Pittsburgh resident Anna Hegedus has put a great deal of effort into opening an arcade where people of all ages can enjoy games together, but some opposition stands in her way.
Video games are a good thing. At least that's how I see it. This outlook was formed in the days of my youth. There were no labels then of "casual" and "hardcore," no perception yet that video games were for this kind of person but not for that kind. Games offered an escape from the sometimes painful realities of life. Games provided bonding experiences; one friend and I worked together to get farther than either of us had before in Mario Bros., and I earned the respect of another by demonstrating my impressive skills at Yie Ar Kung-Fu.
These formative experiences and so many others took place in lively, noisy places where heroes were born and alliances were forged, family-friendly places where, rather than resorting to mocking and trash talk, people would smile appreciatively if a mom bravely tried her hand at Donkey Kong for the first time. These were places that understood that games were for everyone, that it was far better to let games bring us together than to let them push us apart. These were the arcades where my love of games was born.
"…religion, race, sexual preference, social class, gender, style… none of it mattered. People were equal when they put those tokens into the cabinet."It's because of this deeply rooted outlook that the name of a project I heard about recently resonated with me so strongly. The project is called Play Videogames Be Happy, four words that encapsulate my attitude about what games can and should be. Play Videogames Be Happy is the dream of Pittsburgh resident Anna Hegedus. For over three years now, she has been collecting and repairing arcade machines, in the hopes of opening her own arcade in the Pittsburgh area.
Reading about her reasons for wanting to do this on her blog, I immediately felt that this was someone whose love for games and for arcades was much like my own. "Once someone walked through those doors and into the dimly-lit corridors," she wrote, "religion, race, sexual preference, social class, gender, style… none of it mattered. People were equal when they put those tokens into the cabinet. They stood in front of the same screen, mashing buttons and gritting their teeth as they whittled down a paper route's paycheck on NBA Jam."
I asked Hegedus about where her own love of games and arcades comes from, and was unsurprised to find that her passion and mine have similar roots.
"I was an eccentric kid that had a hard time fitting in. I found a group of friends that had their own idiosyncrasies too. The quiet kid, the scrawny kid, the kid that grew up way too quick, the kid in the closet… In high school, we would all hang out and play games. All in all, we survived because we had each other. The more that I think about it, games are what did that. We had this arcade in the local mall, a Namco Cyberstation. We would go there a lot just to play DDR, air hockey, or Point Blank."
Memories of one particular person who frequented the arcade have remained especially vivid for Hegedus. "I still get a little misty-eyed when I think about this one guy. He was so shy and quiet, with long dark hair and this bucket hat that he wore with the brim pushed down over his eyes. But put him on DDR pads and slap a few tokens into the machine…it was like a switch was flipped. He was alive, and his laugh was so contagious. I don't know if he realized it, but I saw the way the light danced in his eyes. It's like his soul woke up. When I think back to those times, they weren't just happy—they defined me as a person in some ways. You can't do that over Xbox Live or the PSN. It happens in front of the glow of a Wells-Gardner, side by side with a living, breathing person."
"…for a small 20-machine arcade to run, you need over ten thousand dollars for taxes. This is way over what we could ever dream of raising in such a short period."Those moments, and the positive impact they can have on us, are what it's all about for Hegedus. "I think of what it was like back then for him, for me, and for all of us. I miss it dearly and I want to recreate that for people. Whether we like to admit it or not as a society, prejudice and social pressure are alive and run deep. Escaping those things is one of the most important things a person can do. Arcades bring people together and erase the divisions that are erected around us by race, class, gender, sexuality, or any other trait. It makes our defenses drop and our hearts come closer together, just like it did for the kid I talked about earlier. That's my vision. That's what I want."
Wanting to open an arcade is one thing. Actually putting in the work to be able to do it is something else. But Hegedus has poured her time, money and skills into this project. Scavenging newspapers, Craigslist, eBay, anything that might give her a lead on an available arcade game, she's traveled far and wide to put together a collection strong enough to make for a darn good arcade. A lot of the machines were in pretty bad shape when Anna acquired them, but she's fixed them up, and shared some of her technical knowledge in a great series of tutorial videos on her YouTube channel.
Unfortunately, hurdles stand between Anna and opening an arcade. Pittsburgh laws make the prospect of opening one in the city prohibitively expensive. As Hegedus explains, "In the city proper, you need an arcade license as well as a license for each machine you wish to use. The machine permits are over $300 a piece. The quarterly arcade license is $800. Plus there are the occupancy permits and other things. That means that for a small 20-machine arcade to run, you need over ten thousand dollars for taxes. This is way over what we could ever dream of raising in such a short period."
In this video, Anna speaks about her reasons for wanting to open an arcade.
It was clear to Anna that the concept of an arcade is one thing to her and something very different to some other people in the area.So she began looking at options in the suburbs, but has run up against opposition from some who don't see games as the good, unifying thing that they are to people like Anna and myself. During a recent zoning hearing, one community member raised concerns about kids dealing drugs in the arcade, while others asked if their taxes would be used to pay for police assistance if and when incidents occurred at the arcade. It was clear to Anna that the concept of an arcade is one thing to her and something very different to some other people in the area. "Each time someone brought something up like this, I became a little more upset inside. We did have one or two supporters there who spoke out against chasing businesses away from the downtown area, but I had a hard time focusing on the positive. My ideas were obviously at odds with a lot of folks."
Currently, Anna is waiting. She might get full approval to set up the arcade and open. Or she might be denied, in which case the search for a home will begin again. It might be easier to find an accommodating spot farther from the city, but Anna is reluctant to head too far out. "[The city is] where we can do the best work with the community. I just can’t see kids and seniors taking the bus out to the rural countryside to play Pac Man."
I've got my fingers crossed. I think we could do with a lot more places where people can come together over games, and just be happy.
You can keep up with Anna Hegedus on Twitter at @akh13, and read her blog at annahegedus.com. Her Youtube channel, which has lots of great tutorials as well as fun stuff like this Famitendo she created, is at https://www.youtube.com/user/annahegedusdotcom.
Welcome to life under the ever-growing government. Both our candidates in the recent pres. election said that government does not create jobs. It the only thing either of those morons got right.
I grew up with arcades and it was always a special place for me and my friends. It's true, everyone usually got along there (barring the occasional young kid begging for quarters or worse, tying up a machine by just pretending to play along with the demo screen lol). Even in this day and age where you can find the rare arcade (in Ohio there is a small chain called Dave&Busters that do this) people still tend to get along great. That's because unlike with internet anonymity on modern consoles people are, shall we say, less likely to be a jerk and/or trash talk someone 8 inches away from them. ;)
Geez. Johnny Law can be a racketeering SOB. As if all the fines and fees rackets in America's court systems weren't bad enough.
Kids dealing drugs???? That's there concern. Apparently they have not been to a public school in a few years because if I was a kid looking to buy drugs it would not be at the arcade, it would be in class. I mean seriously if there worried about kids dealing drugs they should be concerned with the place where they send there kids for 8 hours a day first instead of a harmless arcade that would probably do more to good and keep them out of trouble.
Narcotics will be sold any where that a considerable ammount of potential buyers are gathered.
If the arcades became as popular as in the 90's again, it would be a good place to sell narcotics.
i was brief because the grammar strike force is on to you and you must run.
@Mega_Loser True but if that is the case then lets close every mall, 7/11, and Walmart. My point is that selling drugs goes on everywhere even schools and if these people are so full of themselves that they think one arcade is going to skyrocket the amount of drug dealing going on towards there children, then they should visit a public school sometime. All I'm saying is, while there is a possibility people will be selling drugs there, its just not something that should be that big of a concern as long as the establishment dose the right things to not allow or condone it. These people should not be shoving away a bushiness that is essentially a museum for old arcade games because there worried that there kids might have something to do after school that's outside of there house. Also arcades will NEVER be as popular as they were in the 90's and late 80's.
Yea some communities can be pretty full of themselves. Thinking they're keeping out the troublemakers but actually driving away money and positive influences thus making it easier for crime to actually settle in.
It'll be funny if some high tech company makes a deal with Anna Hedegus to test something like a virtual reality cave while paying for her arcade component and they all end up profiting big time including the neighborhood that takes them in.
@shureshot24 Agreed. Parents can be quite out of touch.
Good article. Like some have already said, it reminds them of their positive experiences during their childhood. I'm no exception, Street Fighter 2, Ghouls and Ghosts, Space Harrier... Good times.
It's a shame that the general public views arcades with a negative stigma, but it's unfortunately not entirely unfounded either. The truth of the matter is, if you want a place to do something illegal (dealing drugs for instance) you don't need a dark arcade, things like that can be done anywhere nowadays.
This made me tear up cuz it reminded me of one of the defining moments of my childhood. When I was about six or seven i saw this man about eighteen or nineteen years old playing NFL Blitz in the arcade at a miniature golf location. The man looked funny plying it though, for some reason he wouldn't look at the screen??!! It took me a minute to realize that he was doing this cuz he was blind. He was leaning in so he could play completely by ear and trying to hide his enthusiasm when the announcer said he had gained ten yards. The only regret I have was not being more outgoing... It would have been epic to play on his team as a receiver calling plays with him and celibrating a touchdown or two. But it was at this moment that I realized that ANYONE could enjoy a video game and that I should NEVER underestimate someone else's abilities. That unnamed man will always be in my heart as someone who taught me a valuable lesson about life and video games. I hope Anna gets to open her arcade and that it flourishes into the largest arcade in the nation where people come from all around to play. Thank you for this article.
I hope this turns out well for her because my friends and I are always talking about how we wish arcades were still around. It is even better that this woman is trying to do this in my hometown! I'm only 20 minutes from the city.
I think it'd be really wonderful to have a fun, safe place where kids can go and hang out with their friends after school. I mean, sure, anyone can just invite their friends over and play games, but in an arcade there's the chance of new friendships and rivalrys every day. There's so much potential to just bring a little bit of light into the lives of everyone around, and it sounds like it'd be a very fullfilling thing to accomplish.
It's a real shame that all the fines and taxes blocking the way are clearly set by people who just don't 'get it'. I mean, if someone goes to all the trouble of getting an actual, functional machine, what right does some guy who's never played a video game in his life have to say, "Nuh uh! If you want to offer the machine to public use you have to pay another $300 dollars...!" ...That's outrageous, extortion, robbery even! I'm not really a very agressive personality, but that actually kinda gets me worked up. It just seems to me like some finely dressed bully is stomping on everyone elses fun just because he can.
Anyway, I wish the best in this venture. I just know it'll find a way to succeed. Shame on anyone who tries to stop it; we can only hope they realize how wrong they were one day. There's so much potential for good here, the mind boggles to think why anyone would want to stop it.
Awesome story! I grew up in arcades practically. I had my own nich of friends (geeks all em). The arcades were a place where we could be ourselves without being ostracized. Even though I had the Atari 2600/Intellivision (age flash!), nothing beat going to the arcades on a Friday/Saturday night with buddies. Let's see: Robotron (my fav), BattleZone, Mario Bros, Q-Bert (hard-as-hell), Asteroids Deluxe, Tempest, Star Wars, Dragon's Lair, Spy Hunter, Contra, Gauntlet and SO ON! I miss them all...
I do miss the Arcade experience although they were not always as tolerant and Utopian as Anna portrays them.
Keep up the good work, Anna. Please let GS know how the zoning permit application goes. At the very least, it'll help draw more attention to this issue, which I'm sure is also on your site.
Great article, Carolyn.
I'm about a couple hours away from Pittsburgh, but I would make the drive for this. I'll be keeping up with this story, and I'd really like to see this turn into a success. Don't ever give up on your passions, no matter how much opposition you face.
Fantastic work, Carolyn. I love your writing and this article brought tears to my eyes, because resurrecting the arcade community has been a huge passion of mine as well. Watching that posted youtube video was very informative and very sad... Since I don't drink, hate bars, nightclubs (and I only dance for my wife) arcades have always been huge to me... maybe we can form a grass roots movement to alleviate ridiculous taxes on people like Ann who just want to give something to the community that doesn't involve alcohol.
@wiserat4 Thanks very much. I didn't have to do much as a writer here; Anna speaks so eloquently about her vision, so putting together the feature was quite easy for me. But I'm very glad that you enjoyed it.
Those are the reasons I built my arcade cabinet for my home. Enjoy.
Anna, if you read this, I don't have money but I'd love to support you and your cause in any way that I can. Please let me know if I can be of assistance in any way. I'd really love to help :)
@andrewwittmaier I'm definitely watching over the comments on this thread. Thanks for your offer.
This isn't going to be just a place for people to play games. It's going to be a hub for gamers in the Pittsburgh region. I didn't just want to throw some arcade machines out there and have people play them. I planned on taking an active role in nurturing that environment which I loved so much. Tournaments, clubs, game nights, free days, classes on building MAME cabs and superguns, console repair sessions...I wanted to do it all. It's ambitious, but I believe in it, and I think it's something seriously lacking these days.
It's easy to hop online and play a game of Left 4 Dead or TF2 against a total stranger halfway across the continent. That's convenient, and sometimes that's what's necessary. Really, what Microsoft and Sony sell is convenience in that way. Live and PSN are simply a means to an end. They are just a communication method that ties together two parties for a quick and simple session of entertainment. The real magic happens in the moments of those person-to-person interactions. Sadly, this is not the same, and cannot be the same, as being there in flesh and blood.
Four player GoldenEye sessions lasting till the sun came through the drapes of the living room. Sitting on an overstuffed couch with your best friend and a pile of snacks. Dancing like a maniac under the bright lights of a DDR Max cabinet. It's not just about single player versus multiplayer. This is about the soul of gaming as a means of forming bonds, bringing hearts together, and breaking down the walls that divide people. That's what I'm trying to fight for. That's what I believe in. And that's what I think the world needs.
@annaks13 also, keep us updated via your profile if you can that would be awesome!!
@annaks13 wow , your on here lol well I am officially a fan of yours now. I'm in texas but I wish you luck times a thousand. look above for my story and below for a suggestion of mine. I know youve thought of a lot of options so i don't mean to suggest you haven't thought about it but it never hurts to try. Again so many wishes of success and luck to you. You're doing an awesome thing!!
Kids dealing drugs in the arcade? Give me a break. Some of these old people are completely paranoid. As if an arcade will be the thing that gives kids a facet to deal drugs... yeah, 24/7's and 7/11's aren't already used for that...
I'm sure there would be a lot of brawls at an arcade too. They're quite dangerous places, you know. Maybe we shouldn't have bars and places that serve alcohol while we're at it. Yep, they're too violent, too many "incidents" happen there.
it really gets to me when kids claim to know more than they naturally can.
yes, narcotics were dealt in at the arcades. some arcade machines had anti-narcotic messages in their demos.it would be wise to not attribute paranoia to "old people" but to irresponsible people that happened to be parents that never invested any time in or were never involved with their children or their immediate environment, so they don't truly know them and so cannot trust them.
@jookiyaya That is completely irrelevant to the article. If it's that important to you, go outside and talk to some girls.
Games and everything around it are still one thing to gamers and another to the wider audience. There is still a lot of prejudice around games and gamers. I was never a regular at the arcades, I stayed at home most of the time, playing on my Spectrum for a lot of years, later my Mega Drive all the way to today´s PS3. Still I do remember the unique feel of the arcade (specially on my holidays or in carnivals), and the wonder it instils me to this day. Hope Anna can build her arcade, I'm some 4000 miles from her, but every time someone does anything to uplift video games to where they belong, specially with this community aspect, it has my strongest support. Could she maybe start a kickstarter project?
Nice article again Caro!!! I don't know if it could be done but maybe she could try Kickstarter to fund her project??? It could surely help to pay for all the licenses fee...
So it would be wrong for me to pound on the machine after getting my ass kicked? Damn it. Nah, it's always nice to see these sort of things kind hearted people try and do. Arcades are a dying breed, at least the ones I grew up with. Although, there is an Arcade/Bar somewhere in my town. I have yet to hit it up because I don't like being around a bunch of drunk yahoos, especially ones I don't know.
I'm happy to see more and more stories popping up of people trying to open arcades, I haven't seen one around where I live for at least 8 years. I have some wonderful memories of going to the arcade and begging my parents for a few bucks and playing games like POW and Alien Vs Predator on the huge cabinet it had, and I'd love to have a place I can recapture some of that nostalgia. I've collected a few arcade machines myself and I can't say the idea of opening an arcade doesn't appeal to me. But, I know that I'll never end up doing it. So, I wish Anna the best of luck in her endeavor, and I hope she can help create some happy memories for some children in Pittsburgh, and help some adults re-live some of theirs.
If they don't sell drugs at the arcade they will sell them somewhere else.... All the best to this lady! GL :D
Zippy Race... Karate Champ... Black Tiger... Galaxian.... 1943... Ghost'n Goblins good times!... I will never forget these moments she's telling about... best luck to her!