When Gary Vincent ushers you up to the third floor of Funspot, the world's largest arcade, in Weirs Beach, New Hampshire, he knows he's welcoming you to the Promised Land. "The biggest joy I get," he says, "is the first-time visitor who comes up the stairs and they're like, 'Wow." What you behold is a carpal-tunnel-inducing Xanadu of 8-bit graphics and Casio keyboard soundtracks. More than 250 vintage coin-operated arcade games blink hypnotically in the dimly lit room, all of them still costing just a quarter to play.
In the late '70s and early '80s, arcade games were everywhere: grocery stores, laundromats, restaurants, really any place where a child might be left unattended for five minutes. But by the '90s the boom had faded, and most of these icons of youth were ushered off to the trash heap. Vincent, who had been working at Funspot since 1981, couldn't bear to see the arcade's vintage collection scrapped, so in 1998 he convinced owner Bob Lawton to let him open a museum - an honest-to-God, nonprofit, charity-bingo-funded museum - dedicated to preserving that moment in American history when a quarter was worth more than two dimes and a nickel and your ability to guide a frog safely through traffic was the criterion by which other children judged you.
The American Classic Arcade Museum is the largest public collec-tion of these games anywhere, and it's become something of a pilgrimage site. Every year on the first weekend following Memorial Day, hardcore players from around the world travel here to square off in the International Classic Video Game Tournament (June 3-6 this year). Although Vin-cent loves their dedication, he says the museum is as much about regular people just looking to recapture a taste of their youth: "They'll come up here just to be like, 'Hey look, I'm 17 again,' when in fact 'I'm 45 and I'm losing my hair."