Families traveled back in time Saturday when they stepped into Tristan Whitworth’s latest dream come true.
Whitworth unveiled his Game On Retro Arcade in the Smith Haven Mall over the weekend. And to mark the occasion, he and his staff dressed in their Sunday best: matching Pac-Man blazers, paints, neckties and facemasks.
Sandwiched between music merchandise mecca Hot Topic and women’s fashion retailer Bella near the food court, the new arcade is a video junkie’s paradise.
The room boasts nearly 100 vintage video game consoles. All the classics are accounted for, from X-Men to Pac-Man and from Tekken to Tetris. There’s shooting, driving and bowling games — and a slate of pinball machines too.
There are also couches and barstools set up to play classic consoles hooked up to a string of televisions along the back wall.
Every machine in the arcade is on free play, for now. There are no quarters, no dollar bills and no credit cards necessary.
During the arcade’s inaugural week, Whitworth said all guests get to play for free. After that, all-day play will be $20 Monday to Thursday and $25 Friday, Saturday and Sunday. He will also roll out family plans and group rates.
A long time coming
For Whitworth, the new arcade is the culmination of a lifelong affinity for video games and several years of success in the nostalgic video game market.
In 2015, he opened Game On in Miller Place, his first of three retro video game shops of the same name across the island. The shop buys and sells games, systems and collectables of various eras, and also has several free play arcade games and TV screens queued up with classics.
In the years that followed, he opened locations in Smithtown and Patchogue. All the while, he worked to introduce a full-scale, glowing and blaring arcade to younger generations and establish a community hub where people of all ages could make new friends.
“It’s unreal,” Whitworth, 37, of Shoreham, said, looking out at the people enjoying his arcade. “It’s unreal and it’s only going to get better. We needed something like this.”
A multigenerational affair
Throughout the grand opening, parents and their children mashed the buttons of Whitworth’s time capsules hand-in-hand.
Peter Grass, a regular at Whitworth’s Miller Place shop, where he is referred to as “Sega Pete” for his Sega collection, brought his two children and his dad for a stroll down memory lane.
“I was blown away, it’s every game you could think of playing — and then some,” Grass said of getting a sneak peak of the joint last week. “My kids play retro gaming, but they’ve never really seen anything in an arcade. You can’t ever emulate that at home. It’s amazing that he brought it back. He’s a genius as far as I’m concerned.”
Grass said his father Edward “would just destroy at Duck Hunt,” and teach him how to play pinball when he took him to arcades as a kid.
On Saturday, Edward Grass faced off against his grandson, Grayson, at an NHL Super Chexx table, as his granddaughter, Ripley, watched. “It’s really wonderful to see them playing together,” Peter Grass said.
Bringing children together
Whitworth and his three brothers, Wesley, Brandon, and Rory, were children of the 1980s and 1990s. Growing up, they battled the likes of Mike Tyson in “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out” and Xande in “Final Fantasy III.”
In 2000, Tristan Whitworth lost his brother Wesley, who he describes on the Game On website as “the rock of our family” . Video games became difficult to enjoy, and in the years that followed, Tristan Whitworth earned a bachelor’s degree at Hofstra University and attended Stony Brook University’s doctorate program.
He then began selling old video games on eBay to pay his student loans, a journey which rekindled his love of the game and ultimately led to the creation of his Game On stores and arcade.
Just as video games brought his brothers together, Whitworth strives to foster a sense of community in his arcade, especially for children in the autism community.
From 6-8 p.m. on the last Tuesday of each month, Game On Retro Arcade will close to host Whitworth’s autism social club.
About five years ago, the longtime gamer said he noticed many of his customers were those with autism who would come in, play a few games and leave. He launched his autism social club to bring these kids together.
“Everything’s a little quieter in here, it’s inclusive, we close the doors and it’s just that community,” Whitworth said of the Tuesday evening club. “The parents can get to know each other, kids can hang out with similar needs and likes.”