Like many children who came of age in the 1980s, Chris Wright grew up drawn to the glow of his favorite arcade games whenever he made a trip to the mall to spend the afternoon with friends and a pocketful of change.
With each drop of a quarter, machines offering rounds of Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and Discs of Tron brought a rush of adrenaline to the then-teenaged Wright, who tried to beat old scores with a masterful hand punching buttons and joysticks as electronic noises blared from other games that engrossed friends around him.
Wright, a 38-year-old Sandy native, wanted to bring back the glory days of classic arcades to Salt Lake County's mid-valley.
So in March, he opened Atomic Arcade at 3939 S. Highland Drive in Holladay, where enthusiasts of "old school" video games can reconnect with the pinballs and Centipedes of their youth.
The business is growing a steady fan base. Some 30- to 40-year-olds want to introduce their own children to the games they used to play. Some want an escape to a simpler time, where earning a high score on an arcade game was the day's biggest worry. The arcade is also attracting a new generation of younger players.
In the dimly lit arcade adjacent to the So Cupcake bakery, and across the street from A Bar Named Sue, the business reaches a unique niche audience in a part of town that is seeing new shops open, Wright said.
"People are so emotionally attached to these games. It's part of their heart, and it makes them happy to see them in an original arcade," Wright said. "I was scared there wasn't going to be enough customers to make the business go. I get proved wrong every day."
Wright's selection of games came, in part, from a personal collection amassed from yard sales and found in classified ads online. He purchased some broken-down games and nursed them back to working condition. Using knowledge he gained while working at other arcades over the past 10 years, such as local gaming spot Nickelmania, Wright launched his own arcade, which houses 60 machines. He expects 90 more to be up and running soon and the majority cost just a quarter to play.
Wright said the business blossomed when his hobby of collecting games outgrew his basement.
The arcade already has won the appreciation of customers like Larry Schmidt, of South Jordan, a regional vice president of a financial services company who occasionally slips into Atomic Arcade for a few rounds of pinball in between business obligations.
"I'm an '80s game kind of guy," said Schmidt during a recent visit to the arcade. "It's fun playing the games that started video games."
He jokes that his kids may be able to outscore him on their Xbox or Wii games, but when he brings the family to Atomic Arcade, it's a different story.
Classic arcades have made a bit of resurgence in the wake of recent documentaries such as "King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters," a 2007 film that examined one man's quest to become the world record holder of the highest-ever earned Donkey Kong score.
Another documentary, "Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade," also released in 2007, explores the philosophies of participants in the 1982 Video Game World Championships.
Arcades disappeared in the mid-1990s when home consoles replaced heading out to play video games. Today, there are a handful of classic arcades in every state that are "true" arcades, which host at least a dozen games, said Mark Alpiger, a gaming enthusiast and operator of the website www.classicarcadegaming.com">http://www.classicarcadegaming.com.
Alpiger, whose name appeared in The Guinness Book of World Records in 1987 for his high score in the classic game Crystal Castles, organizes competitive classic game tournaments and appeared in the documentary "King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters."
The 49-year-old from Louisville, Ky., said arcades may grow popular again if a new generation falls in love with what their parents enjoyed in their youth.
"Kids can appreciate a solidly well-designed game that keeps you coming back because you keep finding new little facets, you keep building up your skill," said Alpiger of classic games.
"There is a little bit of a social aspect," he said of going to an arcade. "You've got an environment that is more fun than at home."
Fun is the main theme behind Wright's new business, but he is toying with the idea of organizing a tournament for patrons who are competitive about their classic games. He said he enjoys the diverse customer base who are visiting his arcade.
"I thought I was the only one up in the night doing this stuff," Wright said of playing classic games. "There is something for everybody here."
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Remember the fun
O Find a list of games at Atomic Arcade. âº bit.ly/IOF1Zh