Leisure

Game On

The Quarters reinvents the arcade.

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Gaming—or video gaming, to be more precise—has come a long, long way in the last few decades. It used to be that there was something shady about the whole endeavor, akin to cigarette smoking or hot rods, and it mostly took place in pizza parlors and darkened arcades. When I was a kid, my mother barred me from the Space Age Arcade, our local video palace. When I managed to sneak in, I was horrified to discover that she had been right all along: it turned out that the school bully had a job there, handing out quarters.

But then a strange thing happened-he and I started talking about games, and before I knew it he had taken out a set of keys and was loading up credits on the machines so we could play for free. He and I never became great friends, but after that day we were never enemies.

Today, gaming has largely left the arcades. People who play seriously most often play at home—either on their computers, or on consoles like the PlayStation and Xbox models that cause those Black Friday stampedes. The casual gamer has migrated to the simpler games available for smartphones and other mobile devices; the wildly popular Candy Crush Saga has been downloaded over half a billion times, and although the game itself is free, it reportedly brings in over half a million dollars a day via in-app purchases, those 99-cent packages which allow players extra turns or the opportunity to use something called a Lollipop Hammer.

Yet, for all the social aspects of these newer game experiences—the hardcore gamer with his or her headset, playing online with players from all over the world; the endless Facebook updates of the Words with Friends and Candy Crush crews—few of them are able to replicate the almost unspoken connection that I experienced that day decades ago. For that, you need a physical place for gamers to come together. And soon, the gamers of the Valley will have a place of their own.

That’s thanks to George Myers and Greg Stutsman, co-owners of The Quarters, a video arcade/bar/restaurant soon to open on Railroad Street in Hadley, right on the Norwottuck Rail Trail. With 20 or so vintage cabinet-style video games, a full bar, and an innovative, diverse, menu (bánh mì hot dog, anyone?), its owners hope it will become a home for gamers of all stripes who long for a new sort of gathering place.

It’s been a long gestation; originally, it seemed that a spring 2013 opening might be possible. In a progress update posted last month on the venue’s website, Myers (who also manages Amherst Cinema) notes that “we have had a bit more trouble than we would have liked getting to the point where we’re going to be able to open the doors and let people in, but we have been progressing steadily.”

A lot of that had to do with overcoming perceptions of neighboring residents about how the business might change the neighborhood, but Myers and Stutsman (a realtor, he also sits on the Amherst Planning Board) have also been caught up in the day-to-day chores any new business faces: scheduling construction, getting permits approved and so on. “So much of it,” says Myers, “was Greg and I, working at night, painting stuff, moving things.”

With the end—or the beginning—in sight, the pair recently hosted an open house for people who had supported the venture via the online fundraising site Indiegogo. After working so many long hours in isolation, it was, Myers said, “really pretty gratifying … to see people enjoying the space, and excited about it.” The Valley Advocate caught up with him as he wrapped up his first day as a host.

 

Valley Advocate : So tell me a bit about how this all got underway.

George Myers: Well, Greg and I had been working on something like this for a really long time now. We had a couple of locations in Northampton [that didn’t work out]. Those were about a year apart, and after the last one we kind of pulled back a bit. Then, actually through the tattoo studio here—I knew the guy, Tim Brewer, who owns Blueprint [a gallery and tattoo shop], and he said, you know, the barn in this building, the landlord is talking about developing it for commercial space and it might really work for you. And it wasn’t really what we were looking for, but he showed us the other spaces in here [that weren’t available at the time] and we kind of moved on. And then a few weeks later he said that if we were still interested, we could come and look at the space some more. So we did, and we were interested. And that was… October of last year?

 

So it’s been a serious pregnancy.

Big time. Yeah. So then we started these many processes you have to go through. We engaged with the town, and there were a lot of things we didn’t know at the time, and we had to learn those lessons the hard way. And each lesson was a little more time.

 

And Indiegogo—has that been a good source of ongoing funding?

To be honest, in the big picture the project is a lot more expensive than that. It was definitely important. When we went to the bank, we were able to say that we had 140 people give us money because they wanted this thing to exist. It really demonstrated a desire.

 

At this point, though, you’re almost open? A few more weeks?

Yeah, exactly. We just had an invitation thing for people who had given to our Indiegogo campaign, and we have all the games set up, so it was fun to get to show them that and see the excitement. It was a pretty good morale boost. And actually a cool thing that’s happening is that parents ...people who are 40 or a little older and have kids that are eight, nine, 10, a lot of parents came in with their kids, and were really excited. And we immediately started getting requests for birthday parties for eight- to 10-year-olds, but also for this conference or this web development group. It’s interesting.

 

And you guys have a cafe and a bar in there, too?

We have a full liquor license and a full kitchen—half the space is the kitchen. We have a menu that’s food cart-inspired, kind of… hot dogs and French fries, chicken and waffles. We have these mini-hot dogs from Pittsfield, they’re like three inches, so you get three of them at a time. And we’re going to have a variety-you can get a Chicago-style, or a kimchi one, or a Bánh mì one, or whatever. And we’ll have ice cream and popsicles for the bike trail.

 

So tell me about the games—it sounds like you’ve got classic arcade games.

Yeah, primarily the range is ’79 to, let’s see, early 2000s. Primarily early to mid-’80s. We have Dig Dug, Millipede, three pinball machines. We have NBA Jam. We initially thought that finding games was going to be a real challenge, but then, immediately, it was really pretty easy. It was surprisingly easy. We were able to try to be particular about the games that we chose. We wanted them to represent a pretty wide range of interests, so that they’re not all really hard games, not all fighting games, not all puzzle games.

That’s kind of a cool thing—there are people who got into playing Ms. Pac-Man, or Galaga, and there’s kind of a nostalgia thing, because they spent a lot of time with it, but then they come back to play it, and—it’s not like it’s quaint to go back and play them, it’s still challenging and fun. That competitive thing still emerges.

You know, there are certain elements that you look back on and you just enjoy them, but you enjoy them with old eyes, or sentimental eyes. And you have that, but then you go to play it, and it’s like, “Damn, this is still really hard!” And you get kind of fired up. And parents with their kids, they get really into it. You can see that excitement and that enthusiasm emerge really quickly.

 

When I was a kid, the arcade was a social hub. It feels like this is bringing back the face-to-face social aspect of the video gaming community.

Yeah, that’s a very real consideration on our part. You know, in all the things we’re doing here, we really want to make this feel like a place where people can come to hang out and maybe play a game, and it’s a well-curated space in all regards. In almost all the things I do, that’s one of the most rewarding things, is that people who will otherwise think that they’re different, they can find a commonality.

 

You must see that all the time in your DJ work. (Myers co-hosts a popular music night in Northampton.)

Exactly. That’s exactly why I like those things so much. You’re getting people together to share an experience and engage, and I just think that’s the most important thing. It just broadens your horizons in so many ways—you make new friends, build new community. And at the very least, it just reinforces the sense that this is a good place to live—that there are people who care about the things that I care about. You don’t even have to talk to them, it’s just—I don’t feel like I’m alienated from everybody anymore.

 

So you’re not stepping back from DJing, or the theater?

No, the DJing stuff could slow down, I imagine, out of all of them. There’s only so much time for the nighttime stuff. But the theater I’ll be doing—and I mean, this project has been going on, actively, for over a year now. I was just joking with a friend who was here earlier—if I wasn’t doing that, I’d just fill my time up with something else, so you may as well do things that you love doing. I think my more personal “night” stuff, I’ll funnel a lot of that into the new space. There’s a lot of opportunity to do kind of cool stuff.

 

What do you play there? Any favorite games?

Ooh, that’s a good question. Joust has been one of my favorites. And I didn’t really play Millipede much, or Centipede, before we got it here, but that game I really, really like playing. And then we have a Tapper, a sit-down one. And Tapper I always had a really funny relationship with—I always thought it was kind of a knock-off, kind of a crappy, fake game. He was actually in Wreck-It-Ralph. But we actually had this game in our house while we were building the place up, so I would just come home and sit down and play it for half an hour.

 

That’s like every kid’s dream—no quarters.

Yeah! I’m still not that good at it, that’s one of the funny things. The only game I’m actually any good at is NBA Jam.

 

Will you be rotating games in and out, or doing guest game nights?

Yeah, there are a few that have given us trouble that I’m kind of eyeballing to move out. We have a little bit of flexibility. I think we could technically get one or two more cabinets in here. We’ll see how it goes. We’ll also do a vintage board game night, and there’s already been a bunch of people who play card games like Magic, different ones, and they’d like to do a night. And there are a bunch of people emerging who ...just want to be in the space and do their own kind of nerdy thing. So that’s kind of what I was saying earlier—we’re really excited about this idea that a lot of different people will come in here for different reasons, and it will all mesh together. I’m really excited about it.•

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