As I mentioned in my first post here on RGSH, I make it a point to travel to arcades around the country. My wife and I love to travel as it is, and if I can find an arcade to visit, even better. But I’ve been known to take huge detours or even special trips just to find arcades I’ve heard about. I always document them with lots of photos too; I think in the back of my head, I always wanted to write about them, and now with RGSH, I finally have that chance.
Back in 2008, it became semi-widely reported among news outlets that historic Gameland arcade in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin — opened in 1944 — would be closing after over 60 years in business. Since Lake Geneva is only a couple hours from where I live in east central Wisconsin, and I had never been there, I decided that I would wrangle up my gamer friends Dave and Frank and we were gonna check out Gameland. Fortunately, I managed to visit twice before they shuttered for good. The photos you see here were taken on the first visit.
Gameland had a pretty impressive collection of both video and electromechanical arcade games and pinball machines. All the major names were represented, such as Pac-Man, Galaga, Donkey Kong, Tron, etc., as well as some B- and C-listers, such as an original Jungle King (before it was changed to Jungle Hunt), a Sprint by Kee Games (the “fake competitor” of Atari), and some golden oldies like Sega Combat. Vintage love testers and a photo booth rounded out the collection nicely.
As with most classic arcades, it had its share of machines that were out of order. There was a Galaga whose joystick was missing the ball grip, and the OutRun had some messed-up sprites. Several of the games were hacked or modified versions — beyond the common “fast” Ms. Pac-Man, there was a Centipede that had unusual sprites that I hadn’t seen before. Some of these conversions and mods were obviously done a long time ago and their origins and purposes are lost to the sands of time for all I know.
In speaking with the woman who was running the arcade, I learned that her husband was the owner and was getting up there in age and was not in the best of health. He was the one who maintained the games himself, which explained why several were not running — he could only get down there so often to work on them. That said, I was happy to see that several of the games that were down on my first visit were back in business and playable when I returned for my second visit. She also informed me that many of the games were going to be for sale upon the arcade’s closing and I could put my email address on a list to be notified when that would be happening (which I did, though I didn’t end up taking any). She was extremely friendly and chatty and even let me take a few of their funny “out of order” signs for my own collection (which I promptly had laminated and used on a couple of my machines when they broke down).
Gameland was a classic arcade in every sense. Even seeing it for the first time in 2008, I could feel that it had been there forever and had seen a lot of good times. I was very proud to have had the chance to give it a spin (and document it) before we lost this time capsule for good.