You never made it through Commando's jungle (stage 5) when you were a kid. Since then, your dreams have been haunted by the question of what those dastardly soldiers would throw at you next. You must find out. You're not content to download some facsimile of the game and play on your computer; no, you have to have the real thing — the joystick, the buttons, the all-out intensity of running, shooting, and shaking so hard the game itself moves with your energy.
You can find it at Funspot, which bills itself as the world's largest arcade, and which is just a two-hour day trip from Portland in Weirs, New Hampshire. If you're lucky, you'll be able to take lessons from a master.
A master like Mr. Kelly R. Flewin (he insists on the full title, lest he be mistaken for a woman, at least in print), a gas station manager from Winnipeg (yes, Canada) who drove more than 2000 miles to visit Funspot a few weeks ago. Flewin just happens to be the Guinness Book Of World Records: Gamer's Edition champion at Batman. The 30-year-old, who says he doesn't even practice but is inspired during tournaments by "the spirit and magic of the place," is rarely seen without his bottle of Cherry Coke. And he really, really likes Funspot.
"It's absolutely breathtaking to see so many vintage games, in working condition no less," Flewin says. "It's heaven. You don't even see modern arcades in this condition."
"But it's more than that," another avid Portland video-gamer (who would prefer to remain nameless due to fear of ridicule) says. "In the '80s the arcade wasn't just a place where you played video games. It was a social club for the anti-social. A place where the dungeon masters could emerge from their chaste and sweaty nerd-nests and find kindred — i.e., pale, hollow-eyed, in-need-of-a-bath — spirits. A sort of 'ball field' for those not interested in sports.
"Small familiar groups could be found huddled around the same machines week after week, sharing tips, tricks, and triumphs — and of course, talking smack. High-score holders were looked up to, and the best of the best were pointed out, their exploits talked about in whispers when they walked by ... just like the legends at any schoolyard hoop court. That social aspect has been lost to the generation of online (role-playing game) players, whose victories are celebrated in isolation."
Indeed, such clusters of players are visible as one roams the aisles of games at Funspot; I found Flewin and his buddies crowded around Donkey Kong for a large chunk of a recent Wednesday.
That game in particular, here, has a certain amount of celebrity. After all, much of the heartbreaking and hilarious 2007 documentary The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters (New Line) was filmed here, as two men vied for the title of Donkey Kong high-score champ.
It's hard not to feel like a champion yourself, as you stand before a vintage, upright box, punching at buttons, finessing the joystick, steering your bicycle handlebars as a Paperboy, and squinting at pixelated, jerky graphics. For a generation that grew up with fancy at-home game consoles and state-of-the-art computer animation, playing these games offers a more tactile experience; as you stare into the black void (a sensation that's heightened by the arcade's dim lighting), you can think of nothing other than rounding that corner before Inky, Blinky, Pinky, or Clyde gobbles you up (those are Pac-Man villains, duh).
PS Even if you're terrible at video games, Funspot can be, well, fun. There's Ski-Ball (try caroming the ball off the side of the ramp for a better score), a bowling alley, pizza, and, let's get serious, the D.A. Long Tavern, with eight beers on tap, some wines, and a specialty drink menu. There are also fake slot machines, at which you can win tokens that, like tickets, can be exchanged for crappy gifts. (Even the employee behind the prize-collection counter, when asked what his favorite gift is, says: "I don't have one.") In addition to a zoo of stuffed animals, redeemable prizes include New York Yankees air fresheners, cups full of candy, and hair combs. Combs! Go crazy.
What you can play
Have you forgotten Frogger? Here's a partial list of the 200 classic arcade games you can play at Funspot:
• Alpine Ski
• Atari Basketball
• Donkey Kong
• Jungle Hunt
• Mr. Do!
• Ms. Pac-Man
• Star Castle
• Track & Field
• 20+ pinball games
View pieces of video-game history
One gamer waxed nostalgic: "While many of the games at Funspot are actually boring and uninteresting to play — I'm taking to you Space Invaders, original Star Wars, Dragon's Lair, and pretty much every racing game in the place — just seeing them can be a worth the experience. Just walking by the two-person Fire Truck racing game ... brings me back to the place I played it — an arcade at Hampton Beach one summer — and the long-forgotten friends I played it with, and a flood of memories from that time."
FUNSPOT | 579 Endicott St North, Laconia NH | daily, 9 am-midnight through Labor Day | free admission; games and activities charge individually | www.funspotnh.com | 603.366.4377