As a kid in the ’80s, Brian Teasley spent a lot of time in arcades. He remembers one day at an old arcade in Hoover called Wizard’s Palace. As ZZ Top’s “Eliminator” album was blaring in the background, Teasley was playing a game called Moon Patrol, and he had the high score.
“Eight kids were kind of cheering me on and antagonizing me at the same time,” says Teasley. “All the other games were there and there’s the smell of crappy pizza in the room. It was kind of a perfect moment, you know?”
Teasley now owns Saturn, a music venue in Avondale. A few times a year he tries to recapture that scene — minus the crappy pizza — with Vintage Video Game Night.
Old school video games are making a comeback. While video game companies are exploring virtual reality, one of the most sought after products is a new version of Nintendo’s first video game system from the ’80s. It’s been sold out since the holidays.
Kyle Farmer works at Saturn and spends about eight hours setting up the event. He’s running power cords and making sure everything still works. A few dozen video game systems dating from the ’70s to the mid-2000s are spread across the floor.
Farmer says growing up, he was often told video games were a waste of time. He says it’s gratifying to prove otherwise.
“I think there’s sort of that aspect too that, you know, I get paid to, sort of, keep a collection going and set up video games,” he says. “All those years were worth something.”
An hour or so into the night, dozens of gamers are firing up the old systems as remixed versions of classic video game songs are pumped out of the venue’s speakers. Some gamers hop from system to sytem, while others hunker down in one spot, eyes glued to the screen. Jacob Matherson is playing NBA Jam on a Super Nintendo while trash talking with Manny Rosas. They grew up together in LA.
“He lived like across the street and I would just come over because my parents couldn’t afford the game system and they were a little bit better off,” says Matherson. “And we actually stole this game from the store.”
Lots of gamers are hunting for that favorite childhood game. Others are trying out systems that came out decades before they were born. Twenty-year-old Abigale Youse is playing a ColecoVision. It’s an old system from the early ’80s with a controller that looks more like a TV remote. Youse says video games made her who she is today.
“I learned how to read because I wanted to read the text in video games and it got me into school a year early,” she says. “They changed my entire life and I don’t think I can ever give up playing them.”
Some gamers don’t even have to sit down with a game for the memories to start rushing back. For truck driver Woody Sellers, just walking past someone playing “Grand Theft Auto” triggers the smell of his parent’s musty basement. He kept his Xbox there in high school.
“And it takes you back to that moment, wherever you are, where that piece of media intersected with an important event in life or something impactful where you can remember it,” Sellers says.
A huge part of the night is purely about nostalgia, but that’s hardly a bad thing for the gamers huddled up close to the different screens. It’s a chance not just to remember, but actually replay childhood memories.