In what was once described as the most disgusting episode of Hoarders to ever air, viewers met Terry, a woman so in love with cats that she began hoarding them. On the day a television crew arrived at her house Terry had 49 cats — 31 of which were so unhealthy that they had to be euthanized. Equally disturbing, Terry also had a collection of dead cats stored in her freezer and at least one (which had “liquefied”) inside a baggie in her closet.
There was a time in my life when I was Terry — not with cats fortunately, but with arcade games. I took in every one I could afford, regardless of condition. If a machine needed a home, it was welcome in mine.
I shared this photo last week on Facebook. It’s how I like to remember my little personal backyard arcade: thirty machines all humming along, glowing in the dark while emitting the digital sounds of explosions and engines and punches. It looks like a fun place! Of course that’s one of the great things about the internet — we can project the impression we want.
Here’s the same room from a different angle, one I don’t share as often. In the back corner of my little game room you can see the pile of non-working boards and monitors beginning to grow, a pile that grew with time. At one point in time ten of my thirty machines were broken. It happened all the time. When I got into the hobby I literally had no idea that the guts inside these massive wooden giants would be so fragile. Of course when you own one arcade machine and it breaks, you fix it — but when you own ten broken machines, sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin. My solution was to simply play the other twenty.
Similar to that cat-hoarding lady, my machines began to multiply. Some of them were already dead when they came in through the door while others passed away under my watch. Very rarely did any of them escape in better shape than they had arrived.
Here’s another angle you don’t get to see too often.
In 2011 when we moved from our old house, the machines had nowhere to go. I sold a few of them before we moved, moved a few of them into our new garage, and stored the rest of them in a storage unit. When I first began selling machines I had people offering me half of what I had paid for them. No way! Instead, I moved them all to a storage unit, paid $700 for several months worth of storage fees, and then sold them for half of what I had paid for them. I guess I showed them!
When the dust settled four machines remained standing: 720, Commando, Rampart, and a Multi-Williams machine. For three years, these four monoliths gathered dust in my garage, like tombstones marking the death of my hobby. For three years I didn’t turn them on or even dust them. They just sat there. And the worst part was, each time I saw them I was reminded of all the other games I used to own.
Over the past few months I’ve been talking with the guys over at the Arkadia Retrocade in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The guys over there started with somewhere around 60 machines — now they have double that amount, and are about to double their physical space as well. The guys and I worked out a deal, and now they have four more machines in their collection.
Last Friday I loaded the four machines onto dad’s trailer and headed east. (As long as I live, I won’t miss moving arcade games again.) Mason was my co-pilot, and in just over four hours we were illegally parked in front of Arkadia, unloading machines. Along with the machines I took pretty much everything else I had that went along with the hobby. Save for the machine we have in our dining room and the carcass I have out in the garage that might maybe someday become a MAME cabinet, my hands are washed.
People have asked me if I’ll miss those machines. Of course I will. The good news is, I know where I can go to play them. And not only that, but I know other people will be playing and enjoying them as well, which is what they were always intended to be used for. Plus, there are some awfully sharp guys over at Arkadia that I know will be able to keep these machines up and running and in tip-top shape, but better than I was ever able to do.