The joy that sticks? Oliver R. Moore Howells takes a trip down memory lane at Cardiff’s new hotspot for fans of all things gaming.
It’s the weekend, and with Friday having been overcome like an-end-of-level boss, I’m looking forward to my visit to Cardiff’s Arcade Vaults. After all, I was a bit of a gaming geek when younger, even though today’s aficionados would likely consider me a ‘noob’ (newcomer), failing to realise that I was actually there from the beginning – well, almost.
Born in 1980, memories of the pixelated past still evoke in me a sense of reverence, of wonder entangled with a wisp of melancholy. Life was simpler then – the graphics especially so. Sitting under the stairs in my best friend’s house, we would spend hours playing on his Amiga 64. Speedball, Chuck Rock, Lemmings. Naturally then, this visit is exciting.
Entering The Arcade Vaults, memories of my gaming days suddenly come rushing towards me like a fiery Hadouken, but before meeting with its founder Chris Munasinha, it’s essential I spend some time reliving my misspent youth. Seeing old-school, box-sized television screens connected to ancient consoles and computers such as Acorn’s BBC Microcomputer, the Commodore Amiga 1200 and even a 1979 Prinztronic Tournament 2 Deluxe, it’s like taking a geek-drenched stroll down memory lane. If pure vintage isn’t your thing, you can go further up the ladder; an Atari Jaguar, a SNES, a Sega Megadrive, an Xbox One, until bang! You’re up to date with the PS4 VR.
“It has a broad appeal. Parents bring their kids in too,” says Chris. Does the idea have legs or is it just a digital wet dream for middle-aged men who remember the 80s? Taking a look round, it appears not. “You get to see a bit of history,” says Sam, a 17-year-old, playing the almost primordial game of Pong with his mates. “I started with a Nintendo Wii. It’s interesting to see where some of my favourite games began.”
Given the groups of young people here, this makes a nice change from the stereotype of today’s youngsters bunkered down in front of screens in their bedrooms. “It offers us an alternative rather than always going bowling or to the cinema,” says another, the ratio of males to females appearing pretty much equal. “It brings people together. Dads and their kids bond over trying to beat one another’s scores,” adds Chris, grasping the wider social significance. With the potentially isolating effects of the internet, it’s interesting to see how The Arcade Vaults is actually bringing people together instead.
So are The Arcade Vaults a passion project or just a shrewd business venture? Chris doesn’t hesitate. “Both. It’s a form of escapism. It’s universal and easy to pick up,” he says, claiming to have been a gamer since the age of eight where he enjoyed playing racing games on his Toshiba MX80. R-Type, the space craft shoot-em-up, he says, is a particular favourite too. “I went into web design and studied Computer Science at university. [But I prefer] to watch people enjoy this stuff.”
Asked how he came up with the idea, he says he cottoned on to the street food pop-up phenomenon and decided to try it out with retro consoles instead. At first he rented a space in one of Cardiff’s shopping arcades and ran various events throughout the country. Later on, however, an opportunity arose for him to have a permanent place here on the corner of High Street Arcade and Duke Street Arcade just opposite Cardiff Castle.
With plenty on offer, such as game developers getting to showcase their creations to PVP showdowns and gaming tournaments, Chris says, “It’s more than an arcade. It’s a community!” Furthermore, he believes gaming nostalgia is a “trend with no sign of slowing down”. As to the future, Chris says he’s hoping to add more nightly events, expand and strengthen the gaming community through closer-working relationships and do more pop-ups, gaming conferences and even wedding further afield.
High Street Arcade, Cardiff. Info: 029 2034 5136 / www.thearcadevaults.org.uk