Rarely, a Pac-Man or an Asteroids machine might be tucked away in a lonely corner in some of these newer arcades, but players often come away disappointed by a fuzzy video monitor or a worn-out joystick on machines decades past their prime.

Back in 1981, when many of these games were built, no one thought about keeping them alive for 30 or more years…well, almost no one.

Enter Gary Vincent – the man who, in his own way, has helped create a time machine back to the early 1980s. It sits on a patch of land in Laconia, New Hampshire, just up the road from the shores of scenic Lake Winnipesaukee.

A place called Funspot.

Originally opening on Weirs Beach in 1952, Funspot moved just up the road to its current spot off Route 3 in 1964.

Teenager Gary Vincent was a regular Funspot customer in the summer of 1981, in the middle of the golden age of video arcades, when he was offered a temporary job there. A little over a year later, Vincent became a full-time employee. He has never left.

In 1998, Vincent suggested to his boss that all of Funspot’s older, mostly forgotten video games be turned into a museum. That idea became the American Classic Arcade Museum (ACAM) on Funspot’s third floor.

Vincent said customers responded positively to the museum, but what helped put ACAM on the map was his idea to begin playing host to classic video game tournaments. It wasn’t long before the ACAM became the prime North American location for serious classic gamers.

In 2007, a documentary-style film “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” centered around the Funspot tournament, specifically the fight for the world record in Donkey Kong between a soft-spoken, up-and-coming player named Steve Weibe, and the cocky, long-time Donkey Kong champ, Billy Mitchell.

The ACAM hosts some of the world’s rarest games, all kept in top working order by Vincent and his staff. It’s open year-round, admission is free, and most of the games still cost one token, or 25 cents. Inflation, apparently, has no power over the time-space continuum.

A recent visit to Funspot found the place bustling but not overly crowded, with an added bonus. Mixed in among the players were some of the world’s greatest classic gamers, many of them multiple world record holders who were attending their annual reunion at the spot they consider the best place left in the world to play.

Swindon, United Kingdom resident Tony Temple is the world record holder on Missile Command, a challenging early-‘80s game that utilized a large trakball instead of the more common joystick controller. He said the availability of vintage games in England is even more limited than in the US.

“In the UK, all the old ‘80s and ‘90s machines have all disappeared, so there is nowhere to play unless you’re lucky enough to own a machine at home,” he said. “(Funspot) really is probably the only place in the world I know of that has such a vast collection of all of the things that we grew up with in the UK.”

Dwayne Richard, the Gauntlet world record holder, also logged some serious mileage for the reunion, journeying 4,500 miles from Grand Prairie, Alberta, Canada. Richard feels the classic arcade games offer something today’s games do not.

“These games have a lot of mystery to them in the sense that there are tricks, there’s strategy, there are levels of depth where you have to learn new things in order to take the game to the next level,” he said. “You could spend you whole life trying to master these (vintage) games.”

Donald Hayes, who holds the current Centipede record, had a far easier journey to Funspot, traveling from Salem, New Hampshire. Hayes says despite the sophistication of today’s home systems, nothing matches the authentic arcade experience.

“The idea of going out to a place and being able to hang out, play some games makes it more of a social thing as it was in the ‘80s,” he said. “To have a place like this still be available in this day and age is just incredible.”

Lydia and Steve, a couple visiting from the New Hampshire Seacoast who preferred not to give their last name, aren’t champion gamers. They had their own reason for the making trip – their 10th wedding anniversary. This arcade is a spot they hold dear.

“This just brings back good memories, it’s a lot of fun for us,” said Lydia. “It brings us back to our childhood, and a good way to spend the afternoon…or spend a whole day.”

Jack Pickell, just an okay Donkey Kong player, can be reached at jpickell@boston.com

On the web:

  • E-mail
  • E-mail this article

    Invalid E-mail address
    Invalid E-mail address

    Sending your article

    Your article has been sent.