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On October 8, 1983, Walter Day of Twin Galaxies had a vision. He dreamt of having a Video Game Hall of Fame in Ottumwa, Iowa.   He knew this would be the perfect place to host the event being that Ottumwa, Iowa was crowned the Video Game Capital of the world one year before.  Unfortunately, the arcade business took a crash.   Arcade gaming and the recognition of gaming would falter.  Therefore, the Hall of Fame would not take off. Fast forward 27 years where the vision became reality at the Hall of Fame award ceremony in Ottumwa, Iowa.  In 2010, Walter Day and a crew of gamers and volunteers pulled off the very first International Video Game Hall of Fame (IVGHOF) award ceremony.  It was a huge success and turned out to be a very memorable weekend for all who attended, including me.   There would be another Hall of Fame in 2015, during the ICON event in Ottumwa, Iowa.  This was such a success that the IVGHOF Board of Directors made sure that this event continued to grow year after year. This past weekend the IVGHOF was just as exciting, if not better.  It was a weekend of gaming, tournaments, raffles, special guests, autograph sessions, the Time Life Photo recreation on Main Street and an all-around great event to mingle with past, present and future gamers around the world.  On November 9-12, 2017, the Ottumwa’s Old School Pinball & Arcade presented the “Galaxies of Gaming.”  

Ottumwa’s Old School Arcade Committee consists of Jerry Byrum, Bill Hoffman, Terry Burtlow, Ginny Burtlow, Michael Dudley, Katie Bride, Dennis Bartlet and Anita Carver. The Hall of Fame Committee is made up of Julie Barwick, Marcus Bennett, Raymond Cover and Angela Hoffman.  The Committee tells me,  “With the help of others, eveyone’s goal and mission is to continue the legacy of gaming, Walter Day and of Twin Galaxies arcade in Ottumwa. With your help, we will do just that.”

The weekend event started early on Thursday as the arcade opened, and registration began for all the tournaments that were being held all weekend.  Tournaments included such console games as Madden ’18 for the PlayStation 4 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Nintendo Switch.   There were arcade tournaments as well such as Ms. Pac Man and Guitar Hero.   If arcades are not your thing, there was also a pinball tournament on the new Star Wars pinball machine.   Ottumwa’s Old School Pinball and Arcade is a new arcade located in the Quincy Place Mall.   They hold up to 80 arcade and pinball machines, past and present for example: classics such as Frogger and Pac-Man and newer games like Guitar Hero and Final Lap 3.  All Games are on free play so after you pay your entry fee you can come and go and play all the games you like for the entire day.  

Not only was there the arcade open to the public, but there were vendors invited to setup items they could sell.    From cartoon caricature drawers, to retro gaming vendors, there was a wide range of items to look through and purchase.  Chris Foster of Brooklyn, Iowa tells me, “I was thrilled to be involved in the event as a vendor. I attended the event with my brother Jeremy Foster and son Jax Foster, yes, he was named after a character from Mortal Kombat.  We packed our inventory the previous night and left early in the morning for the two-hour trip to Ottumwa. We were so excited to attend none of us got much sleep.  We had a great day of toy and video game sales and left with something more valuable than money, memories made between a father and son that will last a long time for these gamers.”

Saturday morning started out with a possible world record attempt by Paul Zimmerman of Deerfield, Illinois.   Paul drove about 5 hours to attend the event to try and break the Atari 2600 record on Berzerk.    The record currently stood at 1,057,940.   For Paul to break this record, he would have to start playing at 9:30 AM until around 11:00 PM.   I sat down with Paul before he started his run to ask him how he was feeling and what it took to break the record. “I have been playing video games since I got my first Atari 2600 in 1980.”   Paul explained how going for the world record is very important to him.  “I got the record back in 2010, at the Midwest Gaming Classic, and it was beaten in 2015.   I actually almost beat the record a year later, but the game froze a half hour before I could beat the score.”  Paul knew he could beat the record again, he just needed video proof, an event and to make sure the game did not freeze.   This year he made sure he had a different game cartridge and a different system, so the freeze issue would not happen.    Unfortunately, at 6:45 PM after playing for 9 ½ hours the game indeed froze again with a score of 666,040.   Billy Mitchell joked that everyone needed to stay away from Paul as his game froze on 666.   Perhaps a bad luck number to freeze up on.    Personally, knowing Paul and how he is determined to beat a record, I know he will go to the next event and get his high score. It’s his world record to take back.  

Throughout the weekend, there was a space where memorabilia from the history of gaming was on display.   Ottumwa is in the process of creating a home for the Video Game Museum.  A place where you can go to see the history of arcade, console, and pinball gaming from the beginning until the present.   Items such as T-shirts, posters, games and systems were on display in this mini version of what will come for the Museum in Ottumwa, Iowa.   In the same room of the museum was an autograph table signing session.   Current and past Hall of Famers as well as current gamers were gracious enough to spend some time with the fans and sign cards, magazines and whatever fans brought for them.  Some of the people in the signing room were old school gamers: Todd Rogers, Mark Robichek and Sam Blackburn.  The Class of 2016 attendees such as Lonnie McDonald and Chris Tang were happy to sign items for fans.    Of course, an autograph session would not be complete without Walter Day and Billy Mitchell.  They were on hand to sign and talk with the gamers about the history of gaming and Twin Galaxies.  I spoke with Mark Robicheck, one of the original Time Life Photo members back in 1982, from the original Twin Galaxies arcade.  “I really enjoyed my weekend in Ottumwa. I really felt like a celebrity, especially while signing autographs and seeing the joyous looks on the faces of both the adults and the kids in attendance.”   Mark goes on to add, “Just prior to the IVGHOF induction ceremony, I was approached by Walter Day and others to see if I’d be willing to be a presenter and I jumped at the opportunity. Before my turn at the mic, I got to hear Isaiah ‘Triforce’ Johnson pay tribute to some of the original game players (such as me) and he even described us in a way that will stick with me forever. He called us the ‘Elder Gods.’ I like that term! In fact, when Walter Day asked me whether I’d wear an ‘Elder God’ T-shirt, I said, Absolutely!”

Saturday afternoon was the historical recreation of the Time Life photograph that was taken on Main Street in Ottumwa back in 1982.   The goal has always been to get as many gamers from the original picture as well as the five cheerleaders that pose in front of the arcade games.  This year we had the privilege of three of the members as well as two of the original cheerleaders take part in the photograph.   Billy Mitchell, Sam Blackburn and Mark Robichek stood high above the gaming machines as they did 35 years before.    April Lewis and Tracy Groy were gracious enough to come back all these years later as two of the original cheerleaders from the early 80s.  April told everyone, “My goal is to get the other three here and have all five cheerleaders represent Ottumwa again.”    Once the photograph was finished, locals and attendees of the weekend event took a group picture with everyone including Walter Day who was there for the original shoot outside his arcade in 1982. 

Saturday night was the Hall of Fame Ceremony and it did not disappoint.   It was a perfectly organized event that brought together some of the top gaming figures in the world to celebrate the Inductees and be a part of history with the Class of 2016.    Before the ceremony started, fans and residents had the pleasure of hearing from Jerry Parker, the former Mayor of Ottumwa and the person who proclaimed Ottumwa as the Video Game Capital of the World.  Other speakers included the current mayor of Ottumwa, Tom Lazio and the State Senator Mary Gaskill.    

Additionally, it was the awarding of the Ottumwa’s Old School Pinball & Arcade Gamer of the Year awards.   This all-year event started in January and ended the night of November 11, 2017.   Gamers of all ages battled in a world series of gaming on multiple platforms to determine the world champion for kids and adults.  Games included were Ms. Pac Man Arcade, Mario Kart 64 for the N64, Family Guy Pinball, Tetris for the Gameboy and Metal Slug for the PS2 among many other games.    The finals of the yearly tournament were held this weekend and the top 3 winners received an award along with a certificate.    In the adult division, 3rd Place went Kevin Archer, 2nd Place went to Ed Burtlow and 1st Place was Wyatt Barwick.  For the kid’s event, 3rd Place went to Brandon Burtlow, 2nd Place went to Caleb Burtlow and the 1st Place gamer of the year went to Isabella Hoffman.

This year’s class included different eras of games, players and Industry legends.   The game inducted this year from the 1980’s era was Super Mario Bros., with over 40 million units sold, it is considered one of the greatest games of all time.   From the 1990’s era, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, one of the biggest selling Super Nintendo Games ever.   The game of the 2000’s that was voted on was the World of Warcraft, with over 11 million paid subscribers, this is easily the most popular MMORGP of all time.   The current era game that was inducted into the Hall of Fame was Minecraft, with over 60 million copies sold and over 1.75 billion hours of gameplay worldwide, Minecraft will always be a true iconic game for years to come.  

One of the Inductees able to attend the presentation was Isaiah “TriForce” Johnson, who also accepted the awards on behalf of Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and Nintendo Industry Leader, Sotoru Iwata.  TriForce Johnson has become a familiar face when it comes to Nintendo products and Esports Competition. Was inducted in the category of 2000’s ESports Competitor.   He is the creator and organizer of Empire Arcadia and a true pioneer for competitive gaming.   TriForce tells me, “The Video Game Capital of the World weekend event was one of the most important moments for me in my career in the eSports industry. My induction into the International Video Game Hall of Fame has put me in a unique position with a hand full of people who are entrusted to carry on a tradition and preserve a history that is the corner stone for the very eSports industry that my team and I are a part of. Every time I go to Ottumwa Iowa, I learn so much about the origins of eSports and I meet someone new who has a story that would be lost to time if I don’t speak with them. Now that I’m inducted, I’m obligated to do what I can to document these stories and share them with the modern scene of eSports. The flame that represents the classic age of eSports is sputtering and if extinguished it may never be rekindled. Industrial eSports Revolution is complete, and a new age is upon us. I will do all I can to protect the history and traditions from any revisionist.”

Another one of the Inductees able to attend the weekend event was Lonnie McDonald.  Without doubt one of, if not the best Joust Player in the world.    He has been playing arcade games since the early 1980s and even played Joust for a record 24 hours straight back in 1982.   He is the first person to hit the max score of 9,999,999 on a joust machine in all 50 states.    While attending the festivities he decided to go for this 175th joust machine of hitting that max score, another world record.   Lonnie told me, “I was honored to make the site of the event also a stop on Joust Tour, turning the 175th Joust machine to 9,999,999”.   Lonnie had a moving acceptance speech and was very honored to be a part of this Hall of Fame Class.  “It’s always a pleasure to visit gaming venues in Ottumwa Iowa”, Lonnie explains.  “As an Inductee into the International Video Game Hall of Fame and a person born and raised in Iowa, it was even more of an honor to be included”.  Lonnie goes on to say, “Ottumwa’s gaming legacy should make it a destination, a Mecca if you will, for all gamers.”  

Chris Tang was inducted as the 1990s Esports Competitor and graciously accepted his award with a moving speech about his gaming experiences, being a leader in the industry and thanking a lot of gamers who paved the way for his career.  “Growing up, I had read about Ottumwa while its history was unfolding, which inspired me and had a definite impact on my future as a competitive gamer.  To finally visit the historic site of the Twin Galaxies arcade and scoreboard, and take part in the LIFE magazine photo re-creation was a huge honor.  I very much look forward to when the new permanent arcade and museum on Main Street will be opening and hope to come back for that!  Getting to meet some of the other fellow and previous inductees and get to know them better was another highlight that I wish I had more time to do.  The inductions themselves are now one of the most memorable moments in my life.”  Chris was inducted by friend and arcade owner, Doc Mack, of Galloping Ghosts arcade in Brookfield, Illinois.   Doc owns one of the largest arcades in the country with almost 650 arcade games in his store.  Chris added, “I was also honored that Doc Mack, the owner of the Galloping Ghost Arcade, was able to be the one to induct and present me; he’s probably the one who best understands my videogame-centric life as a champion, game developer, eSports commentator and lifelong enthusiast.  Doc is someone I have so much respect for through his efforts to preserve and respect gaming history for all to enjoy – which is very much in line with what the International Video Game Hall of Fame and Museum and historic efforts in Ottumwa are all about.”

The final inductee able to attend the weekend festivities was Patrick O’ Malley of Star Words Arcade.  Located in Dekalb, IL., Star Worlds has been fully operational since 1985. One of the only remaining token based arcades in the country.   Patrick accepted his Community Action Award with honor and respect for others in the industry.  He knows more than anyone how hard it is to keep an arcade business going and keep gamers happy.   “It was truly an honor being inducted into the international video game hall of fame class of 2016 for my community action award. It’s an important role in the community and I look forward to others joining me in that category in years to come. Glenn and I are often displaying and working many of the gaming events. It was nice being honored and having the time to spend enjoying the event and spending time with our family and friends.”  Patrick was inducted by Twin Galaxies founder and longtime gaming historian, Walter Day.  Patrick added, “When I was asked who I wanted to present my induction I didn’t think twice. Walter day is a longtime friend and it was an honor having him present the award.  Many people over the weekend asked me why I’m still doing coin drop play at Star Worlds Arcade. It’s simple. Token play has become as classic as the games themselves. Dropping a coin into the slot is a vote for your favorite game. It’s how we know just what games are the most popular with our customers.”

This event was covered by local media from all over Iowa.   Some of the media members I spoke with were Ottumwa’s Radio News, KTVO, KYOU, The Ottumwa Courier and the Des Moines Register.   It was truly the talk of the town for that weekend.   Talking with Jerry Byram, Arcade Committee member, he estimated between 1200-1500 attendees throughout the weekend.    Terry Burtlow of Ottumwa, Iowa, organizer and committee member says, “Watching all the smiling faces makes it worth it and makes us want to be here every year moving forward.”   Co-Chairman Bill Hoffman explains “We have a lot of professional gamers that came to celebrate with us, to celebrate with this community. So, you know, Ottumwa being the Video Game Capital of the World, they’ve all come to celebrate Ottumwa, and we just want to give Ottumwa what it deserves to be the Video Game Capital of the World. No other town in the U.S. can claim that, so we’re just happy to celebrate it and bring it to Ottumwa.”  I personally had a great weekend with a lot of good memories and stories to talk about as well as being part of gaming history.  I hope and plan to attend this event each year for years to come.   

Follow the Old School Arcade on their Facebook page “OtownOldSchoolArcade” and at #videogamecapital on Instagram. 

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