American Classic Arcade Museum
Located at Funspot
"Best arcade in the world!"
Paul Drury, Retro Gamer Magazine

John Tully / Monitor Staff
Arcade Wizards
Classic Gamers Jockey For Record Scores At ACAM's 15th Annual
International Classic Videogame Tournament
By JEREMY BLACKMAN / Monitor Staff

Shortly before 10AM yesterday, a small horde of young and middle-aged men in T-shirts and baggy shorts gathered outside the entrance to the American Classic Arcade Museum in Weirs Beach. A thick blanket of heat had descended, and beads of sweat began to form on some of their brows as they chatted with each other.

It was the third and penul-timate day of the 15th annual International Classic Video Game Tournament, and spirits seemed high.

Drew Shadrawy, an abuse counselor from Boston, stood holding an iced coffee and a muffin. He said this was his fourth year of attending the tournament.

"When I first came in here, honestly, as geeky as it sounds, I almost cried," he said. "It was basically like a time machine, all these games, and they're all in perfect order."

Shadrawy learned of the competition from the 2007 documentary film The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, much of which took place inside the museum, which is housed on the third floor of Funspot, across the street from Lake Winnipesaukee.

“When I first came in here, honestly, as geeky as it sounds, I almost cried. It was basically like a time machine, all these games, and they're all in perfect working order."

Drew Shadray of Boston

For $60, contestants are given 250 tokens and four days to log the highest scores on an array of classic arcade games. The selection varies each year and is disclosed only at the start of the tournament, to avoid giving any one player an upper hand. Top finishers win several hundred dollars and bragging rights.

But Shadrawy, like others, said winning isn't what draws him back each year.

"It's really something for me that's not about competition," the 39-year-old said. "It's more about just being part of this tournament, having fun."

Part of the fun each year, he said, is stumbling upon a game he hasn't seen or played in decades.

"Like this game, Jail Break. I didn't even remember it, and then I walked up to it and I was like, 'Holy " Shadrawy said. "I haven't played that game since I was 11 years old. And what's even weirder about it is when I get on it, all these memories flood back."

The doors opened as he spoke, and the group streamed inside to a dim, air-conditioned room filled with old games, a small miniature golf course and the melody of jingling coins. A wall of tournament machines was roped off in the center.

After a brief introduction during which someone joked about awarding a fourth place finalist with a slobbery smooch, the men swarmed the machines.

A scoreboard displayed dozens of names, but Mike Stulir, a volunteer and board member of the museum, said it was too early to stress over who was on top.

"Usually the first day or two is just kind of feeling every-thing out, putting you in front of a game you've never played before, learning the ins and outs," he said. "Today is really the start of when we'll begin to see people move ahead."

Nick Lombardo of Long Island watched as everyone be-gan to play. He said he has at-tended the tournament every year since 2006. "It's like going to a high school reunion that you weren't invited to," he said. "Like you just kinda walked in or are working as a bartender."

For example, Lombardo said, there was a guy one year wearing a denim jacket that said "New England Pinball Champion 1985."

"People were like, 'Oh my god, how've ya been!' "he said. 'And he was like, 'Yeah, my son is in college,' and stuff like that."

Robert MacAuley of Australia said it was his fourth tour-nament and sixth visit to the museum. He estimated he had spent about 20 hours on the plane to get there.

"I grew up with these games, and we have nothing like this back home," he said. "I get a chance to see how I measure up to basically the best in the world. But I also get to catch up with friends I haven't seen all year."

MacAuley said many of the contestants hang out in the evenings, for food or a beer.

David Hernly, a volunteer from Virginia who is in charge of score keeping, chimed in. "The secret to a lot of these classics is, they don't have graphics like today, they don't have sound like today, what they have is game play," he said. "They're fun. They're challenging. That's why Pac-Man is still being played."

flower arcade game at ACAM
Komax's Flower at ACAM - quite possibly the only working unit in the world.
About 10:45AM, a smattering of contestants huddled near a door by the registration table. One of the trademarks of the tournament is a mystery game of the day, and according to museum president Gary Vincent, the one he was about to unveil was going to be good.

"If anyone here has ever heard of this game, I'm going to be surprised," Stulir said.

The game was Flower, manufactured in 1986 by Komax. Vincent said it was the only game the company ever made.

The room was quiet for a moment. A few of the contestants looked around blankly.

"Never even heard of it," Fred Pastore of Massachusetts said. "Not me, no."

After some research, Lombardo explained the game. "You're a spaceship and you kill flowers," he said. "It was the '80s — they couldn't think of anything."

Before long, there was a line of six people waiting to play the game. "It's like the old days," Vincent said. "That's what it was like in the early '80s. A new game would come out, and you had to stand in line."

Vincent said he and others spent three years procuring parts and decals to refurbish the Flower machine. To the best of his knowledge, he said, this is the only operational model in the world.

Reprinted from the Concord Monitor

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