A comprehensive article detailing the rise of arcades, and an interview with the founder of Storm Unity and local event host, Joshua Campbell.
Since the debut of PONG in the early 70’s, video games have been a staple of the entertainment industry. There is much debate over who developed the “first” video game, but regardless of who did it first, Atari, Inc. is responsible for successfully commercializing it. Within the next few years, arcade machines would spread into bars, restaurants, and many other stores. They helped generate foot traffic, especially from kids looking to try out the latest game. This was just the beginning of the “arcade phenomenon.”
In the late 70’s, Namco began developing their own arcade machines that rivaled Atari’s. The Japanese arcade giant partnered with Midway to bring Pac-Man to the states. Originally, the name was “Puck” man, but Midway feared that teen vandals might change the “P” into an “F.” A handful of “Puck-Man” machines can still be found in Europe. Pac-Man was unlike any other game on the market. It was an instant success, and is still one of the highest-grossing video games of all time.
Outside of large commercial chains such as Dave & Busters, the arcade scene has been disappearing over the years. Luckily, there are people that have taken notice. The kids that grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, when out-of-home gaming was a staple of their childhood, are beginning to get older. Some of them are graduating from college with degrees, but instead of sticking with the traditional 9-5 job, they are breaking out of the meta and forging paths to help keep gaming afloat. For some people, video games are just a thing to do when they have nothing else to accomplish. It’s nothing more than another form of entertainment.
For people like Joshua Campbell, video games have always been more than just entertainment. He had aspirations like any other kid; he wanted to be a doctor, he wanted go to the moon. As he grew up, he thought video games would begin to fade out of his life, that it was a part of becoming a grown up. He started hosting video game tournaments, since there was nothing like it in Jacksonville at the time. It started out as a small group of kids getting together to compete at their local arcade, and then it began to grow. Even though Joshua didn’t know what he was doing at the time, he was determined to create a video gaming event that would make people say, "Wow, I really want to be there!”
“Once I realized I was entering the business realm, I started taking interest in reading Leadership books and surrounding myself with positive people. The reading and positivity helped me focus on making what I felt were wise and productive decisions moving forward to the present.”
“I never saw this as a business early on. I grew up playing sports and became quite competitive. I always thought it would be fun to have legitimate video game competitions locally. Since there were none around at the time, I decided to talk with the local arcade and ask about hosting. Since that initial event I hosted, it turned into something I loved doing. It was the peak of my social life. It became a reason to meet new people that have the same interests as you, create new friendships, and have an awesome time playing video games. I didn't have any business skills.”
Photo taken by past attendee, Raymond Madamba
This was the beginning of Joshua’s organization “Storm Unity.” Since he was from the stormy state of Florida, “Storm” seemed like the appropriate name. And Joshua’s goal has always been to unite anyone and everyone interested in the gaming culture. But hosting events wasn’t always easy. There were huge obstacles Joshua had to overcome.
“When I first started hosting, finding locations willing to host the events was a large obstacle for me. Unless you paid a hefty fee to rent the place, venues wouldn't even take me seriously. Even then, they would want you to guarantee that a specific amount of people would show or else, more fees would be owed. I wasn't a very persuasive guy. I also had problems with depending on others to help me out. I guess, in a way, that huge obstacle I had to overcome was... myself. I was raised to take my problems and solve them on my own. I had a vision of what way I wanted things done. I held the strong belief that 'If it wasn't right, it was wrong'. It took a long while to realize that in order to make these events successful, I had to start learning to depending on others.
From hosting events for so long, I've met a lot of awesome people. They say that to get ahead in life, it's all about who you know. I find that to be absolutely true. Because of word of mouth, I was able to find solid venues such as the Dive Bar downtown to host my gaming events. I've also found good trustworthy people to work with such as Ryan Thompson of GAAM and Dustin Gartenbush of Video Game Rescue who I can also call my friends. And I've since obtained a large amount of video gaming consoles that I'm happy to provide for gaming events. I rarely run into these obstacles much anymore, but I do encounter new obstacles all the time such as potentially conflicting with other large local events and providing sufficient amounts of advertising. But I'm always up for challenges and taking them head on.”
Joshua’s events have grown exponentially over the last two years. On top of hosting tournaments, he has hosted two 24-hour video gaming marathon events for Child’s Play Charity. Child’s Play is an organization that provides video games, books, and toys to hospitalized children around the world. Within the last 10 years, Child’s Play, with the help of a community of generous gamers, has raised millions of dollars to help fill the wish lists of children at over 70 hospitals worldwide.
“In the past, I've hosted two 24-hour video gaming marathon events for Child's Play Charity… We broadcasted this marathon through the gaming website, Twitch.TV, and the combination of both events raised over $3,500. I was happy to be a part of showing the positive side of video games and how it can be used to help others in need."
Recently, Joshua has started a new event called “Arcade Jax.” He wanted to host something that wasn’t just for the sake of competing, but would appeal for video gamers of all ages and skill levels. Tournaments are fun, but they can be extremely intimidating to someone that may feel too inexperienced or isn’t competitive.
“I wanted to create a welcoming and friendly environment that was strictly video gaming focused where you could walk into a building and have the choice of any video game you wanted to play. I also wanted to bring back that old-school Arcade feel for those of us who use to frequent the arcades when we were younger. When the Tilt Arcade closed down a few years ago at the Regency Mall, choices became very limited without doing some traveling. With the support of close friends, I decided to give the idea of creating an arcade atmosphere and see how others would like it. Since the first event, all I've been hearing is positive feedback and ways to improve upon the event. I haven't looked back since.”
Photo taken by past attendee, Cody Melior
“In communities outside of Jacksonville, there are already bars and clubs with video games & arcade cabinets coming about. I feel that this is only the beginning and as time passes, the demand for video gaming themed venues will only increase. At the same time, we are not the only gaming event in Jacksonville. There's also the semi-annual GAAM event and the monthly PIXELATED events at TSI.”
At Arcade Jax, there are a ton of video games on free play! “There (are) some video game arcade machines provided by Jax Arcade Expo, modern gaming consoles like Xbox 360 & Playstation 3, retro consoles such as the Super Nintendo & Nintendo 64, multiple video games to choose from, a customized menu of gaming-themed alcoholic drinks such as Pokemon shots & Donkey Kong cocktails, free raffles with lots of video game prizes, and we have DJ NES spinning some awesome electronic tunes throughout the night to keep us energized. And it's ALL FREE! Well... except the drinks, of course!”
The Rainbow Road
Photos taken by past attendee, Lynnsey Norris
For anyone that is looking for something fresh to do in downtown Jacksonville, consider trying out one of the many new gaming events that have started up.
And here’s the shameless plug with information on Joshua and his affiliates.
“The best way to keep up with any local Jacksonville video gaming events is to follow @ArcadeJax on Twitter or LIKE us on Facebook at http://facebook.com/ArcadeJaxFL
Thanks so much to Metro Jacksonville for giving me the opportunity to spread awareness about Arcade Jax! Hope to see you guys on Friday, February 21 at the Dive Bar!”
Photos taken by past attendee, Cody Melior