The food court has long been a mainstay of malls and amusement parks, but the same can’t be said of its onetime compatriot, the video arcade. PlayStation and Xbox have made popping quarters into Pac-Man seem quaint.

Seattle Center’s Armory remodelers didn’t have gaming in mind when touching up the famed food court last year, yet somehow an arcade of sorts snuck in. The Seattle Interactive Media Museum may look modest—its setup of TVs, games, magazines, and posters screams “dorm room”—but the unlikely addition, originally a one-month lark funded by Seattle Center, has held its ground by taking the art of play seriously.

Founder Andrew Perti looks like a guy who’d run a gaming shrine. The lanky 28-year-old stands tall with wire-frame glasses and a boyish mop of black hair. And his earliest memories are of games. “I would save all of the manuals, the twist ties, the plastic baggies,” he says. By 2006 that grew to an obsession with collecting rare games, then scanning and cataloging them—all while managing a Radio Shack near Albany, New York. After packing up his collection and moving to Seattle in 2008, he visited the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, and the National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, in search of similar game-focused archives. Finding none, he began networking with local industry heavyweights in the hopes of founding something here.

That led him to Chris Erhardt, classic game designer, teacher, and all-around fan of the industry. And when Seattle Center’s Next 50 celebration sought a game-related attraction and asked Erhardt, he nominated Perti to spread the gospel. (Erhardt has since passed away.)

Meant to close last July, SIMM is still open four days a week and offers free, classic gaming for fans young and old. Should the Armory find a new restaurant tenant, Perti will get the boot, but he has designs on moving the collection to UW’s Odegaard Library—for research purposes, not a rec room. “People are really recognizing the cultural impact of games,” he says. “There’s a narrative that needs to be told about how important gaming is.”

 

Published: April 2013