WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Some people turn their basements into storage spaces or workout rooms, but few people share Scott Leftwich’s claim.
The local singer/songwriter has his own classic arcade.
Leftwich, 42, has been collecting and restoring arcade games for 16 years. He was a child in the 1980s, and his basement serves as a tribute to that time.
He has 60 functioning arcade machines from the ‘70s and ‘80s set up under the glow of blacklights. Every few weeks, he invites friends over to compete for the high score and reminisce about days long-gone.
“It’s not good for them to just sit and collect dust,” Leftwich said of the machines.
Soon Leftwich will open his personal arcade to the public for a Saturday afternoon fundraiser, hoping to raise money for game restoration projects.
“I’m just all about the preservation of these games, because they made a huge impact on a generation,” he said.
His first purchase was Frogger in 1997, when he and his brother Blake – a game developer – began collecting games.
“One became two, two became four,” he explained.
Now all he has to do is power up 60 machines in his basement whenever he wants the familiar hum of an arcade, and more coin-operated machines are waiting in the wings to be rehabilitated.
Leftwich works in the IT field, but he is also a singer/songwriter and leader of the indie rock band Scott Leftwich & the Atarians (yes, named after the Atari game console). He is also a performer in the nationally touring production “This is the ‘60s.”
When Leftwich and his wife, Kim, moved to Winston-Salem about a year ago, they brought his games with them.
“We had to specifically look for a home with an enormous basement so I could do this,” he said.
Memories from childhood
Leftwich was raised in southern Virginia in a little town called Cana, just north of Mount Airy. One of his first arcade game memories is from the early ‘80s. A convenience store down the street had just gotten a Pac-Man machine, and he and his brother could not wait to try it out. To his dismay, they arrived to find 25 people already in line.
He recalls that arcade machines seemed to be everywhere in the ‘80s.
“Every business had one or two arcade games. They just did,” Leftwich said.
But there were also businesses dedicated solely to those games. Video arcades were havens for the game lover.
“It was a real scene at the time,” Leftwich said. “It’s where everybody hung out.”
Around 1983, the American video game industry crashed. Home gaming consoles were inexpensive, and the market became flooded with games. The industry also had to contend with the growing popularity of the personal computer.
Out of the ashes rose the Nintendo Entertainment System. The arcade scene began to die, though, as more advanced home systems were developed.
Leftwich remembers having an Atari 2600 and working his way up to other gaming systems. Leftwich said he has one of every cartridge-based system made in America. They are all stacked neatly on shelves in another part of his spacious basement.
But his primary focus is on the arcade games. It started when he saw a Frogger machine in a trade paper. It was cheap – about $50 – and he thought it would be cool to have an old game.
He soon discovered the rush that came with owning his own arcade game, and he started looking for more. When he ran out of space, he started storing machines at friends’ homes.
His search for games has taken him all up and down the East Coast. He has bought them from homes, storage facilities, warehouses – even the back of a truck at a flea market.
When asked what game he is still searching for, Leftwich laughs.
“There’s more than one,” he says.
Circus Charlie may top the list. He used to play that game while his mom went through the checkout line at Roses.
The internet is helpful in the quest for specific games, but word of mouth is also key. Over the years, Leftwich has developed a network with other collectors.
“We all have the same disease, I guess,” Leftwich said with a chuckle.
Fundraiser for games
Leftwich plans to open his home on May 31 to let people ages 12 and up play arcade games, an event he has dubbed “Wieners & Losers.” He hopes to make it a monthly event.
For a $10 charge, people can play all the games they want. They don’t have to bring any quarters. Everything will be on free play or credited.
Hot dogs and drinks will be available for an additional charge.
“We’re just trying to raise money for restoration projects,” Leftwich said.
He has several machines in storage and is retaining more.
Repairing them has been a case of trial and error, but he said it is usually pretty simple. They all have the same basic parts: a power supply, monitor and circuit board.
“There’s really no better feeling than when you bring something back to life that’s been dead for 20, 30 years,” Leftwich said.
Some popular titles in his home include Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Joust, Centipede and Asteroids. Some of his favorites are Dragon’s Lair and Mouse Trap.
These are just a few of the games that should be available at Wieners & Losers. A juke box will play music in the background, but only tracks from 1980 to 1984 – the golden days of the arcade scene.
Leftwich has also toyed with the idea of launching a full-scale restaurant and classic arcade, something to bring back the classic arcade scene.
“It was really a magical time,” he said.
Want To Go?
What: Wieners and Losers, a private classic ‘80s arcade
When: 2 to 8 p.m. on May 31, then once monthly
Where: Scott Leftwich’s home in Winston-Salem
Sign-up: Visit wienersandlosers.com and send a message