The Pac-Man, the Plumber, and the Cabinet: A New Hope


Continued from Chapter 3: Apotheosis

God bless the hipsters and everything they stand for!

The hipsters brought back vinyl for the masses. Back when it was super cool to steal full albums from Napster, Limewire, and the like, hipsters decided the only way to fly was by old school records. Hipsters said, “Hey, make your way to your nearest record store and let’s all pretend we’re the guys in High Fidelity or Empire Records, and somehow we’ll single-handedly save the music industry.”

What’s with today, today?

I was fully prepared to accept the second death of arcade gaming. I was ready to count myself lucky to have experienced the unexpected renaissance of arcades as a teen in the 90’s, to consider it a blessing to have been around for any amount of time where playing Ms. Pac-Man via joystick was the norm.


I saw my most beloved of arcades go the way of the dodo bird. That type of social gaming was extinct. The only way to bond with your fellow gamers was to own the latest console, a headset, and the ovaries to withstand the most disgusting of sexual harassment (if you happened to be a girl gamer, which, of course, I was).

I wasn’t good enough at FPS games to actually hold my own, even though I had a substantial oeuvre when it came to my personal gaming experience. I was the idiot who went into Halo multiplayer in pink armor, unafraid to flaunt my girliness. That was a legitimate recipe for disaster, since I didn’t have the skills to pay the bills, and I mistakenly assumed people, in general, weren’t jerks.

When it came to arcade gaming, we were all people in an actual room. No one had the luxury of hiding behind an anonymous gamertag; if you were going to talk smack, you had to do it face-to-face. Not that it didn’t happen—believe me, it most certainly did—but it was much more genial; it’s harder to be a complete a**hole to someone who’s standing right in front of you.

Back then, you would brag your face off in front of a group of real people, or front your face off if you were trying to make yourself out to be more alpha than you were, but at the end of the day, you yearned to be legitimately liked rather than merely respected for being the best troll.

Would I ever find that kind of gaming community again?


Yes, it turns out, in perhaps the most unlikely of places.

I moved to New York City right after I graduated from college, seeking fame and fortune in the world of theatre. Ha! Turns out, theatre is not the best of places to search for either of those things.

What I did find, to my astonishment, was a world of old-school gaming the likes of which I hadn’t seen since I was a 19-year-old undergraduate sneaking off to spend my quarters in the one arcade near campus.

Some intrepid Brooklynite had decided it would be awesome to turn a bar into an arcade. They called it “Barcade,” cleverly enough. Not only did they have a fine selection of draft beer on tap (including pear cider, which if you spend any amount of time with me, you’ll realize makes me gigglier than a baby who just discovered peek-a-boo), but they also housed numerous classic arcade cabinets.


We’re talking Tapper, both Pac-Mans (Pac-Men? Pac-Persons?), Rampage, Ghosts and Goblins, Donkey Kong Sr. and Jr., Asteroids, Centipede, Pong, and everything in between.

I was in heaven!

Not only could I pretend to be an adult, but I could indulge my inner child with complete abandon. It was cool to give in to my gamer urges; to take on my fellow bar patrons in stupid challenges that meant nothing beyond the moment. Or, for that matter, to earnestly go after the high score on a particular cabinet.

Turns out, plenty of legitimate gaming legends regularly hang out around Barcade, since it’s one of the only places that takes arcade gaming remotely seriously in NYC.

And that’s why I will never nay-say hipsters, be they of the east or west coast variety. Their love of all things retro brought back at least one arcade from the dead, and I will forever be in their debt. I’m also pretty sure I am one, but they say the one thing that a hipster has in common with every other is their undying belief that they’re not hipsters themselves.

I guess my retro favoritism just makes me old, in that case.

Shameless plug alert:

I’ve got a new video game column over at another great geek site. The column’s called “Video Dame” and it’s part of my attempt to tackle the second of my Nerd Year Resolutions. Check out my first piece here. I’ll be putting something up over there every other Friday, so feel free to visit regularly.

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  1. I’ve collected records for more than 10 years and it was never to be ”cool”. I’ll go ahead and fall into your trap though and say that vinyl sounds better and is a lot more aesthetically pleasing than CDs or computer files.

    My point is that the label ”hipster” and the way you use it as a description of a broad cultural base makes you sound like an asshole..

    1. So wait, are you telling us you were collecting records before it was cool?

      Oh, the IRONY.

      For realsies though, I didn’t mean to sound like an asshole. I’m aware not all vinyl collectors are hipsters, and not all hipsters collect vinyl.

  2. I get what Kevin is trying to get across. I somehow feel the same.
    The word “hipster” has a negative tone to it and people often assume you’re talking about a besserwisser who tries too hard to be different when you use that word.
    A hipster represent more than a person with a niche hobby and interest to most of us – they represent a kind of stuck up person that many despise and don’t want to be associated with. You don’t need to be a hipster because you like music or collect stuff that isn’t “mainstream”.
    It’s super silly, but it kind of bugs me when people assume I’m a hipster because I like to do stuff that (in their eyes) only hipsters do.

    But then, maybe they’re right? Maybe I’m such a hipster that I don’t want to be labeled a hipster because it’s kind of mainstream now?


    I’m sorry but I just blew my own mind a bit. I never thought of it that way. Hope I’m wrong, though.
    Anyway, this is waaay besides the point and just me rambling nonsense…

    I know this isn’t relevant to your column at all and I apologize for that, but I felt like I needed to chime in for some reason. I do agree that what he said was kind of ironic, though, but I’m also pretty sure he didn’t mean it that way.

    So… Anyway, if you’ve gotten this far in my infinite comment, I just want to say that I really did appreciate your column and I do have some relevant stuff to say, but I feel like I’ve said enough already.

    1. No need to apologize, you make some great points in your comment. I’m not sure a hipster is even something that exists in the wild, since its very definition is constantly mutating. A true hipster is always somehow just outside a real-world example. I also don’t use “hipster” as a slur, so I don’t see it as an insult either. Obviously some do.

      But trying to prove you’re not a hipster by saying you were doing a thing before it was cool? Hilarious! Maybe hipsterdom is the Bermuda Triangle of culture.

  3. You know…as a 33 year old, I am constantly amazed as more and more things are prescribed to hipsters.

    There has been low-fi and hi-fi communities since the freaking 50’s. To even imply that vinyl wasn’t collected before the media created the hipster classification or that its now “Mainstream” to collect records now is laughable.

    Next the hipsters will get credit for bring back and then defeating again, communism in Europe.

  4. Oh man, I have never regretted a choice of framing device more.

    The first paragraph is (I thought) obviously hyperbolic, but I actually said “The hipsters brought back vinyl for the masses.” “Back,” as in it was certainly collected before, and “masses,” as in there was a period a few years ago when it became popular for people who hadn’t collected vinyl previously to start buying records. When I saw the latest Gorillaz album in vinyl being sold on the front table of Urban Outfitters, I (perhaps incorrectly) ascribed the sudden uptick in vinyl popularity to the modern hipster’s love of retro authenticity.

    And whoa, there were people collecting records in the fifties? Get the hell outta town.

  5. This somehow blew out of proportion, I feel. Your post wasn’t even about hipsters so I feel a bit bad for fueling this debate or whatever.
    It seems the hipster subject is a bit too controversial for us Unreality readers. I think you’ve made your point already, and we should probably leave it at that. You’re absolutely right about hipsterdom (hipsterness?) always being just outside a real-world example, though. That’s probably why everyone gets so stirred up about it. No one can put a finger on it and that makes us confused and insecure. Maybe?

    And by the way, I know you don’t use the word “hipster” as a slur, and I don’t really see anything wrong with how you use it either, I just figured I would tell my view of all this. No hard feelings

  6. I don’t think its necessarily hipster (I apologize as I wrote up my comment before realizing a prior commenter said the same thing) so much as the notion that things first occur in New York or somehow its the center of the social universe.

    Add bowling lanes to that Barcade…and you have the typical bowling alley in the Mid-West. There are still arcades, granted not nearly as many of them, but to imply that “WOW these crazy young authentic Brooklyn kids have done something crazy and unique” is kind of silly to me.

    Granted…you folks will pay obscene amounts of money to pretend like your poor white trash for some reason but its basically the same as countless bars with arcade machines in the States.

    1. Dude. My family was poor white trash before it was cool.

      Anyway, I totally get what you’re saying. I actually grew up elsewhere and travel all over for work, so I’ve been to plenty of bars with arcade cabinets, but Barcade probably has 30. It’s more like an arcade with a bar in it. I actually haven’t seen anything like that before, since arcades are generally a playground for teens. But I don’t know if the owner is actually a hipster or not. It’s just that it’s in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the New York hipster mecca.

      And man you just made me miss real bowling alleys. New York fails so hard at bowling. I tried to go bowling with a group of friends shortly after moving here and they wouldn’t let us in because we didn’t meet the dress code. It was (still is) supposed to be a bowling alley/nightclub hybrid. Ugh. Meanwhile, bowling ten frames at a NYC bowling alley that doesn’t truck in absurdity will probably set you back at least $100. Though there are a couple with more of a mid-west feel in Williamsburg. There’s another point for the hipsters in my book. They didn’t invent old-school bowling alleys, but they’re damn sure keeping them around, which is really all I was trying to say about Barcade. And vinyl, for that matter.

      Thanks for reading to all of you.

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