by Vanessa Zhang
Catchy 80s music pumps loudly in the tightly packed rooms.Multiball! Multiball! Multiball!
The crowd steadily flows in from Oxford Street and grows noisier by the minute.
Round 1 – Fight!
Hands attack joysticks and buttons in frenzied movements from left to right, up and down.
Waka, waka, waka, waka…
Colourful lights and flashes reflect on people’s faces. Mario start!
Arcade booths and pinball machines light up and fill the air with electronic sounds and musical notes of winners and losers. Welcome to another Insert Coins event at Oxford Art Factory.
It’s a busy Thursday evening and the crowd of over 500 people are here for the anticipated launch of the new Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier game from Ubisoft. For many others, it’s a chance to take a trip down memory lane and relive the glory days of pinball contests and arcade machines.
Oxford Art Factory has been hosting Insert Coins events every few months to combine a night out of retro gaming with the launch of new games to the public.
“I saw a need to expand on leisure and not just on live music and art so I created Insert Coins,” says Mark Gerber, the boss at Oxford Art Factory.
It offers people the chance to enjoy old arcade games and try new ones for free along with DJs mixing 80s tracks and artists taking part in live gaming illustrations and paintings on stage. Big gaming companies including Ubisoft, Sony, Xbox and PlayStation have all previously signed up for game launches with Oxford Art Factory to take advantage of the event.
“It was an overnight success and is going from strength to strength,” Mark says.
“It’s been so big we couldn’t fit anymore people in and almost had to turn them away.”
Ubisoft saw Insert Coins as an opportunity to mix retro gaming with the launch of their latest Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon and reach past the fans of first-person shooter games (a game genre that centres the game play on gun and projectile weapon-based combat through a first-person perspective).
“It gives us access to people who aren’t traditionally hardcore video game players who come here for a drink and reminisce on retro games,” says Ben Taylor, Senior Brand Manager from Ubisoft. “It’s really about reaching that second level of people we normally wouldn’t talk to and creating that buzz and word of mouth.”
Men and women of all ages mingle around the gaming tables, craning their necks over the shoulders of others playing on the arcade and pinball machines as they patiently wait their turn. Others walk around the event with colourful themed milkshakes and hot dogs in their hands – there’s a certain old-school vibe to the evening.
“I’m here for the retro video games because I grew up with them,” says participant Phillip Saymontry, 26.
“I love keeping all the old games new because I’m studying game design so it’s really cool to see people still playing old games,” says student Jarrah Cohen, 18.
Many have turned out up of curiosity to see what arcade games are on offer, while others are hardcore gamers here to try out the new Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.
Some have turned up in their working day wear, while others have dressed head-to-toe in full military commando gear including war paint and camouflage for a chance to win the best dressed prize. They stalk through the crowd in small groups and blend into the dimly lit auditorium, clearly getting into the spirit of the launch of Ghost Recon.
“Gamers like me are really here for the launch of the new game while other people are here for the overall experience with the retro games, which are both good,” says gamer Justin Potter, 21.
The main auditorium at Oxford Art Factory is dedicated to dozens of arcade and pinball machines and gaming tables with the DJ pumping out beats while Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon is set up on dozens of flat screen televisions side-by-side in the next room.
“Having two gaming areas in two separate rooms is a perfect marriage of having both available on gaming nights,” Mark Gerber says.
Gamers in the Ghost Recon room are more raucous as they compete with each other in linked games between the consoles. The constant sound of gunfire blasts and explosions erupt from the screens as both men and women enjoy test running the new game.
It has brought all types of gamers together. Strangers meet and laugh as they watch their mates play, coming together over a common interest in gaming without the barriers of age or gender.
“I’ve never really played Ghost Recon but just hearing about the event brought me here and I’ve had a look and now I’m interested,” says self-confessed costume buff Michael Vartuli, 23, who is dressed up in military camouflage.
The auditorium with retro games is a big hit with lines at least five-people deep for some games but the gamers are polite and move on after having a go on the machines and consoles; there is an unspoken understanding and courtesy with others who are waiting for a turn.
“We’re here to reminisce and relive our gaming youth. It’s hard to find these machines now so it’s a good mix with newer games like Ghost Recon,” says Glen Townsend, 38, who is surrounded by the lights and sounds of arcade gaming tables around him.
Men cram around a single booth watching two of their friends battle it out on Street Fighter, their voices getting louder, yelling, cheering and jeering as they watch. It’s a spirited event that brings out the friendly competition between gamers.
The crowd is diverse mix of men and women both playing or simply watching. This has been the success behind Insert Coins events as it appeals to many generations and all types of gamers, no matter their level of experience or age. It offers games from simply moving a joystick left to right or button-bashing to the more advanced modern games on gaming consoles.
“It’s a good way to get people to come out and have more to do than just dance and drink, they can play games and dress up and it’s a whole new experience,” says Rachel Kelaher, 21. Like her friend Michael Vartuli, she is dressed in military costume.
During tonight’s event, artists Alex Lehours and Sindy Sinn have been busy drawing and painting live gaming art as friendly competition between the two gamers on stage. Alex and Sindy were given the challenge to cover their entire canvas with illustrations or paintings of gaming characters from the past for the retro theme of the night.
Clutching a pot of black paint, Alex moves confidently around the canvas as he paints Super Mario’s nemesis Wario, using small brush strokes to slowly bring the character to life. Meanwhile Sindy, his headphones plugged in, used thick black paint markers to draw Sonic the Hedgehog’s antagonist Dr Eggman exploding from a console machine.
The artists say retro games have influenced their artworks and design over the years and Insert Coins events has allowed them to show their skills while enjoying the unique event.
“It’s a great combination of past and present and Oxford Art Factory is definitely helping them make a resurgence,” says Alex about retro games getting a revival from these kinds of events.
“Retro games don’t really need reviving as they’ll always be the classics but it certainly helps that the cool kids have a place to hang out together again,” Sindy says.
Judging from tonight’s turnout retro games will always have a special place in the hearts of gamers. As gamer Mark Richards, 37, says, “It bridges the generational divide with games where old and young can play in a friendly atmosphere. It’s just good fun.”