I’m going to let you all in on a little secret: Pittsburgh is an awesome town.
I know you’ve heard differently.
You’ve heard wrong.
Once upon a time, it was an industrial wasteland, the sun choked out by smoke from steel refineries and then an urban disaster zone after that same steel industry collapsed, but these days? While Pittsburgh’s reputation is still recovering, the city itself is in full-on rebirth mode–restaurants popping up everywhere, small businesses opening and succeeding every which way, and a new wave of artists and other creative folks transforming the landscape (both literally and figuratively). Its universities are on the cutting edges of tech and medicine, its public library system one of the best in the world, it welcomes anyone and everyone, and, believe it or not, hosts the world pinball championship each year. Oh, and Pittsburgh is the home of Replay FX, the greatest arcade in the universe.
Haven’t heard of Replay FX? Bummer. Let me fill you in.
For four days at the end of July, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center is full of games. Not just any games, though, friends. I’m talking the games of our youth. Real, honest to goodness arcade games (I played Donkey Kong Jr. for half an hour), console games running the gamut from Atari to Sega to XBox, and more pinball machines than you have ever seen in one place in your life. Oh, and don’t forget the original tabletop games; you know, the video games with the screen inset in a table that lived in the corner of every pizza place in all the land once upon a time (remember Zaxxon? Q-Bert? Crystal Castles?). Yeah, they have all of those. Plus the 501st’s Garrison Carida and more bounce houses than a developing mind can process. There’s even a board game area out in the corridor for those who may need a break from bleeping, blooping, and flashing lights.
My husband and kids attended last year while I, unfortunately, had to attend the day job. This year, however, the stars aligned and I was able to take both kids (girl = 5, boy = 7) and spend an entire day in a most pleasantly air conditioned part of the convention center.
Strolling through the main hall brought back so many memories: my mom being declared the neighborhood’s Super Mario champion, discovering the weird and wonderful of arcade games from Japan, packing into someone’s dorm room for Mario Kart tournaments, digging quarters out of pockets and purses for those pizza place table games, hitting the arcade at the beach on rainy afternoons, friends’ birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese (which is, horrifyingly, still a thing)… Those memories are almost unilaterally good and kind of smell like cheese and pepperoni or salt water taffy and soft serve.
Reliving them was a lot of fun, but it wasn’t the best part of Replay.
The best part was making new memories with my kids.
You wouldn’t think old school games like Space Invaders and the original Zelda would impress them. Not with CGI and computer generated animation and high def TV. The gaming system in our house is the 1st generation Wii (no, I am not kidding), but my parents have an Xbox One and the kids have, no doubt, experienced much fancier set ups at friends’ houses. Why would they care about unironic pixelation?
I don’t know if it was my enthusiasm and goofy-grin nostalgia or something else, but those kids threw themselves into the experience, immersing themselves completely in 8-bit beauty and ultra-synth soundtracks with gleeful abandon. They never once complained about bad graphics or glitchy action or the terrible, terrible music. They didn’t complain about waiting for the games they wanted to play. They got frustrated with nether the rudimentary joystick mechanisms nor the tiny screens, learning the various controllers by trial and error and patience. They waited patiently for one another to finish a game before requesting to move on to the next. We danced to retro tunes together.
An amazing time was had by all and, yeah, it’s going to sound cheesy but bear with me here, the two halves of my life knitted together. The before and after kids. The kid/teenager and the adult. The careless and the responsible.
The Geek and the parent of Geek 2.0.
My kids learned a little bit about me and who I was before they came along, which isn’t something all parents have the opportunity to share. They watched me have fun while I failed utterly. (I’m terrible at video games. TERRIBLE but I adore them anyway.) We laughed together and cheered together and spent uninterrupted time as a trio the next day, while I was at work, they got to do all of those things with their dad and some friends of ours.
Not bad for a couple days at the arcade.
Dates for the next three Replay FX Conventions are listed on the website. Whether you’re local to the area or want to make a trip of it, come. Play. Enjoy Pittsburgh and the World’s Greatest Arcade. Let me know if you need restaurant recommendations.