March 2, 2014

Retro visit: Laconia has the Spot!

Yesterday the family and I took a trip to 1984. Like, for realz.

When I was 10, there were arcades and cabinet games everywhere. There were arcades that stood alone as businesses, as well as rows of different gaming machines that stood just inside the doors of many other establishments. Malls had them. Convenience stores had them. Again, they were everywhere. It was the heyday of the coin-op bonanza, and the swan song of an era soon forgotten. It wasn't long after this that Nintendo NES invaded our homes and changed in-home console gaming for ever. No complaints here, even though it was a bit bitter-sweet. But in 1984 everything was about the Quarter... or the Token.
We lived in Southern Maine. Just down the road, and over the border into NH was a town called Dover, and in that town was a place called Funspot. This location rivaled "Chuck E Cheese" and "Dream Machine" as THE arcade to play at. It was a fun filled room complete with skeeball, indoor batting cages, air hockey, and most importantly, all of the cabinets a young child would ever want to play. I pumped quarters and tokens into those machines and chased high scores for many of my adolescent years. It is a fond memory I have of a way to spend my time, and money, in a seamingly benign opposed to say buying smokes and drag racing cars.

Fast forward 30 years and arcades are near extinct. Only a handful of locations with more than one or two "decent" cabinets still exist. Sure "arcades" are still around... but they are merely ticket-chaser games. Pump your quarters into them to stop a moving light at just the right spot to earn a bounty of tickets. Chuck E Cheese is where two of my kids have had about 6 different birthday parties at. Sure, it's fun... but it isn't the same. By any stretch. The games they have are high tech racing games or simulation games, and not a single pizza fingered child in the place knows what it is like to chase a high score...or better yet, the feeling of elation when you do win and earn the chance to place your three initials into the game's leader board for all to see. The only bragging rights you get are contained within a fist-full of paper vouchers worthy of redemption towards a cheap plastic kazoo, or a spider ring. If you are lucky, you can "buy" an overstuffed, rock hard plush toy the size of a small doll. No thanks. I'd rather see "CEF" posted on a splash screen for all to see.

Yesterday my two oldest children got to see the high score race in action. We took a trip to Laconia NH, a quick hour drive from home, and we visited Funspot. The kid's had no idea what lay waiting for them inside.

Now that arcades are a withering and dying destination, this one can easily claim the title of "The World's Largest" with over 600 cabinets available to play. All of the favorites are here; Space Invaders, Asteroids, Mario Bros., Elevator Action, Tron, Gyruss, Galaga, Tetris, 1942, Pong, Gun Fighter, Xevious, Pole Position, Gauntlet, Joust, Rally X... the list goes on and on!

The entire place was a Museum, literally. The American Classic Arcade Museum to be exact (ACAM).

The lobby had a display case of favorite game devices and collectibles from yesteryear, complete with a classic pac-man trash can. There were dozens of sections of cabinet games, each separated by the manufacturer: Atari, Taitto, Sega... It was a Mecca for classic game lovers.

My kids didn't quite get the nostalgia, but the wife and I certainly did! It was like being 10 again. We spent the first 15 minutes or so going through the different areas and getting a feel for the different games we could play. It was a tough decision, but we eventually purchased our tokens an we began the gaming. For the next 3 hours we cruised around the play floor dropping tokens into the systems and playing rounds of games for the thrill of points.

It was nice to jump back in time and see the sights, but I can say for certain, it didn't hold the interest of my children the way these games used to for me. Maybe because the graphics of today's systems are so much better? Perhaps it was because the games they play have a lot more depth than just shooting aliens or bopping turtles for a handful of points? I think it is a combination...but whatever their reasoning it was definitely interesting to watch them interact with these antiquated systems.

Overall the trip was a lot of fun. I know I probably had the most fun, but the indoor mini golf and the bowling alley helped add to the excitement for a final weekend of winter vacation for the kiddos. Who's to say we won't go back again soon and their love for the classic will grow. I do know one thing: unlike the circuitry and capacitors within those cabinets, my love for standing in front of a cabinet vying for my chance to enter three letters into a leader board will never die.

Until next time...

(Funspot is located at 579 Endicott Street North, Laconia, NH 03246. On the web you can find them at