If you grew up in the 1970s or ’80s, you probably spent a fair share of your time hanging out in video arcades: Whether it was working the joystick on Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and QBert, taking the steering wheel through the high-speed chase games Turbo and Spy Hunter, or blasting bad guys in police and war games, it was easy to let countless hours slip by amid a backdrop of flashy graphics and outrageous music and sound effects.
But then, rather suddenly, the Aladdin’s Castle arcades, as well as the locally owned arcades that had sprung up in every strip mall, seemed to fade away. If you hadn’t yet tired of playing games, you bought outrageous home systems that allowed you and your kids to lay waste to aliens and grand theft auto perpetrators alike in the comfort of your own living room.
And just like the forgotten toys of the Toy Story films, tens of thousands of arcade consoles disappeared into the ether of our youthful collective memory. Well, most of them did, anyway.
The rest wound up with guys like Gene Lewin, who has been the owner of the Virtual Arcade Superstore in Glendale for the past 15 years. A 9,000-square-foot warehouse stuffed to the brim with the games of yesteryear, the Virtual Arcade Superstore boasts a 10-man staff teamed up with Lewin to restore both the wiring and shiny surfaces of games, with the goal of finding them a new home.
“What makes some games last and others not is that there’s an appeal to the good ones that never wore out. Games that don’t fly are not interesting or creative enough,” says Lewin. “Even my 9-year-old daughter loves to play Donkey Kong and Ms. Pac-Man.”