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Jun 29, 2015 12:20 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Arcade Game Collector Quietly Draws Enthusiasts

Jesse Wroblewski takes aim at Silent Scope.  DANA SHAW
Jun 29, 2015 2:10 PM

With black lights and blinking screens surrounding him, and electronic melodies filling the air, John Bennett stepped back one recent Saturday and quietly surveyed his collection of more than 100 vintage arcade games.As friends buzzed around his home arcade, slipping tokens supplied by Mr. Bennett into machines, others huddled around an air hockey table, admiring the pristine condition of his collection—one that took him more than 20 years to acquire.

“My father doesn’t understand this for nothing,” Mr. Bennett said of John Bennett Sr. “I think this is more or less about reattaching to childhood.”

Mr. Bennett’s home arcade, a rec room that fantasies are made of, is nestled away in a secret location in Southampton. It offers a nostalgic time warp for anyone who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, wasting away hours while playing the likes of “Pac-Man” and “Donkey Kong” consoles in quarter-grabbing arcades. Small, white alien statues stand in corners holding clear bowls containing scores of machine tokens as “Alien Vs. Predator” movie props tower over gamers.

Mr. Bennett’s collection of arcade games, which sit on a space-themed carpet that glows under black lights, range from the classics, including the aforementioned titles and “Donkey Kong,” to the more obscure, such as “Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom,” “Mappy” and “Kangaroo.” Most of them were manufactured between 1979 and 1983—the golden age of original video gaming—while some were popular in the 1990s.

If they were not stationed in actual arcades, the video games could be found standing solo, or in small groups, at pizza parlors, delis and even some restaurants. Children and teenagers could often be found huddled around the latest or most popular releases, competing to input their initials if they managed to post on the board—or, even better, captured the top slot with skillful use of buttons, joysticks and track balls.

It was common to see lines of quarters on the screens of machines—that was how the youngest of gamers would call dibs once the person ahead of them, manning the joystick, lost the last of her lives.

Most visitors to Mr. Bennett’s arcade—namely, former gamers who are now in their 40s and early 50s—say those memories come flooding back as soon as they enter the room.

“I’m 50 years old and I couldn’t wait to get in,” one gamer said as he opened the door to the arcade, the location of which Mr. Bennett keeps secret for obvious reasons—entry is based on private invites offered by Mr. Bennett.

That’s not to say that all visitors are now graying or losing their hair. Many of his visitors never had the chance to enjoy the true “arcade experience” before entering.

Jesse Wroblewski, 39, of Ronkonkoma was one of the dozen gamers and collectors who visited Mr. Bennett’s arcade by invitation on this particular Saturday.

“This is meticulously re-created, and everything is restored to perfection,” said Mr. Wroblewski, the owner of a web design company called Generations Beyond and a member of the Long Island Arcade Club, which is based in Ronkonkoma and boasts about 30 members.

He and his co-worker, Brendan Bailey, have five pinball machines and four arcade games in their Ronkonkoma office. Mr. Bailey, who is 27, also has 25 arcade games in his home.

“I’m an anomaly among my friends,” said Mr. Bailey, who helped set up the recent visit after meeting Mr. Bennett, who is not a member of the Long Island Arcade Club. “A lot of younger people are starting to appreciate old games, like they start to appreciate old movies.

“There is more soul put into each game, from the packaging to the artwork,” Mr. Bailey continued, “and you’re able to focus more on a single element and the game play [than with contemporary games].”

Michael Cognato, 43, who lives in Smithtown, was just finishing a game of “Pengo” when he remarked that Mr. Bennett’s re-creation of the classic 1980s arcade was actually better than what was around, in real life, when he was growing up. He explained that he used to frequent Beefsteak Charlie’s, Chuck E. Cheese’s, Nathan’s and his corner drugstore to play arcade games while growing up. He, too, has 25 such machines at home today.

“The first ‘Space Invaders’ was addicting,” Mr. Cognato said. “This is perfect. I wish it were closer. John did it justice, and it’s better than any Chuck E. Cheese’s.”

Mr. Bennett, whose day job is running Premier Pest Control in Southampton, said he has designed arcades for a few of his clients and also helps them track down games, too. For his own collection, he typically scours eBay or taps a network of collectors to find the titles he is looking for.

Mr. Bennett notes that there is even a repair company that specializes in fixing arcade games. Every two weeks, Andrew & Son Inc. of Bay Shore makes repairs to Mr. Bennett’s collection and helps keep them in tip-top shape. Only one machine was out of service that particular Saturday; typically, six or seven can be out of service on any given day for various reasons, according to Mr. Bennett.

The first game he bought was “Kung-Fu Master,” because it was one he played the most at Pizzaiola while growing up in Southampton. Each machine costs anywhere from $400 to $1,500. He noted that he has more than 100 additional games tucked away in storage. “I’m more of a collector than one of the game guys” he said. “My family thinks I’m crazy.”

A large collection of “Star Wars” memorabilia—a mix of autographed collectibles and original movie posters—decorate the walls and line the floors of his home and office. Mr. Bennett also describes himself as an avid collector of toy soldiers, one who is particularly interested in those manufactured by King & Country.

He explained that he has collected an array of items since he was a child, and now has hundreds of totes full of boxed toys he’s accumulated over the past 30 years.

His collections continue to grow, bit by bit, and his wife, Joanne Bennett, always keeps an eye out for potential additions. Additionally, their two daughters—Emily, 14, and Victoria, 11—have also caught the collection bug. Emily collects shoes and clothes, while Victoria enjoys amassing toys and figurines.

“I work 14 and 15 hours a day. For me, this is my out,” Mr. Bennett said of his hobby. “My wife says there are a lot of worse things I could do.”

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Pardon me while I fire up the emulators...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jul 7, 15 10:37 PM
Something else that is a lot of fun is taking the old GameBoy titles (or any other old console for that matter), connecting your computer to the TV, a copy of an emulator like VisualBoy Advance, and putting the old 4" games up on a big screen.

XBox or PS3 controller for Windows sold separately...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jul 9, 15 8:03 PM
May the force be with you John
By They call me (2826), southampton on Jul 8, 15 2:24 AM
cupsogue needs a therapist
By westhamptonboy (227), Westhampton on Jul 8, 15 7:02 AM
1 member liked this comment
No, he needs to be investigated for Stolen Valor.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Jul 9, 15 3:09 PM
This is awesome! What I would do to play some of those games again on the original platforms. Bravo John
By windy1 (7), Southampton on Jul 8, 15 9:11 AM
Lol, there must be a good reason why the location is kept secret.
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Jul 8, 15 9:04 PM
How do we get an invite? Forgotten Worlds ftw. Love the carpet too.
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on Jul 9, 15 9:11 AM
This guy sounds great!
By JamesBernet (1), on Jul 11, 15 2:13 PM