Welcome to Cowlitz Gamers for Kids 2012 Classic Video Game Expo (I think)!
There's a small smattering of applause as Mechlo takes the stage. It's a one-man band, a goateed fellow with a plethora of classic game systems and games. The audience may not be rushing the stage like a U2 concert, but everybody seems to appreciate his techno-influenced melodies using the bleeps and bloops of a Game Boy, NES and other familiar consoles. His wife stands in front of the stage selling his newest compact disc to anybody who has five dollars. She looks on lovingly as he zones out the audience and begins dancing about. He loves what he's doing and it shows.
That's a theme I saw repeated throughout the entire day at the Cowlitz Gamers for Kids 2012 Classic Video Game Expo. Held in what looked to be the hollowed out remains of an old Mervyn's clothing store, this
When the mall isn't playing host to gaming events, it's trying to get your grandparents laid!
modestly-sized event allowed gamers of all ages to do what they love: Play old school games.
For three years running, Cowlitz Gamers for Kids has raised money for charity through a seven hour convention held at the Three Rivers Mall in southern Washington State. Kelso is located about an hour north of Portland, Oregon, with little else to do and see. The mall is a depressing reminder of the businesses that lost their life in the retail wars. It's a graveyard full of DVD shops, CD stores, clothing chains and pretzel
Don't believe their lies!
venders. If you look closely you can almost see the Kits Camera and smell the Sbarros, but these days the best you can do is a cell phone kiosk and independently owned gyro stand.
Even the mom and pop game store looked like it was two or three weeks away from committing suicide. The lighting, dimmed to what can only be described as pitch black, made it impossible to see the paltry selection of used games. On the other side of the store was a Modern Warfare 3 tournament in full swing, complete with about a dozen people. On the way out is a sign advertising the store for birthday parties. I'm not sure if the Prozac is included.
The scene was dreary at best. The warm weather outside couldn't help the ghost town of a mall. As I walked past the gated-up stores and bored security guard, I started to feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. I thought about the friends I've lost, how terrible the economy has been and all the many bad things that have happened over the past year. I wasn't sure I could make it through the mall without cutting myself. But then
Venders from around the world are ready to sell you old NES games!
I rounded the corner and discovered the entrance to the Cowlitz Gamers for Kids 2012 Classic Video Game Expo and my day was saved.
The show was made up of around a dozen classic game retailers, several rows of old school game stations, an arcade section, a place for a silent auction and a stage where not one, but two musicians performed. Although small in size, there was always something exciting happening. And when you got bored of beating everybody's Tetris score, there was plenty of space to socialize with other retro game fans. As classic game expos go, this has just about everything you could ask for.
This history lesson could have used more Jaguar!
The organizers tried their hardest to impart classic game knowledge on the show goers. There was a row of systems from the late 1970s and early 80s. Each of these stations featured a short biography and a few games to try out. Here I saw a lot of children seeing the Apple IIe, Intellivision and Pong for the very first time. People could compare versions of Donkey Kong side-by-side, which sounds like a perfectly reasonable way to spend a Saturday afternoon to me.
On the other side of the row were the (slightly) newer consoles. Here you could play Paperboy 2 on the Nintendo Entertainment System, Mortal Kombat on the Super NES, Sonic
This poor kid didn't stand a chance against my Tetris score!
the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis and GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64. Surprisingly absent was a biography or historical write-up about any of these consoles. I guess they figure that everybody knows about the post-great game crash game systems. It was a missed opportunity.
This play center was the central draw of the show, featuring a wide variety of games and systems. The most impressive (and yet least played) section was a vintage Game Boy retail demo station. It's a large piece of plastic that sits on a table, pumping the black and white images to a television for everybody to see. Right next to the Game Boy was the Nintendo Entertainment System, which was used to host the RC Pro-Am tournament. Roughly two dozen people crowded around Nintendo's 8-bitter for the chance of winning. It seemed to dwarf the Modern Warfare 3 competition happening just a few feet away in the dark and depressing mom and pop game store.