An employee at FunSpot since the '80s, Gary was instrumental in creating an environment where classic arcade machines were preserved for future generations. Sitting next to the mini-golf course that helped to launch FunSpot in the early 1950s, we discussed the origins of the museum, how technology has both helped and hurt the arcade scene and the process of bringing a classic back to life.
Let's start from the beginning, and the most important part, can you explain what the American Classic Arcade Museum is and what you try to do here.
The American Classic Arcade Museum is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and the mission of the organization is to save, preserve and put out for use video games, pinball machines, electro-mechanical from 1987 and older.
The organization was started because, I had seen there was really no place left for people to go and play classic games. They were being purchased by collectors and placed into home collections, where they were out of public use. It was actually the Fall of 1998 when I first tossed out the idea of the museum and then we did the first classic tournament in May of '99 and we got such an overwhelming response to it that, I guess, it just solidified the fact that this is something that the gaming community would like to see.
And the tradition continues at the end of this upcoming May with another tournament.
"It's not a money maker. It's a labor of love."
To you personally, what is the importance of archiving these arcade and pinball machines for future generations?
I guess you would call it a part of history. Americana. Usually what happens is, people think of creating things like this when it's too late. I mean there are classic car museums and such but there was never really a place for people to go and find old games, mainly because there's a lot of upkeep to them, a lot of electricity cost and, you know, it's not a money maker. It's a labor of love.
Coming into town the first thing I thought was, "Funspot probably uses more electricity than anyone else in Laconia, New Hampshire." You have hundreds of machines and a constant stream of visitors throughout the year.
How did you get attached to the arcade scene. What are your roots?
I actually used to just play games. One summer I had taken... it was the summer of '81... off, and said "I'm going to spend my time here at the lake (Weirs Beach near Laconia, New Hampshire) and hang out." You know, a last hurrah. One of those last free summers before you venture off into "real life." And, I started coming here to FunSpot. All of a sudden it got to be mid-August and their college help left and they were shorthanded. They had known me from being here and said, "Hey, can you just fill in the last three or four weeks of the summer here? You've been here for a while, we've seen you, we've talked to you, we like you. Can you help us out?" And I said, "Sure." Then I got hooked.
I came back the next summer -- because at that time FunSpot was really only a summer business -- and worked all of the summer of '82. That's when the boom really picked up in this area. So, FunSpot started opening a lot of remote locations and they opened one in Amherst, New Hampshire, and said "Hey, do you want to come up and work full time, year-round?" And I've been permanent ever since.
It stuck with you this entire time?
Oh, yeah. Yeah.
"Usually what happens is, people think of creating things like this when it's too late."
It's funny because you could ask ten people that question and get ten different answers. I think it primarily centers around where you're located in the country. A lot of times fads seem to start on the west coast and come to the east coast and I know some folks who live in California and I go, "What year did arcades die in California?" And they say, "Oh, '83 or '84." And it's like, we were still adding locations here in '82 and '83. Things were still ramping up here.
At one point FunSpot had... first, this (Weirs Beach, near Laconia, New Hampshire) is the original one and it started in 1952. We had FunSpot over in Wolfborough, New Hampshire, which is on the other side of the lake. We had one in Concord, Dover and Amherst. We had one in South Portland, Maine, and the last one we opened up was in New Port Richey, Florida, and we opened that in November of 1983. We were going to expand in the Florida market but then Florida started clamping down on video poker machines, and those were the big money makers then.
So, we decided to wait and see what happened. Then things started to plateau and started going down. I would say around here, the video game business started to go down around '86, '87. It had already reached it's peak and was going down then.
You hear the phrase all the time -- and you just pretty much said it yourself -- "The arcade is dead in North America." You do still see arcades in Japan with new content and machines, though.
Why did North America's love for the arcade die?
[Image credit: American Classic Arcade Museum]