The presentation and availability of video games in the contemporary world is a far cry away from the industry’s beginnings. With the modern amenities of online connectivity, nearly realistic graphics, and live developer support, few would argue that the video game industry has shown any signs of waning. However, with the increased accessibility of video games, to the point that a console or game-compatible computer sits in almost every American household, one particular facet of American culture has unfortunately seen its life stock deplete: the arcade.
As the gaming industry has moved more towards individualized home experiences by way of mass consumer consoles and the proliferation of personal computers, large arcade cabinets and their dedicated sanctuaries known as arcades have become relics of the past. Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, amusement arcades dotted across the American landscape, beckoning oases of flashing lights and cacophonous digitized beeps called children from all over the come and put their quarters to good use for hours of entertainment (or possibly just minutes, as many arcade cabinets at the time very intentionally exploited their coin-operated nature through unforgiving difficulties). The American arcade was as much the ground zero for the early days of video games as it was a foundational social component in the lives of many of the decades’ children. In these dark days before widespread home consoles, the local arcade represented the only connection between a whole generation of budding gamers and what would become one of the most ubiquitous hobbies of the modern day. However, technology perpetually advances onward, and the local arcade seems to have become little more than distant memories of a time long gone.
But, the narrative need not stop on such a sour note. For every hobby there exists its stoic bastions, and arcade gaming is no exception. Holdouts against the decline of the arcade experience, these dedicated remainders and revivals of the American arcade do everything in their power to keep this piece of culture alive and well. Luckily for the local readers of this student newspaper, such a bastion exists within reasonable distance of this campus.
Located just off the Congress Park Metra stop (along the BNSF Railway line) lies an establishment known as the Galloping Ghost Arcade, innocuously nestled between a few quiet local businesses. While on the outside, the building resembles the typical American suburban strip mall, the walls of the Galloping Ghost contain within them a far more authentic story.
The Galloping Ghost’s mission is plainly stated on their website: “Provide arcade gaming at a level not seen before.” On August of 2010, the Galloping Ghost opened with 130 restored arcade machines, and the establishment has only ever grown since then. As of the time of this writing, the arcade’s walls contain over 625 distinct arcade machines, with just about every classic cabinet the mind can think of. From classics such as the original “Donkey Kong” and “Space Invaders” to incredibly rare titles that are literally only available in this building, such as “Mappy” sequel “Hopping Mappy,” the Galloping Ghost Arcade proudly bills itself as the largest arcade in the US, a distinction it has definitely earned through the sheer volume of machines it operates.
After you approach the unassuming brick strip mall its contained in, you walk into the Galloping Ghost Arcade and are immediately hit with the sound of hundreds of machines all beckoning for your attention at the same time. Those who grew up with American arcade culture are taken back to the days of their youth and younger visitors such as me cannot help but be jealous of the experiences our generation missed out on as we are pampered by online connectivity and personal machines. The walls of the arcade are lined with pieces of artwork and autographs of its various visitors (including the motion capture cast of the original “Mortal Kombat” games). The front counter has a selection of carbonated beverages, candy bars, and chips for quick sustenance. Galloping Ghost merchandise and figures are also available for sale. However, the true magic obviously lies in what is beyond the arcade’s entrance.
To simply describe the Galloping Ghost as an arcade would be to do it a tremendous disservice. No, the Galloping Ghost Arcade is a live museum dedicated to keeping this large component of American culture alive. Galloping Ghost owner Doc Mack has dedicated his life to restoring and sharing the arcade experience, and this establishment is his piece de resistance for that endeavor. While he is at the arcade almost every day of the week, he also dedicates a large amount of his time to helping other arcades across America, tracking down rare arcade machines, restoring worn machines to working condition, and cultivating a community of gamers that is proud of the industry’s history. Every Monday, Mack unveils a new machine to be added to the arcade’s grounds, and he is showing no signs of ever stopping.
Nostalgia aside, what is the best part of the Galloping Ghost Arcade? It’s cheap. While memories of arcade culture also likely contain stories of entire allowances and lunch savings being devoured, quarter by quarter, by a single machine, the Galloping Ghost Arcade has every machine set to free play mode. This means that anyone can use any machine in the building for as long as is desired, without having to worry about inserting a never quarter with every blunder. Instead, the Galloping Ghost Arcade charges a single $20 entrance fee. After that, you have full access to over 600 pieces of genuine video gaming authenticity. This generous pricing model very much encourages visitors to try out any and every machine that catches their eyes. During my first visit to the arcade in the summer of 2017, I found myself drawn to a machine with “Michael Jackson Moonwalker” awaiting my inputs. Before I knew it, two other friends and I had moonwalked our way across every level in the game, completely enamored with an experience we otherwise would never have known. As the game’s credits rolled before us, we did not miss a beat as we asked each other “what’s next?” and proceeded to repeat the process with the next machine.
Such is the magic of the American arcade. The modern advent of the Internet and the age of instant information has left gamers with very clear knowledge of what they’re getting into with every game they buy. Perhaps nothing in the future will ever compare to walking into the local arcade and being taken aback by a machine and game you knew nothing about, but this does not mean that the experience has completely left us. The dark rooms, deafening beeps, and cramped corridors of the American arcade have not yet said “game over,” as the Galloping Ghost Arcade very clearly demonstrates. Located at 9415 Ogden Avenue in Brookfield, the Galloping Ghost Arcade is open every day until 2 a.m., and it will continue to persist as a vestige of an experience not yet gone from American culture. As a gamer that did not get to experience the feeling of an authentic arcade growing up, I implore anyone reading this article to give this establishment a visit.