The Ultimate Video Arcade
May 18, 2005 7:22 PM   Subscribe

Where is the ultimate video game arcade in the United States? I want to take my 12-yo son on a fun vacation that he has most decidedly earned, and I need ideas. He does not like rollercoasters or other amusement park rides, but he does like experiential movie theatres like IMAX, 3-D and the like.
posted by mischief to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total)
Not the best answer, but Vegas has many 'immersive' experiences, like Star Trek the Experience. Might underappreciated by a 12 y/o though.

Depending on your son, I might suggest avoiding indoor activities, since you can watch a movie anywhere. Go to some amazing national park (swampboating the everglades, hiking part of the Appalachian Trail, etc). I'm a couch potato, but my memories from trips when I was younger are all about more adventurous outdoorsy trips.
posted by CaptApollo at 7:49 PM on May 18, 2005

Dunno about video game arcades, but if you want to sneak a little education into his vacation, how about the Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC? They have an IMAX theater that shows films about aviation, space flight, etc that would probably appeal to a 12 year old. Plus the Smithsonian is a fantastic museum.

Or the Exploratorium in San Francisco is a totally hands-on museum of "science, art, and human perception". Kids can run around and have a blast, and learn something too. No IMAX theater, though. If you plan ahead you can make a reservation to go through the Tactile Dome, which might be a real trip for your kid - it's a geodesic dome that's basically pitch dark inside and you crawl through feeling your way along a twisty winding ramp, with a really cool slide at the end that dumps you into a big tub of ... (not gonna reveal the ending, in case you decide to do it with the lucky kid!)
posted by Quietgal at 8:40 PM on May 18, 2005

When I went to Florida one summer in junior high school, we spent half a day at Disney World, and two and a half days at Epcot Center. I thought that Epcot was much cooler. It has a feel a little like a a museum, a little like amusement part, and a little like "Welcome to the World of Tomorrow!" There are a few rollercoaster-like rides, but the main attaction for those were the scenes of deep space, the inside of the human body, etc., that flashed by, rather than fast movement. And there are interactive museum-like exhibits, some educational, and some just fun.

Also, if your son's even a little interested in the outdoors, consider CaptApollo's suggestion -- go to a national park, as at least part of a vacation. Especially if you're going to a place with much different scenery from home.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 8:41 PM on May 18, 2005

California Extreme is highly recommended, though much of it is not cutting edge--which may or may not bother your 12yo.

Whitewater rafting is outdoorsy and a little more interesting than the usual outdoorsy stuff to un-outdoorsy people.

Vegas is definitely good. I haven't really kept up on the current offerings, but the whole place seems kind of like what he's looking for. Don't forget shows like Cirque du Soleil either.

I know it's kind of traditional, but Disneyland/world are heavy on the animatronic "experience" rides, particularly Epcot.
posted by trevyn at 9:18 PM on May 18, 2005

Twin Galaxies is the keeper of the high score list. It looks like it grew out of a chain of arcades, but I can't tell if there is still a Twin Galaxies arcade you could visit.

I am rather partial to Pinball Pete's in Ann Arbor, MI. It's downright kid-safe these days, not like when I was young [though it was never really that bad back then either], and they have many many machines of all types, although they lean sort of toward the rhythm-game genre lately.

The base of one of the towers in Niagara Falls [Ontario] -- the Minolta one, I think? -- has a crazy up-to-six-players immersive shooter projected on the side of a wall. Every player has a crosshair and you just shoot and shoot. As I recall there are many small arcades all over the Falls tourist area, and plus you have the Falls there to satisfy the granolaheads who posted before me. If you don't want to go to the Falls, this Japanese page seems to list several Dave and Buster's and the Excalibur Hotel in Vegas as other sites [I have stayed at the Ex and don't remember seeing this -- and I'm pretty sure I'd remember].

Speaking of Vegas, of all the GameWorks I have been to, the Las Vegas one, on the strip next to the giant Coke bottle, is probably the most impressive. And again, lots of arcades and theaters in Vegas. And, um, the Hoover Dam. Perhaps if you didn't mind a lot of driving you could tie in a trip to California Extreme in August.

Sorry I don't have more firm information, but perhaps those ideas will help you find other ideas.
posted by britain at 9:18 PM on May 18, 2005

NYC has a HUGE arcade just off of Broadway in the theater district. It's called BarCode and Galactic Circus "25,000 square feet of electronic entertainment, this glitzy mega-arcade/nightclub has practically every video game in the planet." It's open during the day so you can certainly take kids to the Galactic Circus area. 1540 Broadway, between 45th and 46th Sts., 212-869-9397.
posted by ebeeb at 9:20 PM on May 18, 2005

You might try the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. Right in the old studio backlot district there. In the late 80s, when I made the pilgrimage there with my dad, an entire, open floor of the museum was devoted to banks of playable arcade games, none demanding quarters.

They've renovated since then, of course. Their current exhibit Digital Play: Reloaded seems the closest to what I remember.
posted by Tufa at 10:10 PM on May 18, 2005

For old school fun, Ground Kontrol in Portland is one of the best. unfortunately beyond that, we have the one-in-every-city science museum, but not much more than the second run movies in OMNIMAX.
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 10:50 PM on May 18, 2005

the Sony Metreon in downtown San Francisco sounds something like what you might be looking for. basically a giant Sony showcase. features a frequently-updated arcade (with many unique, networked VR machines), restaurants with flatpanel video art displays all over, several (!) IMAX theaters, an awesome PlayStation store, anime/manga store, lots of electronics showcase stuff, import stuff. awesome destination for a gamer/anime kid.

the arcade itself is awesome, but you'll probably be underwhelmed by it if you're looking strictly for the most spectacular in the united states. the metreon as a whole, however, is an excellent and well-rounded (though pricey) experience. definitely worth checking out if you plan on being in the area.
posted by tumult at 1:02 AM on May 19, 2005

The arcade at Weir's Beach, Laconia, New Hampshire is apparently one of the best "video game" arcades in the country, with over 170 games ranging ranging from current down to the real classics - if you're looking for a game, you'll find it here. It's where Billy Mitchell scored a perfect 3,333,360 points on PacMan...
posted by benzo8 at 2:14 AM on May 19, 2005

I know you said your son doesn't like amusement parks (and neither do I), but I think he would like Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA. It's not your typical amusment park in that there's plenty to do besides ride rollercoasters. You said he likes 3-D movies and such - Busch Gardens has several 4-D adventure rides where you are made to feel like you're part of a movie without actually going anywhere. The park is divided into countries (Ireland, Italy, etc), giving you the chance to experience a little bit of culture from all over the world. They also have lots of food, an arcade, animals, shopping, and shows. There really is something for everyone there.
posted by geeky at 6:41 AM on May 19, 2005

Go to the City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri. By far the coolest place I've been in a long, long time.
posted by nitsuj at 7:09 AM on May 19, 2005

Grand Prix Race-O-Rama in Hollywood, Florida? I don't know if it's the "ultimate" but it was pretty cool when I went. Info clips from Googling: "Go karts, miniature golf, Naskart, and the death-defying Sky Coaster... play the best high tech video games in their 50,000 square foot (4,500 square meter) arcade. They have over 1,000 games and are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year." "... [play in our] 7,500-square-foot Laser Tag arena." "The park includes: Go cart racing, miniature golf, video arcade(2), bumper cars, bumper boats, laser tag, and batting cages."

Or Disney Quest perhaps. A writeup with more info.
posted by Melinika at 9:01 AM on May 19, 2005

What about the Penny Arcade Expo?
posted by Loser at 9:10 AM on May 19, 2005

If it was me I'd head for Vegas. There's a GameWorks on the strip which is a pretty complete arcade. Star Trek Experience is awfully cool. There's an Imax at Luxor.

It's different than an arcade but Blue Man and the numerous Cirque du Soleil shows are not to be missed too.
posted by deanj at 9:24 AM on May 19, 2005

GameWorks and Dave & Busters are the two large chain arcades that are going to have the most games. The trend these days is to have only the huge, expensive games (like VR, gun, ride-type), not your ordinary stand-up shooter/platformer games. You might research the arcades in your local/greater area malls for a decent arcade with 'normal' games. The best local arcades tend to be in malls or other high-traffic areas these days.

I'm going to put in a vote against the Metreon in SF- their arcade is very poor- lots and lots of copies of the same 3-5 games. The 30 Playstation2 center downstairs is fun, but quite crowded. There is an IMAX theater in the building as well.

Pier 39 in SF has a decent arcade, plus there's the Musee Mechanique nearby with has tons of old mechanical penny-arcade machines. May be more cool for you than for him though.

Does he like Legos? I've heard that Legoland in CA is a blast for kids, but maybe less so if he doesn't like rides.

Vegas is probably your best bet- tons of cool shows (magic shows, Arthurian, sci-fi, Pirates), non-gut-wrenching rides. There's a GameWorks, swimming pools, lots of fun places to eat. Plus you can take a limo from one hotel/resort to another, which is always a treat.
posted by Four Flavors at 9:37 AM on May 19, 2005

Since your profile says you are already in Vegas, it doesn't seem like the best vacation destination for you. I'll jump on the SF bandwagon. The Metreon is definitely cool, though not enough of a destination in and of itself. B+ arcade, and 3D IMAX, so good for an afternoon. Luckily, the Exploratorium is nearby and is awesome. There is a Dave and Busters in the south bay (about a 45 minute drive) if you want the ultimate arcade, which brings you halfway to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, which has a pretty decent arcade itself, plus beach & carnival-style fun. You could do a pretty great arcade tour in a weekend.

If you do decide to venture outdoors, kayaking in the bay is fun, and the Alcatraz night tour is top notch. Plenty of forests and parks all around.
posted by team lowkey at 12:51 PM on May 19, 2005

If for some reason you end up in New England, let me second the recommendation for a trip to Funspot up in Weirs Beach (a nice vacation spot in its own right). It may be more fun for you than your kid, though, as it's got the largest collection of classic (i.e. 1980's era) video games in the country. It's decorated as it was in the 80's, they play 80's music... it put me in a state of drooling, flashback shock the first time I walked in (some photos of my trip here).

Also in NH is Holo-Dek, where you can play the latest greatest PC and console games on massive screens. Maybe by the time you get there they'll have completed The Sphere, which you can read all about here.
posted by schoolgirl report at 3:09 PM on May 19, 2005

The new Air and Space mueseum near Dulles is one of the best I've ever seen. It's essentially the coolest aircraft you can imagine all in one BIG room. They have a (the?) concord, an SR-71 blackbird, a freakin' space shuttle, some sort of full scale motorized ornithopter, you name it. Any semi-concious person would love it. Not to mention DC is arguably the mueseum capital of the country.

Man, I should get checks from the tourism council...
posted by phrontist at 4:06 PM on May 19, 2005

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