By skot deeming
This summer, I was lucky enough to get to spend the majority of my time traveling for live shows and gallery performances, and again I was struck at how gaming culture is everywhere. The Winnipeg Airport has a small arcade in the departures lounge that houses a couple of choice retro video games and pinball machines. The ferries that run between Vancouver and the Island house small arcades to provide passengers with some interactive entertainment on their journeys. The more of these lovely little hole-in-the-wall style game houses I found the more it became my personal mission to find more arcades and classic gaming machines on my travels. Oh, the treasures I found.
In an indie record shop in Vancouver called Zulu Records, they have about a dozen original Atari video game systems from the early 70s; like an original arcade Pong machine. Pong gave birth to the arcade, and video games; finding this machine was like finding the Rosetta Stone. Sadly none of Zulu’s machines where playable and that got me to thinking about how modern video gaming has turned games into an at-home endeavour. Gone are the arcades I remember fondly. Sure the examples I cited were lovely tastes, but it’s like having the ice cream fall off the cone after a couple of licks.
And then one morning while in my hotel room in St. John’s, I was nosing around the net and found something astonishing. In Portland, Oregon, there is a vintage arcade bar called Ground Kontrol. A full-on arcade and a bar! What a brilliant idea. I promised myself I would make the pilgrimage there, and then something even more remarkable happened. I found a similar place in St. John’s!
Called the Barcade, it’s a small space above a dive bar called CBTG’s, with a couple of cabinets playing emulated games from the arcade days of yore while the staff and patron’s socialize, have a few drinks, and a good time. I spoke to Don, the manager, while having a beer over a bar painted to look like a classic NES controller. He explained how a local Internet cafe partnered up with CBTG’s to create the Barcade. They hired local artist Swass to paint the space, adding a Mario mural, a Left 4 Dead saferoom door, the aforementioned bar and other gaming themed art to the decor. Keeping it local, all of the gaming machines where built in St. John’s as well. “I’m in heaven,” he said of his drunken arcade shangrila. “Slinging beers over a giant Nintendo controller and playing video games for a living.”
I have to admit with everything I knew about St. John’s (which was mostly clichés about fishermen and accents) I was really surprised to find such a gamer space in the city, while cities 10 times its size don’t even boast such businesses. But it didn’t feel like a typical customer/ business relationship; everyone there knew each other, it was a community. One that, after a few drinks and a few rounds of Street Fighter, I felt completely welcomed into.