Hoping To Find Galaga? Pack Your Game Face

By Meredith Goldstein, Globe Staff September 18, 2005
We were just miles from glorious Pikes Peak, in a valley shadowed by impressive red rocks, but we couldn't take our eyes off the dark screens or our hands off the joysticks.
We played Ms. Pac-Man. We played Gallaga. We played Centipede.
My traveling companion beat Operation Thunderbolt (the sequel to Operation Wolf), and I was reminded of how awesome I am at mechanical Skee-Ball.
Other tourists in Colorado were probably enjoying nature, the fools.
Pikes Peak will be there forever. Dig Dug is endangered.
''There's nothing quite like this," said Alan Kearns, 54, who owns the seven-building Arcade Amusements gaming utopia in Manitou Springs, a small town about an hour from Denver and minutes from Colorado Springs.
Kearns has about 300 games in his 71-year-old arcade. He has Donkey Kong, Q-Bert, and Pole Position, along with most of the early 1980s arcade favorites.
Yes, he has Gorf.
''People will still come here and play Gallaga for hours," he said of other tourists who have stopped at his indoor-outdoor gaming mecca.
It was the highlight of our initially mountain-centered trip, and when I returned to Boston, I began to look into what arcades I might find on my next vacation.
Apparently, a good arcade is more than worth the trip to a video game fanatic, especially since more and more classic machines break down each year, and the industry has replaced Q-berts and the like with Xbox and PlayStation games meant for our living rooms.
Tony Perkins, 30, runs a website called classicgaming.com/locations, where he invites video game fans to report all findings of classic games across the country so that we can visit them in our travels. The site lists games and locations state-by-state with reviews.
Manitou Springs is one of the more respected locations listed on the site, with gamers praising the open air and a selection of games such as Tron, inspired by the 1982 film, and Tempest, one of the first games in color.
''Denver is a 28-hour round trip for me . . . this is an extra 2 hours (there and back ) . . . if you are anywhere near the Denver area you need to go here . . . most games in fantastic condition & only 25ยข to play . . . all of a sudden its 1983 all over again!!!!" posted one gamer named Rich.
Perkins said one of the most respected locations for arcade tourism is within an hour and a half of Boston, the home of Motorcycle Week: Laconia, N.H.
''They have everything and they do a fabulous job of maintaining everything," Perkins said of Funspot, the arcade by Weirs Beach.
By ''everything" he means the big games and the lesser-knowns that didn't last long. There is SpyHunter, a sit-down driving game; Mappy, which involves a mouse dressed as a police officer; and Tutankham, a labyrinth game, all from the early and mid-1980s.
Gary Vincent, operations manager at Funspot, said he welcomes tourists from across the country and beyond who have traveled there for the classic games. Vincent opened the nonprofit American Classic Arcade Museum on Funspot's third floor to preserve games for people to play at low prices -- 25 cents each.
''I get people who fly here to play. We've had people from England, Finland, Israel, Australia -- that's been about the furthest one so far," Vincent said. ''There just aren't many places you can go."
Perkins said the trick to arcade travel is working a game spot into an already-scenic trip. Laconia, of course, is the center of activity on Lake Winnipesaukee, the largest lake in New Hampshire and a perennial tourist destination in summer, fall, and winter.
Kearns's arcade in Manitou Springs is arguably the most scenic of the bunch, and offers alternatives for anti-video game companions. Had we needed to escape the arcade, downtown featured quaint shops, restaurants, and of course a 14,000-foot mountain just a few miles away.
But with Space Invaders in our sights, we really didn't pay much attention to any of that.
Contact Meredith Goldstein at mgoldstein@globe.com.

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