Jeremy Black (left) and Chelsea Long, co-owners of The Cade arcade bar in Bloomington.
(Seth Tackett, WFIU/WTIU News)
To a lot of people, Billy Mitchell is the face of retro gaming.
Fans at the Indiana Comic Convention in Indianapolis lined up for autographs, and Mitchell, one of the most celebrated video gamers of all time, greeted them with his sense of humor and strong personality.
“Some people would say that I am just a stubborn son of a gun, some would say worse,” he says. “Either way, it’s probably true.”
Indiana Comic Convention PR Coordinator Jaimie Kautzmann says she invited Mitchell to ICC because he’s an esteemed video gamer.
“Pac-Man high scores, things like that,” she says. “So he is another invited guest that we have here, because a big part of conventions too, as opposed to comics and the pop culture, is definitely video games and having that kind of video game presence here is definitely an awesome choice for us.”
But at a time when video game technology is improving so quickly that it’s hard to distinguish between what is real and what is pixelated – why is a player famous for playing Pac-Man being met by so many adoring fans?
Well, retro video games and arcades are making a comeback.
Mitchell says for a lot of gamers it’s about that feeling of nostalgia that comes with having spent time in an arcade.
“It’s where you wanted to be,” he says. “Other age groups wanted to be at a concert, you wanted to do something else. My age group, everybody wanted to be at the arcades. It was incredible.”
Bedford orthodontist Tod Curtis loved the bright lights and sounds of the arcades in the 1980s so much that he took them to work. He says when his collection of games got to be too big for his home, he had an idea.
“I always had this dream in my mind that I would have an arcade in my office for my patients to play,” Curtis says. “I had three or four arcade games in and it was an immediate hit. That’s all I heard from the patients, it was the coolest thing they had ever seen and so over the years we have grown and added more games.”
He says the games were so popular with his patients that many would arrive to their appointments early just to get more gaming time, often allowing his office to run ahead of time.
Curtis’ garage is filled with monitors, capacitors and boards. Some of the games are more than 40 years old.
Curtis is currently in the middle of refurbishing his collection, but recently a new project came along that he just couldn’t pass up.
“So one of my memories from my childhood at the arcades was playing an old game called ‘Atari Hard Drivin,’’ which really simulated driving at an age where I had just gotten a driver’s license,” he says.
Curtis and his son traveled to Wisconsin to pick up the game and another classic and is working on refurbishing both of them.
“Still have some cosmetic issues that we’ll fix like the sides of this panel,” he says, pointing to the game. “But otherwise we’ve got these back up and almost back to their glory days.”
Like Curtis, another area business owner took his love of video games to work and brought it to downtown Bloomington.
After working in his father’s bar, The Video Saloon, Jeremy Black and his fiancée Chelsea Long opened up The Cade in 2017 after they noticed a niche “nerdy” need missing in the local bar scene.
Black says he wanted to open a bar with entertainment value in town.
“So like at The Vid, upstairs, there is pool and darts and you have a bar,” he says. “But a lot of bars in this town are geared toward just drinking which, as somebody who is raised in a bar that has more to offer than just drinking – something I’ve always been attached to is video games, and just nerd culture in general.”
Mitchell says bars like The Cade are introducing old video game favorites to a whole new fan base.
“Until these ‘bar-cades’ began popping up there was almost no way to introduce the younger generation to what it was you did, and I saw very few young people playing video games, other than playing a platform at home,” he says. “Now there is a way to introduce a younger generation to what it was you enjoyed, and I see it embraced more today than ever.”
In their free time, Black and Long chase the high score of their favorite game, Centipede, which they hadn’t even played until they began to build their classic collection.
“We would go from arcade bar to arcade bar in the Midwest and play these games and figure out which ones we liked the most, Black says. “Two very competitive people, never stood a chance of breaking any of those high scores at any of those arcade bars we went to because the people who have been playing them a long time, like Billy Mitchell, obviously he is the best of the best, but even my dad could come in here and stomp me in Asteroids or Galaga.”