The Pennsylvania Coin Operated Gaming Hall of Fame and Museum was recently featured in a major story in the Beaver County Times. What an incredible article it was. Very big thanks to writer Scott Tady and all at the Beaver County Times for this great article! You an read it online at these links, or read the text below:
HOPEWELL TWP. — It’s joystick nirvana as far as the eye can see.
Hundreds of vintage arcade video games, stacked side-by-side like casino slot machines, beckoning to be played again.
Add some old pinball machines dating to the 1950s, and shoot-’em-up rifle arcade games waiting to be aimed and fired, and you’ve got a fantasy land for grown-up schoolboys and schoolgirls in the Hopewell Shopping Center.
On May 30, the general public gets its first look and feel of the hands-on Pennsylvania Coin Operated Gaming Hall of Fame and Museum.
“You’re reliving your youth,” the museum’s curator Ed Beeler, said, surrounded by his 413 old-school arcade games rescued from warehouses, including such pioneering time-occupiers as Space Invaders, Centipede, Asteroids, Frogger, Donkey Kong and Pac-Man.
“Ed is a history preservationist of art … art you can play,” said the museum’s vice president and fellow gaming buff Chris Akin.
For $19.99, museum visitors get two hours of play time — no coins or tokens necessary. A family of four pays $39.99. In both cases, another $20 provides upgrades to an all-day pass.
Visitors can spend a few minutes at the flippers of a late-1970s Ted Nugent pinball machine, then zap some aliens from the Galaga spaceship.
Friends can challenge each other to a game of circa-1979 Atari arcade football, with its eye-straining green graphics of X’s and O’s representing the opposing teams, maneuvered by rolling a big metallic ball built into the console.
“There was nothing like that finger pinch,” Beeler said, recalling the pain any player will remember from Atari arcade football — the leather helmet, single-wing era equivalent to today’s vastly more sophisticated Madden NFL video games.
Most games in the Coin Operated Gaming Hall of Fame are dinosaurs by today’s PlayStation or Xbox standards, which is part of the point, Akin said.
“We want to show kids ‘This is where your Xbox came from,’ so they understand that history,” Akin said.
A home-school group already has booked a field trip to the museum, while a 16-year-old’s birthday party also is scheduled there, “though I think it’s more for the parents,” Beeler said.
The museum has an educational component, including a display case with an 1982-83 Atari 5200 home gaming console, and a late-’70s hand-held video football game that likely spent a few months stashed in some teacher’s desk-drawer, confiscated until the end of the school year from a student playing it during class time.
The display case also includes early ’80s newspaper clippings warning of video games’ potential to corrupt society’s youths.
“Yeah, we all turned out bad,” joked Beeler, a father of three.
In the late 1990s, Beeler played bass guitar for the power-rock trio Ashes to Ashes, one of those should-have-made-it-bigger rock bands Pittsburgh long has produced.
The Findlay Township resident was always good at tinkering with machinery.
“It’s a weird skill, where I can identify parts and figure out how to repair them,” he said.
Further indulging his pop-culture interests, he began a home collection of restored pinball and video arcade games.
The collection turned into an enviable “man cave,” the size of a warehouse outside his family’s former Moon Township home.
He discovered western Pennsylvania is a treasure trove for vintage arcade games, many of them once stationed in blue-collar bars — in some cases as a decoy from backroom video poker games illegally paying out gambling money.
There’s no “Game Over” for the unstoppable march of technology, as rudimentary games like Space Invaders soon became obsolete, while home video consoles and games with far more elaborate graphics grew widely popular. You can’t leave a game the size of a refrigerator out at the curb for trash pickup, so many outdated games ended up mothballed in warehouses, waiting to be salvaged by someone like Beeler scouring the Internet for coveted finds.
“Most people restore one or two and put them in their basement, but he did 400,” said Akin, a Cleveland deejay, who talked his friend into turning his collection into a museum.
Those games deserve to fulfill their original intent and bring joy to gamers, said Akin, of Twinsburg, Ohio.
“What’s the point of having these games, if no one can see them or play them?” Beeler agrees.
Hopewell Shopping Center offered a price that was right, in a former Dollar General storefront; easy to reach, with plenty of parking, leading the way for the Coin Operated Gaming Hall of Fame and Museum to open.
Enter the door, look toward the right and you’ll see the museum’s oldest game, a 1950s El Paso pinball machine, next to a few other pinball games popped open to show the surprising amount of electrical circuitry.
For some people, the appeal will be more about the artwork Beeler said while walking down a long aisle that included Kiss and Dolly Parton pinball machines.
Beeler and Akin plan to attach bar code-type sensors to the machines, which with a swipe of a phone app, will provide visitors with a brief history of that particular game.
“Though I’ll be happy to give everyone the tour now,” Beeler said, noting he will rotate in and out different machines to keep the visitor experience fresh.
An invitation-only “soft” opening for crowd-funding investors and other ground-level supporters is this upcoming weekend, with a May 23 VIP catered event at $50 a ticket to include an acoustic performance by one of Akin’s music industry buddies — Ron Keel from ’80s metal band Keel.
Phone calls have begun pouring in relating to the May 30 general opening, for which updates and more information can be found at coinophof.com
Planning along as they go, Beeler and Akin have considered launching a half-hour lunchtime special “so rather than sitting in your car outside Wendy’s, you could be here playing games,” Beeler said.
The museum’s operators count on repeat customers.
“You’ve been in here now and played some games,” Beeler asked a recent visitor. “And now don’t you want to come back?”
Said Akin, “Obviously it’s a lot of fun to play, and unlike other places you’re learning the history of science and pop culture in the gaming world.”