“It’s cold!”, I said to myself as I stood in line on opening day to enter this new establishment of nostalgia. The Cade is a bar and arcade hybrid better known as a barcade. Many barcades have been springing up across the U.S. and thus, The Cade adds to those growing statistics. This was my first barcade, so I had a few assumptions of what might be in store for me. As my colleague and I stood outside, I took note of the people that were standing in line. Luckily, my friend and I got there just in time for there were roughly 15 people ahead of us and 5 behind. 10 minutes later, that number increased fourfold. During those 10 minutes, I took note of the gender and age demographics of the patrons in line.
To be expected, it was mostly men between their early 20s to late 40s with a few women between the same age range. This got me thinking about Dr. Carly A. Kocurek’s (2015) book, Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade. This book discussed arcade history from the 1970’s to 1980’s and focused on the role gender played during those times. One of her arguments being that arcades were male-dominated spaces due to technological, political, and social factors. A major contributor being the amalgamation of teenage boy adolescence and the normality of masculinity becoming the social force to define arcades. So, as I hastily typed my notes to warm my fingers, I can only wonder if these same gender dynamics will come up in my observation. Lastly, I was genuinely ecstatic to go to my first barcade. For myself and my colleague, our eagerness to enter this space as games researchers and gamers were at an all time high.
Around 5:32pm on that cold Friday is when we finally stepped into the barcade. I immediately embraced the heat and the aesthetic of The Cade. Dim lighting set the tone, while the large television monitors loomed over top of the arcade cabinet area. After paying my five dollars, I felt The Cade embraced me with open arms.
First and foremost, The Cade is not a large space for a patron immediately can see the entire establishment in one glance. The bar is located on the right and the 15 arcade cabinets are on the left. Nearest to the door is a classic home console setup with CRT televisions to play games like Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart64 on the Nintendo 64 console. My mind was utterly floored by the ambiance and the lights and sounds of these classic arcade games. These are the arcade cabinets available to play at The Cade: Q’bert (1982), Donkey Kong (1981), Street Fighter 2: Championship Edition (1992), Burger Time (1982), Super Off Road (1989), Asteroids (1979), X-Men (1992), Pac-Man (1980), NBA-Jam (1993), Gauntlet (1985), Galaga (1981), Tapper (1983), Area 51 (1995), Mario Bros. (1983), and Centipede (1980).
As I meandered around, I saw players sighing and gasping as they saw the “Game Over” screen appear before them. I played Street Fighter and within seconds remembered why Street Fighter was never the game for me. I am horrible at it. However, I played several rounds with my colleague who repeatedly defeated me with E. Honda. “Dem hands doh!”, I said quietly.
My goal was to observe the people within the space, which included informally interviewing the manager. As I stood taking notes on my phone, I heard “So good to see you! Thanks for coming!” As I slowly looked up I saw it was one of my former students. After pleasantries were exchanged, I noticed she was wearing “The Cade” t-shirt. I asked if she work at The Cade because she was employed elsewhere when she was my student. Bashfully she said, “Actually I’m…” hastily, I interrupted with “are you the manager!?” Her and her fianceé, Jeremy, run the establishment together. The conversation was brief for she had to quickly tend to her managerial duties. So, we had a meeting at The Cade during closing time the following Monday.
The first question I asked was how she got started in the barcade business. Chelsea stated that Jeremy knew the previous owner of the space which was called “The Vid”, a former bar. She always played puzzles and games with Jeremy, and with her background in the service industry creating, a barcade made sense especially in Bloomington, Indiana. Bloomington is also home to Indiana University, my current institution. “We’re right downtown and there’s nothing like this”, Chelsea stated. I asked about how they envisioned The Cade to be, Chelsea mentioned the book “Ready Player One”, which is also getting a film adaptation directed by Steven Speilberg. The book described a hangout space that Chelsea thought would be a “cool basement hangout” concept to bring The Cade.
As mentioned earlier, The Cade is not large space, so I asked her how they decided the kind of “flow” they wanted for the space. “We didn’t want people walking in front of consoles. So, that was important.” The consoles are located at the front of the establishment with cushioned wooden benches around them for people to sit and game. Next to the bar are booths for patrons to drink and eat at. Did I forget to disclose the tables at the booth light up!? In regard to the bar booths, they decided the booths should be adjacent to the bar and not in the middle of the establishment “for ease of access to the bar”, Chelsea stated.
My last few questions were related to the future of The Cade. Chelsea spoke of potentially hosting “anime nights” and “tournaments.” 4 more arcade cabinets are entering The Cade soon, but Chelsea did mention that Mortal Kombat is missing from the arcade. They wanted to have at least a game from several genres of arcade cabinets. Chelsea also want to have “some kind of comradery around us in the state.” Barcades are popular, but the uncertainty of how long this trend will keep remains a mystery. I addressed my concern to her in which she replied, “Right now, I think retro is really in, but of course as pop culture changes, we will need to change as well.”
Earlier I spoke of Dr. Kocurek, whom in page 3 of her book claimed, “Today, although videogaming itself has continued to gain cultural significance, the videogame arcade as a physical space persists as an object of nostalgia, an entertainment gimmick, or a nerd mecca for the truly dedicated, even as new arcades open, making specific appeal through these forms.” Yes, The Cade is a space for gamers and nostalgia seekers, but also for anyone who just wants to partake in a beverage and/or videogames. For sure, the truly dedicated will be the ones to keep businesses like these afloat. Barcades not only preserve technological artifacts of arcade history, but give the cabinets agency once again. People engage and understand them differently due to the technological capabilities of contemporary videogame culture. However, the level Galaga still can give any skilled player a button mashing workout. Though the look of these games appear overly simplistic – the level of difficulty has not aged a day. Hopefully, The Cade sticks around long enough to pay homage to classic systems such as the Xbox One X, PS4 Pro, and Nintendo Switch.