Reclaim Arcade adds its 59th Cabinet: Super Cobra!

59 cabinets seems to be on the verge of a milestone. In just over two years Tim and I have collected one short of 60* old school arcade cabinets that represent the foundation of Reclaim Arcade. You can see all of them here (although that list shows only 59 because the Gyruss cocktail we bought—while still in tact– was used for parts to fix the upright Gyruss cabinet). I am not sure why 60 seems special to me, but I think it has something to do with the fact that 60 cabinets seems to be just about capacity for our 3000 square foot space. I’m not gonna lie, we are running out of space.

But when I saw a really well maintained Super Cobra come up for sale that had a Scramble PCB, as well as a high-score save kit, I had to do it. I have been looking for a Scramble cabinet for a while, they are fairly uncommon, but they also have some beautiful bezel art and the cabinet is yellow with a simple Stern stencil. Super Cobra, being a prequel to Scramble that came out 5 months after the original in 1981, had a red cabinet with Stern stenciled on it, and similarly compelling bezel art. I still want a Scramble cabinet, because I am a completist, but the Super Cobra fills a need, and the beauty is it can also play the Scramble PCB seamlessly, so depending on the day you can swap games.

The seller of this one was amazing, he included the extra board and hi-score save it, and had the whole thing wrapped up and palletized and hit it delivered through Fastenal in less than 24 hours. This means it is quite likely I’ll be able to play this one in person in a couple of weeks!

I mentioned this is a prequel to Scramble, and what I mean is that this game features a Cobra helicopter side-scrolling through increasingly difficult obstacles whereas Scramble was a 50s silo-shaped space ship. The original was so successful for Stern that they quickly modified the game play and added a few sprites and created a more “contemporary” version.These games are basically identical though, which suggests small alterations in 1981 were more than enough to warrant an entirely new game given the demand for cabinets. there were over 15,000 Scramble cabinets made, and just over 12,000 Super Cobra cabinets made. Best of all, Reclaim Arcade will soon have one of them 🙂

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*Technically we do have 60 cabinets given we bought both an upright Gyruss cabinet and a cocktail, but we used parts from the cocktail cabinet to fix the upright cabinet, so I am not counting it.

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Behind Every Retro Arcade is a Preservation Community

I know I told Tim I’m done buying games for Reclaim Arcade after securing Zaxxon yesterday, but I don’t want to jinx myself given I just saw a mint Gorf machine up in Pennsylvania on the KLOV forums for $900. It’s clean, and like Zaxxon another game that was a staple of the early 80s arcade. That said, I think Reclaim Arcade is at—or even a bit beyond—it’s game capacity at this point. Right now we have 58 arcade cabinets, four of which are undergoing maintenance, namely Missile Command, Battlezone, Space Invaders, and Q*Bert, and one more that’s in transit (Pleiades) that will probably not be on the ground for the opening in two weekends. We’ve tried to reflect all of this on our Games page on the website, which is one that I really love:

Reclaim Arcade Games Page

Lauren Hanks did an absolutely stellar job on the website for the arcade, and the Games page is easily my favorites element. With a tiled list of all the games that feature either old school adverts for the games or animated GIFs of the game play, it’s both informative and playful at once. And when you mouse over a game you are told it’s name, whether it’s currently available, and finally a link to that game’s KLOV’s arcade-museum.com profile:

Imagine an Animated GIF of Moon Patrol

Once you mouse over the image more is revealed

We are also using features on the site to immediately indicate if a game may be unavailable by shading the image a bit to suggest it may have an issue. You can kind of see what I mean if you look at the image of Missile Command to the left of Moon Patrol above. Loving it, but this tiled list of games also speaks to over two years of game collecting, which has often meant driving to far away states, meeting other hobbyists and collectors, and making relationships with awesome game restorers. If you are going to open a retro arcade it would behoove you to embed yourself within the broader community of retro game collectors. One of the students in Zach Whalen Games and Culture class remarked on our work by saying: “You’re basically preservationists.”  That’s probably a bit too generous given we are using them to run a business and offset the cost of rent, loans, etc. but there is no question that a significant part of the retro gaming community on KLOV are doing just that, and I think it is pretty cool.

One recent example that stands out in my mind was when a KLOV forum member posted the first Dig Dug PCB (Printed Circuit Board) ever made, serial number 001! So basically ground zero for commercial circuit boards for one of Atari’s most beloved, early-80s arcade cabinets. That’s pretty cool if you are into that kinda thing, and the forum post around it is illustrative of the tension in this community. Many of the community members are preservationists at heart, and they often pull out this GIF, which I love:

But then there are others that suggest getting top dollar for it given it is a collector’s piece, and the tension between commerce and preservation plays out. That said, most of these items are part of personal collections, and with the renaissance of retro arcades since 2005 or so, arcade machines have new currency. This greater perceived value probably accounts for why so many awesome pieces are both so well preserved and so readily available, if also more costly. When I look back 10 years ago to what folks were paying for PCBs versus now, the inflation is fairly steep. COVID-19 has certainly put a dent in some of that, but by-and-large the games keep getting older, the parts scarcer, and the community more intent on trying to preserve the games while controlling price inflation.

Too Much Reaction GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

I know the forums forbid price policing, but the KLOV community is populated by a lot of folks who have worked hard to preserve the games other folks are buying, so there’s a kind of an unspoken community ethos that games that are over-priced should think twice before posting lest creative ways to say “that’s too damn much” be exercised. Most of which start by saying, “I know we are not supposed to price police here, but …”

Fact is, there’s a definite pecking order in terms of quality vs price in the various cabinet arcade forums I follow. KLOV is where you go if you want the best quality game at the lowest price. It’s been the place I have gotten most of our best games at the most reasonable prices, and many folks also cross-post to Facebook, but there are numerous groups and that is more of a hodgepodge. What’s more, prices can trend a bit higher and by-and-large those groups are all about selling—whereas buying and selling is only one part of KLOVs community.

Then, at the very bottom, is Ebay. This is where sellers usually go if they want to sell the same product they listed on KLOV or Facebook with a significant mark-up. You even see KLOV posts that say posting this here for X amount before going to Ebay where it will be posted for X+Y amount. In regards to Ebay I have found this true in my own experience of buying arcade games there. I have gotten a few deals on Ebay, but no where as good as Facebook or KLOV. But I will say sometimes Ebay is useful when you need a PCB board immediately and you’re willing to pay a mark-up. What’s also interesting to me is that the only bad experience I’ve had with a seller after scores of transactions was on Ebay from someone on Long Islander no less—which I should have guessed given what I know about where I grew up …. f**king Long Islanders 🙂

I find this all really interesting because it took a bit, but after the last year (4 or 5 months of which we tried not to think about the arcade given COVID) I have had not only renewed interest, but more intense as well. I do enjoy buying cabinets and various parts for Reclaim Arcade, but I have also become much more interested in KLOV as an online community. I no longer just read the buy/sell threads, but have moved to general discussions wherein people discuss whether Pole Position was, indeed, the first 16-bit arcade game or not—there is some hardcore knowledge and unabashed schooling going on in that thread! All of which has led me to actually finish my KLOV profile and officially join the Vintage Arcade Preservation Society (or VAPS).

I have found this community a welcome distraction for the last six months, and I figured it was just a matter of time before I started posting more about my interest in this stuff here on the bava. I have to remember that this blog is about media of all kinds, not just the edtech world which I personally find myself in a bit of a rut. I’ve come to the moment in my career as an edtech where I see the same conversations and discussions coming around again with the same results and conclusions, and it can seem a bit pointless at times. Luckily I still see blogging as transcendent of any one field or “career.” I’m sure the retro arcade cabinet community has all the same trappings, and I bet things come around again for the old timers that makes them shake their collective heads, but the one advantage I have in that regard with the retro gaming community is it’s all new to me—I am still quite green. In fact, this may be a good argument for changing gears a bit to prevent getting burnt out or, even worse, jaded.

Anyway, I have no idea how a simple post about Reclaim Arcade’s games page became an extended train of thought about community, but then again I think I remember now [I also had to change the post title by the time I got to this paragraph]. Every game we obtained over the last two and a half years has a person behind it. Someone we had to deal with who is in the hobby and has something to share or recommend. I’ve been deeply impressed by more than a few of them for their kindness and genuine concern for these artifacts of the past that they consider themselves caretakers of before passing them along to their successor. I think that’s the part of this I like the best, Reclaim Arcade is not only a fun idea for folks in Fredericksburg and beyond to experience these machines in a bitchin’ environment, but there is also a sense of having the time and space to care for theses pieces of our collective history for future generations. It might be small and insignificant in the larger picture, but it feels generative and meaningful on a very personal and human scale.

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Zaxxon: Lord of the Isometric Cabinets

Let me start by saying I had no intention of buying another game. In fact, today started like any other day. I woke up, fed the dogs, drank my coffee, checked in on Reclaim tickets, did some accounting, and only then did I start look through the Killer List of Video game forums before I checked in on the various old school 80s arcade cabinet Facebook groups I watch. Like I said, nothing out of the ordinary.

But then it happened, I saw a post about a good condition Zaxxon machine in Richmond, Virginia that was on sale for $575. It has been in storage for 30 years, has a direct lineage of ownership, and is about half the price of others I have seen on the forums (and those are usually cheaper than most to begin with). Add to that it is less than an hour drive from Fredericksburg and this couldn’t be anything other than a sign from God that I needed to get this game … and, dear reader, I did!

Let me be clear of the sacrifice here, I am not a huge fan of Zaxxon. The gameplay is wonky, and while the isometic projection to try and create a sense of 3 dimensions was groundbreaking in 1982, that did not necessarily translate into great gameplay.

It was a popular game, and was ported for most major consoles at the time, most notably Colecovision—but it was not one I necessarily loved. But it’s arcade above individual preference at this point, and that’s not only because I am running out of vintage early 80s cabinets to buy. The fact is, just about every arcade in 1983 or 1984 would have had a Zaxxon on the floor, so how can we let Reclaim Arcade go without? Answer me that?! This is the 80s after all, keeping up with the Joneses is everything!

So, mark it 58 OG cabinets, dude. Reclaim Arcade is just about as awesome as an early 80s arcade could have every dreamed of being 🙂

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OERxDomains: the Wonder Twins of EdTech Conferences

It’s been such a crazy month and a half that I have yet to announce some exciting news: the Domains conference will be happening in 2021. What’s more, it will be a joint event alongside the good folks that run my favorite annual conference OER. It’s been framed as OERxDomains, and I like that. The X suggest the power of two when forces are combined, not unlike the Wonder Twins of edtech conferences!

Shape of an awesome online edtech penguin conference, form of a bucket of water to throw on the virus!

The theme of this year’s event is all about Reclaiming the Joy of etech, and the themes provide a broad vistas for folks to share their work, ideas, and dreams:

  • Theme 1: Openness, care, and joy in the times of pandemic;
  • Theme 2: Open Education responses to surveillance technologies and data ownership in education;
  • Theme 3: Open in Action: open teaching, educational practices and resources, how you might be using Domains and other tools;
  • Theme 4: Shifts in agency and creativity as empowerment of learners and educators;
  • Theme 5: Open Source Tools: infrastructure, cloud environments, targeted teaching tools

You can read more at the official call for papers page, and here’s to hoping you can join us. So, to that end, submit a proposal and save the date because on April 21st and 22nd the fists connect and new shapes and forms will emerge…I pinky promise 🙂

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Some Conference Thoughts from Digital Ocean’s Deploy

Back in November Tim, Lauren and I presented alongside Kaysi Holman and Inés Vañó García from the CUNY Graduate Center about work we’re doing in higher education using Digital Ocean. The presentation was under 30 minutes long, pre-recorded in Streamyard, and aired two months later as part of the Digital Ocean Deploy conference. it can be easily found online via their Deploy Conference page on YouTube as well. The moderator, Erin Glass, was kind enough to bring us all together to make it happen, and her introduction is in many ways a short preamble of her brilliant article on Ethical EdTech published recently I really enjoyed presenting alongside the folks from the CUNY GC (my alma mater of sorts), but I agree with Tim that when planning what we would talk about I missed the mark a bit. Rather than talking about Reclaim Cloud and the Emulation as a Service idea, we should have talked about our work with the CUNY Commons folks to make a one-click installer for CUNY’s C-Box. That’s on me, and I will try and avoid letting my excitement with the latest cool thing happening at Reclaim Hosting “cloud” my judgement.

I appreciate Erin inviting us, and I also really benefited from seeing how they organized Deploy as a participant given Reclaim Hosting will be joining forces with the OER21 folks to put on a OER21/Domains online conference in late April, and we’re still very much imagining the possibilities for making this as compelling and accessible as possible. One of the elements of Deploy I really appreciated was that the session was pre-recorded almost two months in advance and allowed, which allowed for us to attend the online conference and actually participate in the Discord discussion not only during our session, but for almost a month before that.  This made getting subtitles done seamless, to ensure everything was accessible out the gate.

What’s more, the way the conference was presented there were multiple channels going at once via a Video player hosted on a single page, that also had the schedule. It could not have been easier to access what’s happening across the conference at any given time in one, fell swoop. I also loved the way the kept all sessions to less than 30 minutes, and had awesome preface art, TV-like bumpers, and highlights between sessions, not unlike the transitions between TV shows. And this kept me watching, which I think testifies to something quite powerful. My pre-recording and cleaning up transitions and announcements you have a much better chance of making sure everything is accessible and that folks will stay tuned-in.

And getting back to my lament about not talking about CUNY’s C-Box installer, I believe that having to groups (CUNY GC educators and Reclaim Hosting folks) in conversation makes that 30 minute time-frame that much more compelling. Everyone spent a few minutes sharing their ideas (which made it move well), but I think have a conversation between groups around topics like ethical edtech would be absolutely brilliant, I think this worked really well during the Against Surveillance session with Maha Bali, Chris Gilliard, sava saheli singh, and Benjamin Doxtdator. It was a compelling discussion that balanced both rehearsed points, sharing media, and extemporaneous discussion that was a near perfect combination. They were even braver in that it was live, but I think managing live across several channels for two days is a lot of work, so I would like to see if there is a balance there between pre-recorded and live.

As a start thinking about the Domains sessions in the conference I am wondering how we can connect folks running various projects across different schools with one another to chat, while balancing structured “formal presentation” (i.e. rehearsed talking points) with new ideas that emerge as part of conversations in the moment. That will be a key for me because I think that’s what makes these sessions compelling and memorable.

Digital Ocean Deploy Conference swag

On a slightly different note, their swag game was pretty tight. Not only did they send a nice sweatshirt that arrived the day before the conference, but they also sent a cable bag, microphone port blocker, and webcam cover. Pretty interesting how those final two suggest a kind of ant-surveillance mentality for their participants and presenters, which was cool.

Anyway, these are all post facto notes about Digital Ocean’s Deploy as we begin to dig in for preparing for a fully online OOERxDomains 2021. It’s a fun challenge to work through, and the first step is stealing from other conferences that things that worked and learning from your own mistakes to make the next time around better.

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Reclaim Arcade Chats with Zach Whalen’s Games and Culture Course

Yesterday Tim and I spoke with Zach Whalen‘s “Games and Culture” course about Reclaim Arcade, and it was fun! The stream was overloaded for the first 9 minutes given Zach was crashing his computer with all the awesome that is Reclaim Arcade, but at minute 9:15 or so it starts calming down and the conversation gets underway. Tim and I had some fun chatting with Zach about everything from how we started this project to where we get our games to which are our favorites and why, and much more. Tim shared his brilliant work with hooking the Avengers pinball machine to the internet as well as showed off the epic video wall—he’s damn good. Whereas Zach was particularly tickled by the walk-through we provided of the entire space given he did not realize we re-created the UMW Console Living Room that he and I teamed up to build at the UMW ITCC in 2015. That was a highlight for me because, like Zach, I not just nostalgic for the 1980s, but also for cool projects I did with awesome faculty like him at UMW 🙂

Another highlight was listening to Zach talk about the culture around video games in the 70s and 80s. His contextualization of the creation of Pong, along with the controversy around the 1976 Exidy video game Death Race (which I didn’t know) were brilliant. And I had no idea about the long history of arcades and deviancy dating back to Mayor LaGuardia’s sledgehammering a pinball machine in 1942! It was going back to school with the best, and I loved it.

I also appreciated Zach’s approach to the online classroom, streaming discussions via Twitch, using Discord for conversation and chat, and embedding links and media in the live stream discussion. It was a really cool look at how teaching during lockdown has adopted so many elements of the Youtubers and gaming streamers to create meaningful online learning environments, who knew those video-gaming deviants would be creating the model for teaching online for the 21st century?

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Pengo and Wizard of Wor

I rounded off last month’s video game cabinet buying spree with two early 1980s classics: Wizard of Wor (1980) and Pengo (1982).

Wizard of Wor

Wizard of Wor is a dungeon maze shooter that had the unique element of being a two-player co-op. It appealed to me as a younger AD&D fan, and while a mildly popular game, when I saw how beautiful the cabinet one of the best old school cabinet dealers had for sale, I just could not resist.

It’s been a while since I have played this one, so it will be fun to re-visit, and maybe I can get Tim to play co-op with me—I mean we have come this far together 🙂

The other game on the way from the same seller is Pengo, and this cabinet is also impressively clean. Like Wizard of Wor, Pengo was modestly successful back in the day. It’s one of the games that folks who comes to the arcade and are of a certain age will immediately get a bout of boutique nostalgia 🙂 The same can be said of quite a few of this month’s purchases, such as Mouse Trap (1981) Vanguard (1981), and Congo Bongo (1983).

The game is fully working but the monitor may need to be re-capped, so we’ll see how that goes. Pengo is yet another maze game (we have quite a few of that genre at this point) wherein you are a penguin in the arctic that skillfully uses blocks of ice to crush sno-bees. I love the crazy themed games like this, and I think more than a few of the recent acquisitions are lesser-known and will nicely balance the more recognizable hits of the golden age of arcade cabinets—-many of which we have. You can see a full list of our games on the Reclaim Arcade website, and I have to pinch myself every time I look at it because it represents a pretty amazing adventure for Tim and I into the world collecting video games, and I’m quite proud of the arcade we’ve managed to build in just two and half years.

There will be more games to come in the future, but with 57 old school arcade cabinets I’m feeling good about where we’re at for opening day. I head back to the burg in just 10 days to prepare for the opening. It’s a special kind of joy to return to the strip mall only to be greeted by a whole new class of cabinets that will soon be available to the broader public. So, with all that said, if you are around the weekend of January 29th, 30th, and 31st and want to check-out the coolest arcade in Freddy, I’ll be there waiting for you with bells on!

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Open Source FTW or, a Small Anecdote of a WPMS LTI Integration Plugin

Back at Domains 2019 Andy Millington came all the way from the University of Edinburgh to Durham, North Carolina to share the work of his team to create an LTI  that integrates WordPress Multisite with Moodle. This is a project Anne-Marie Scott wrote about extensively, and I can think of few more eloquent and ardent supporters of open source in higher ed, so in many ways this post is for her–big fan!

I’ll be honest, LTI is not necessarily the sexiest edtech acronym I’ve used on this blog. In fact, for many it’s a more restrictive API that is designated for the worst of teaching tools: the LMS, or VLE, or what have you.* That said, Jon Udell made a pretty compelling argument in defense of the LTI (although I will not forgive him his LMS love) which is very much inline with his thinking through light-weight system integrations for decades now. What’s more, companies like Hypothesis and Lumen Learning have listened to the Dead Moocmen, and they know the LMS is here to stay, and it will never die. So LTI integrations into learning management systems of all kinds is a key part of their success, and while I find the continued dependence on the LMS sad and pathetic, I do understand the need for them. Such are the compromises of an aging edtech.

But if I can pull myself out of the depression this line of thought plunges me into, one silver lining is open source code that makes these LTI integrations more broadly applicable and freely re-usable. And here begins my quick anecdote that I hope Andy and Anne-Marie can appreciate. In early December I was on a call with a university that has a legacy WordPress Multisite that has been around since 2009 and has 17,000+ sites.† What’s more, it’s integrated with their LMS, which in this case is not Moodle but Sakai, and in order for them to offload the hosting they need to re-work that integration. They asked us if we do development work, which is a hard no. We have folks we can recommend, but we realized early on that development is not our game; it’s a totally different skillset and long-term maintenance is always more work than one could ever imagine. That said, during the meeting I believe Tim recommended they take a look at the code on Github for the LTI plugin developed at Edinburgh before going the often expensive and time-consuming custom development route.

When we met again right before the holidays one of the agenda items was regarding custom development for LTI integration for their WPMS into Sakai, which Lauren and I were sure was going to be a deal breaker. So as we got to that bullet point the developer said this was no longer a concern, they looked at the LTI plugin from Edinburgh on Github and with some slight customizations for Sakai reported it worked brilliantly. In fact, it was even better than what they had been using previously. YEAH!

I’ll be sure to follow-up and see if that  modification can be shared somewhere for other folks using Sakai and wanting WordPress LTI integration. But in the interim it just seemed important to tell the story because those universities like University of Edinburgh that are leading by giving back, and putting the talent they have locally to work for a much broader global community is a facet of the power of open that made me fall in love with that whole concept way back in 2004 or 2005. Avanti!

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*I still hate the LMS as much as I ever did, and dealing with it tangentially last semester as Antonella started teaching again re-surfaced all the old wounds and that deep-seated loathing of a true tool of teaching oppression.

†As it turns out, this WordPress Multisite instance was a result of a visit and consultation I made in that same year. It has been amazing to me how many sites I helped folks get up and running a decade ago are now are hosted with Reclaim, it’s truly a long game/con I have been running all these years 🙂

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Running Pressbooks and Manifold in Reclaim Cloud

I have been playing around with a few things recently prompted by some requests in Reclaim’s Community forums as well as a ticket or two. Tim already documented his process getting the open source scholarly publishing tool Manifold up and running in Reclaim Cloud,  but when we got a question regarding issues during the Docker container setup I decided to jump in given I wanted to give it a spin. Turns out the documentation we had needed to be updated given the developer of Manifold, the great Zack Davis, was updating the code base and we needed to pull the latest version, which he supplied me within seconds of my Github issues post—amazing!

So, the Docker instance of Manifold works a treat, and I am running a fresh test instance, featured above, to prove it. I dig Manifold, it is quite slick. After doing this install it was pretty apparent a one-click installer would be dead simple. I have to talk with Tim about that (he helped me with Azuracast, so I may go back to that well), but that would be a welcome addition to the Reclaim Cloud marketplace.

The other application I started playing with was a fresh Pressbooks instance on Reclaim Cloud. There is no Docker instance of Pressbooks available, which is a bummer, but we have a WordPress one-click installer that has WordPress Multisite as an option, so I used that and then went about installing the main Pressbooks plugin, uploading the book themes and moving a few files around, per the Pressbooks installation instructions. It  was another dead simple install (despite the lack of a Docker file), and a sure-fire candidate for a one-click installer on the Cloud. What’s more, given it’s a virtualized server environment it can be setup to have the required server-level dependencies for PDF conversions, ePubs, etc. installed by default, something we cannot do on our shared hosting servers. I think this is another lay-up for us, adding these scholarly publishing tools to Reclaim Cloud’s one-click installer marketplace is just another brick in the Cloud 🙂

It felt good to be playing in the Cloud again after a bit of a hiatus given things with the move, general Reclaim busyness, and the holidays converged to make any play-time a scarcity. I’d like to get these to one-click installers out sometime this month, as well as another for PeerTube, which i have been using a lot recently and still love it. So, here to more Reclaim Cloud in 2021!

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The Nostalgia of Reclaim Arcade

Back in November Tim and I sat down with the Matt Project to talk about Reclaim Arcade. I’ve been meaning to share this on the bava, and the recent announcement of the arcade opening at the end of January provided the perfect excuse. I really like the way the space was captured and the stories about the delayed opening, the sleazy history of arcades, and the post modern power of nostalgia to make us long for re-living  something we never experienced—or never even happened they way we pretend it did. I think that’s part of the magic of Reclaim Arcade for me, it’s always already a failed attempt to recreate something that will never actually be whole again. There will always be something missing in the process and that space is where imagination can take hold and try to fill the gaps.

It reminds me of a dinner I attended with friends of friends in Los Angeles when I first started floating the idea of Reclaim Video and Reclaim Arcade. The immediate response from the Ph.D. candidate in Art History at the table was that what I was talking about was not art, it was just crass, commercialized nostalgia. But for me I find the difference so hard to map. I mean the greatest piece of art I ever experienced was at the LACMA in the early 90s when an artist re-created their grandfather’s garage. It was magical, you could walk around it and see what was on the shelves, smell the must, and hear the crickets. It was like a futuristic teleportation device to the past, one that I never experienced but was all the more nostalgic for it as a result. Isn’t the ability to create that complex sense of emotion and relations to something akin to art? And while I am terribly biased, I still maintain that Reclaim Arcade is, first and foremost, art 🙂

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