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The American Classic Arcade Museum
NH's Pinball Wizards


Just one more try. I’m on my last quarter. The high score is within my grasp. I frantically mash the cabinet’s buttons, slamming the joystick every which way. My initials, JMR, finally appear on the screen as the number one high score. I throw myself into a chair, palms sweaty. Millions of other gamers have had similar experiences, spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on arcade games. To many, arcade gaming was a youthful hobby. Since the 1980s, however, the number of arcades has become much fewer. However, there is one place in New Hampshire where arcade games are preserved and available for anyone to play.


As I enter Funspot, it appears like any other entertainment center: children driving bumper cars, people playing skeeball and air hockey. I can hear the clatter of pins from the bowling alley and the electronic beeps from the newer games. But as I ascend the stairs to the third level, I’m greeted by a large yellow sign reading “Welcome to the American Classic Arcade Museum, celebrating the history of coin-operated amusements.”


The first thing that I notice is the lack of smaller, more easily distracted, children.Only the gaming purists lurk here, under dim red lighting, pushing tokens into the hundreds of playable retro games, from Frogger to Contra.


A Classic Game Wall of Fame contains plaques for the world record holders who achieved their records here. In 1999, Billy Mitchell achieved the world’s first perfect score in Pac-Man, and Steve Weibe’s Donkey Kong record is also on display. (As well as Keith Apicary’s world’s lowest score in Donkey Kong Jr.) Both Billy and Steve were the main focus of the documentary The King of Kong, some of which was filmed in the museum. It is an exciting experience to play on the very same cabinets that these players made gaming history with.


I walk past the Wall of Fame into the main area of the museum. With nearly 300 games and 24 pinball machines, it is one of the largest collections of classic games. As I walk in the dimly lit room, I hear “Eye of the Tiger,” a song that reflects the classic gaming era, playing over the speakers. All of the songs played in the museum are from no later than 1988, (mostly from the 70s and 80s) around the same time period that these games were created.


The music takes a backseat, however, as I hear hundreds of electronic sound effects, seemingly emanating from everywhere, as each game as their own symphony of blips and pings.


Wall space that isn’t covered by an arcade game or pinball machine displays articles from Classic Gamer Magazine, Play Meter, and NH Business Review that tell the story of the massive success of the American Classic Arcade Museum (ACAM). An “Arcade of the Year Award” from 1999 presented by Twin Galaxies, the organization that records all of the world’s high scores, is also visible.


Complementing the articles and awards, are posters of Millipede, Dig-Dug, and Ms. Pac-Man
spread throughout the museum, as well as the names of older game developers such as Atari and Nintendo being suspended from the ceiling.


While most of the museum consists of arcade games, there are also 24 vintage pinball machines lining two ofthe walls. The pinball themes range from fantasy knights*- and F-14 jets, to Playboy©, Kiss©, and the Harlem Globetrotters©. Also featured in the museum are several exhibits of older games,including a wooden-sided pinball machine, a Computer Space game (the first commercial coin-operated game), a glass display case featuring a Magnavox Odyssey (the first home video game console), and the game Simon (an early electronic game).


To find out about the history of the museum, and how it got started, I met with Gary Vincent, president of ACAM. He explained how the start of ACAM began in September of 1998, when he was in a weekly management meeting with Bob Lawton, the owner of Funspot. “[He] would always close every meeting with ‘Does anyone have anything else they want to talk about‘?’ So at that time I brought up the subject of the older games that we have here.” Gary suggested to Bob that they put the arcade games that were considered from the “Golden Age,” all in one area of the building and start a museum.


Bob agreed, and so ACAM was created. “In 2002 I incorporated the museum as a 501(c)(3) non profit organization,” Gary explained. “It’s one of those things where people go, ‘Oh, it must make so much money, you have so many games.”’ In reality, a good player can put one token in a machine and play for hours on end. Pinball machines typically have the most tokens in the museum, however they are also the most likely to break down, and are much more costly to maintain, mainly due to the fact that there is a little steel ball banging around inside. Thanks to the non-profit status of the museum, they have received many donations from enthusiastic supporters. “There are a lot of people worldwide who love what we are doing,” Gary said. I listened to his story about a man from Pennsylvania who is a big fan of the museum and donated four arcade games to them.


“In May of 1999, we held our first classic game tournament and we had 55 people show up.” Since then, the International Classic Video Game Tournament at ACAM has grown gradually, with last year’s toumament hosting over 160 competitors. “We’ve had [competitors from] Israel, Finland, Ireland, England, Holland, Australia, I think almost all the provinces of Canada, and almost every state in the United States,” Gary told me. The 2011 tournament in June will be the classic gaming toumament’s 13th year.


The American Classic Arcade Museum is definitely a great place for retro gamers, or anyone who wants to experience the “Golden Age” of video games again (or for the first time!). People who played these games in the 70s and 80s now bring their kids to enjoy the unique characteristics of vintage games. “It’s fun to see the parent come in to show the kid the games they were playing,” Gary said, describing the phenomenon. “There’s a game dad’s really good at and junior is terrible at.”

As culturally educating as the museum is, however, it is generally skipped over by many of the people at Funspot. “A lot of people just didn’t realize there were still places out here where you could go and play [these] games,” Gary told me. Collecting, restoring, and maintaining this vast collection of classic games is, according to Gary, a lot of work and “a labor of love.” Visit the ACAM to relive a defining era in worldwide video game_ culture. Harry Potter has nothing on pinball wizards here-be one of them!


Written by Josh Rosen

Reprinted from NH To Do


American Classic Arcade Museum

Directions:On Level 3, toward the back of the sprawling Funspot Game Center. On the east side of US 3, around three miles south of its junction with Hwy 104, or slightly more than a mile north of the bridge in Weirs Beach, NH.

Hours: Daily 9 am - 11 pm. (Call to verify)

Phone: 603-366-4377


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