A recent trip to New Hampshire took us to Weirs Beach, a summer resort on Lake Winnepesaukee that is also home to Funspot, named “The World’s Largest Arcade” by Guinness World Records. The indoor fun mecca was founded more than 60 years ago by Bob Lawton, who at 84 years young still runs the place, which is open year-round.
While kids rode coin-op carousel horses and pint-sized bumper cars and families bowled and played the Famous Landmarks of New Hampshire-themed mini-golf in the 75,000 square-foot fun center, we trooped upstairs to meet Hercules, the World’s Largest Pinball Machine. Manufactured by Atari in 1970, the giant size machine uses a cue ball as a pinball and dwarfs its neighbor, a 1938 Genco Stop & Go.
Hercules is stationed at the entrance to the American Classic Arcade Museum (ACAM), which museum curator Gary Vincent describes as “like stepping into the Wayback Machine.” ACAM has over 200 classic video games as well as a selection of pinball machines, any of which can be played for a few tokens. Four tokens cost $1.00; we splurged on 100 for $20.
“We use 1987 as a cutoff date for video games in the museum,” says Vincent. He notes that when Double Dragon came out, there was a shift in the industry from quirky puzzle-and-fantasy-based games to what he calls “the kick punch shoot games.”
Among the rare video games you can play are Computer Space (1971), the world’s first commercially available coin-operated video game. Developed by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, who would go on to found Atari, th mod looking machine has a fiberglass cabinet with sparkle gel coat. “It actually has a television set in it that has been modified to run with video game hardware, which is typical of video games until about 1974,” Vincent explains.
“Having worked at Funspot since 1981, and having watched the industry go way, way, way up and way, way, way down, I saw an opportunity to save a lot of the older games here by starting a museum,” Vincent says of the nonprofit which was founded in 2002. The fact that 60 video game enthusiasts showed up for the first classic arcade tournament in 1999 convinced him of the need to collect and preserve games and put them out where the public could learn about them and enjoy them again. “It’s really funny to see dad who is about 40 with his 15-year-old kid, saying look, come here, I played this when I was a kid.”
Although Funspot donates the space to the nonprofit museum, the games in the museum don’t make enough money to support themselves. “It’s sad but true, the only money to be made in classic games is selling them on eBay,” notes Vincent. “You don’t make money putting them out where people can play them, seven days a week, 12 hours a day. It’s kind of a labor of lovejust wanting to preserve games so people can come along 10, 15, 20 years from now and be able to play things that they just can’t play anywhere else.”
Among the electro-mechanical pinball games that we got to play were Gottlieb’s 1972 Grand Slam, a baseball game of which only 3,600 were manufactured, Sky Jump (1974) and Devil’s Dare (1982), and Bally’s Mr. and Mrs. Pac Man Pinball (1982). Rare video games include Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator (Sega, 1983), Cloak & Dagger (Atari, 1983), and Death Race (Exidy, 1976). The museum’s 501-c3 status lets it to run weekly bingo games as fundraisers, allowing it to buy more classics, fix them up and put them on the floor. Luminaries from the video game community such as Curt Vendell of the Atari Museum, and Robert Mruczek, the former chief referee of Twin Galaxies, have donated a number of games from their personal collections.
As we were about to leave, it was a great pleasure to meet Funspot’s founder Mr. Lawton. We talked arcades and exchanged business cards. His card entitles the visitor to $20 worth of free tokens and is tucked away in the glove compartment in anticipation of our next trip to New Hampshire.
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