The atmosphere combined competitive intensity with the convention-style camaraderie that pops up whenever a lot of people with the same unique interest spend time in a room together. Except for one woman intensely working on a Super Breakout high score, everyone I chatted with seemed more interested in socializing than competition.
"I suck overall as a player. I'm what they call a specialist — good or world-class at a handful of titles," explained classic arcade world-record setter Mark Alpiger, who was there to play, but not to compete. Attempting 15 games in one go simply isn't his thing.
Alpiger gained some minor fame as the semi-profound, clearly Kentuckian dude with the unfortunate mustache he has apparently shaved off since his appearance in King of Kong. On Sunday, we tragically did not witness any controversy approaching the level of King of Kong. However, this aficionado of Crystal Castles (the 1983 Atari game, not the band) indulged in a bit of mind gaming.
"To worry people for fun, on the games I'm good at, I'll put up a real high score," said Alpiger, who runs an arcade tournament of his own in New Jersey. "I once set a world record on The Glob, so I played that, set a real high score, and whoever else is a top scorer will look at it and get worried. What they don't know, is I'm not going to play all the games, so my score won't count against them."
Curator Gary Vincent has been a Funspot employee since 1981. Back in the late '90s, it was his idea to turn all Funspot's classic arcade games into a museum. The ACAM has been an officially recognized, tax-exempt museum since 2002.
"When arcades were everywhere in the early '80s, some of the guys who were 16 year olds there every day after school kept up casually playing games," he explained.
"When they find out what we have here at the ACAM, they're like, 'Oh my gosh! I can come here and be a teenager again! Even though I'm in my 40s and have kids!' "
Some games at the museum have stood the test of time. Others are merely historical artifacts — such as 1976's Death Race, the first game to arouse protest for its violence. Others, like the KISS pinball machine that doesn't play music, and the atrocious Atari Star Wars game, must have been considered worthless even when they were current.
Still, Funspot's owner and founder Bob Lawton made it clear that he's not interested in selling nostalgia.
"Things change, and like everything in the leisure business, you've got to change with them, or you won't be around long," said Lawton, who got started in the amusement biz by charging 35 cents a round for mini-golf in the '50s. Today, his primary cash cows are Funspot's bingo hall, tavern, bowling leagues, and the games which dispense tickets than can be exchanged for prizes.
"We don't make sufficient money on these classic games to stay in business, but they're great for publicity, and we all love them. We grew up with them, and we'll never take them out."
It's nice to know one of the better aspects of the Reagan Era will endure, probably, until planet Earth needs defending from a real alien invasion.
Funspot | 579 Endicott Street North, Laconia, NH | funspotnh.com | 603.366.4377