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Our Visit to Arkadia Retrocade
April 10th, 2021 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Flack's former Commando game, yesterday

I’m not going to be able to do justice to the incredible experience that is Shea Mathis’s arcade, Arkadia Retrocade. My wife surprised me with a trip to Fayetteville, Arkansas this previous weekend and on Tuesday we were able to say hello and take in the wonder that is this place. I don’t know how the pandemic has been going for you, but I’ve had a substandard one, so this trip was much appreciated. I also got jabbed to hell a while ago because I donned a tiger costume and sat with my hiney in the air in the Bronx Zoo, awaiting my vaxx shot with Harvey Weinstein and O.J., and every other American criminal they were testing multiple times a year ago as the rest of us chumps obeyed the law and had to figure out if we had it or not by the science of “guessing.”

(But first! Wait, before anything else I’d like to recommend a couple articles that my friend Flack wrote so that you can get additional perspectives. Ok, then come back here.)

Flack is also important to this story because we got into Fayetteville and then drove to Oklahoma City to see Flack and his wife Susan. We were at an arcade in OKC called Up/Down and I can contrast these two arcades as follows: At Up/Down, a barcade, the pedal was constantly depressed for the blue driver in “Ironman” Ivan Stewart’s Offroad game and the girls in the game were in bikinis. At Arkadia Retrocade, a regular or “non-alcoholic” arcade, the setting was active to put the girls in dresses because it’s more of a family friendly place and the only thing depressed was me before I got inside.

It’s not possible to be depressed inside Arkadia Retrocade, and it’s the best arcade I’ve ever been to in my life.

I first met Shea in 2012 at the Oklahoma Video Game Expo and he was talking about the arcade that he was going to create. If ever one man was going to be a success in a difficult field through pure energy, enthusiasm and force of personality, it was Shea and this arcade of his. And I am delighted to say that — after getting a few hours to experience it — he did it. He realized the dream. I think every one that starts collecting games has an idle wish to one day open an arcade, but for most of us we get derailed. Not Shea and not here. In addition to games, the pure amount of retro items is almost overwhelming once you’re inside.

But yeah, as soon as you walk in you’ll see the full size cabinet of Donkey Kong! Donkey Kong Jr.! Pengo! Paperboy! Crystal Castles! A cocktail Popeye in one corner. Satan’s Hollow along a row of classics. I couldn’t decide what to play first. Tony Temple wrote a great book on Missile Command that is heavy with lunatics. MC was on my mind due to his book and I think that was the first game I had to try. It had been a little while since I played Missile Command and it holds up so well, unlike the descending nuclear missiles in every game manned by me of Missile Command.

There is interesting detail everywhere inside the building. A local artist created a huge mural along the back wall of the second area, but to even get to that point you’ll pass so many items that will make people in my generation go, “Ooh, I had that!” or if you grew up in my town something like, “Oh, I had that, but then that piece of trash in my grade stole it when I brought it to school!” There are mini handheld arcade games on walls (the ones that Coleco made, I think? You know the ones) and Shea also has the first trackball (“trak-ball”) that I had ever encountered, the Atari 2600 one. A lifelong obsession! These are a few items but there’s hundreds if not thousands of similar items everywhere on the walls and on shelves.

But I love this view as you look over the second area in Arkadia. I didn’t bring my camera because we were on a “Frontier” flight, the airline that enlists pictures of wild animals in dark patterns to try to get you to pay them hundreds of extra dollars for this new invention called “luggage” which I guess the CEO of Frontier thinks is a fad. So these are phone pics that don’t represent me as an artist. You walk past this doorway and you get to see dozens more arcade games, the weird and obscure stuff, all ready for you at the bottom of a long walkway. If the new area was the entire arcade it would be worth it. The space on both levels is used really well, too – at no point did my wife or I think we were cramped. (That would have changed if I had gotten her in the Environmental Discs of Tron at AK, but I already played that card years ago in Colorado. And, well, she’s not stupid. She’s not falling for that again. Even though to me the absolute height of comedy is having Sark chortle at a now-angry game player awkwardly trying to expunge themselves from Environmental Discs of Tron after playing it badly and failing, you don’t do that to someone when you get married. It showed up in our vows.)

I’ve been interested in arcade games for a long time and had many of them fall on me and Arkadia had games that I had never heard of. It would have been a delight to have them fall on me, crushing my bones to powder as I said, “I didn’t know about this game. This is incredibly painful.”

I got one wish. There’s one thing I wish! The only thing I wish is that I had some way to represent Arkadia out where I live with various forms of swag. Shirts, mugs, hats, that kind of thing. I know that small business owners get a zillion people telling them what they should do, so that’s not me here doing that, just reiterating that America wants to shows its love for the Arkadia Retrocade. We had a great time and I’m trying to figure out when we can return.

Shea, thanks for everything!


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