AILSA CHANG, HOST:
People used to have to go to arcades to play video games, and then video games went to the family TV. But retro is cool, and people are seeing that it's fun to leave the house after all. The number of arcades in the U.S. has been growing over the past five years, and that's creating demand for new games that have that old-school feel. Patrick Smith of member station WBEZ reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCADE AMBIENCE)
PATRICK SMITH, BYLINE: I'm at one of the largest video game arcades in the world in suburban Chicago. Galloping Ghost opened here in Brookfield seven years ago. It's an unassuming, single-story brick building that seems to go on forever as you walk through it, each corner bursting with beeping, blinking and flashing arcade cabinets. Owner Doc Mack says they have more than 600 games.
DOC MACK: The outset wasn't to become, like, the largest arcade in the world by any means. I have a huge collecting problem that I've had since childhood, so it was something I should have seen coming, but who knew?
SMITH: Max says on the weekends, they get hundreds of customers arriving from all over the country.
MACK: The reason why people come to an arcade - there's a different social element to it than just playing it at home. On one sunny Saturday, the place starts filling up as soon as the doors open at 11. Erica Deitzel traveled from Milwaukee with her young sons for a birthday party.
ERICA DEITZEL: I remember playing "Pac Man," "Space Invaders" when they very first came out. I was young, and me and my sister would play for hours. We'd bring rolls of quarters.
SMITH: And Rebecca Lastovich is here to help her boyfriend celebrate his 18th birthday.
REBECCA LASTOVICH: I know I didn't grow up with arcades, but it's very nostalgic, and I mean I enjoy talking with my dad about it. It's just something that we kind of bonded over.
BOB COONEY: You definitely see Gen-Xers go for the nostalgia portion, but that's not the driver of the business. The driver of the business is the market that's going back to vinyl and looking for more analog experiences.
SMITH: That's Bob Cooney, a consultant for what's called the location-based entertainment industry. Like Mac, he says the resurgence of arcades is driven mostly by young people who grew up playing video games but are now trying to get out of the solitary activity and connect with others.
COONEY: And so you're starting to see a resurgence of pinball in pinball arcades, classic arcade games.
SMITH: That resurgence is creating a demand that can't be met by old or refurbished games like "Pac Man," "Street fighter" and "Sea Wolf" alone. Mac says people want new games that both give a retro feel and support the social atmosphere of arcades. That's why he's been working for years on his own fighting game called "Dark Presence."
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MACK: Hey, everybody. This is Doc Mack from the Galloping Ghost Arcade.
SMITH: Mac unveiled a demo earlier this year at the Midwest Gaming Classic in suburban Milwaukee. "Dark Presence" is a 2-D, two-person fighter game like "Mortal Kombat" with new-age flourishes. Twenty-nine-year-old Peyton Robbins was one of the first in line to play.
PEYTON ROBBINS: It's really impressive considering that there's pretty much nothing like this ever being produced anymore. It's like a relic from the past, but it still looks pretty incredible.
SMITH: Robbins was one of thousands of people who flocked to the Midwest Gaming Classic this year looking to check out games, compete in tournaments and just connect with their fellow arcade enthusiasts. Like other young people across the country, they're looking to arcades as a way to combine their love of gaming with socialization. For NPR News, I'm Patrick Smith in Chicago.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.