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Gainesville man’s basement arcade is a lifelong passion

POSTED: June 8, 2012 1:30 a.m.

Basement arcade

Preston Burt, who has his own basement arcade, talks about the early days of electronic video games.


Preston Burt's basement arcade harkens back to days when video arcades were in high demand in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many of his games and pinball machines were purchased needing repair and nurtured by Burt back to their heyday glory.

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Unless you know someone who knows someone, chances are you’d never suspect the secret that Preston Burt has hidden underneath his home.

The black-out curtain against the lone window blocks the sunlight from shining in and lends a somewhat seedy feel to the space. Maybe a turnoff for some, but it’s a mission accomplished for Burt.

"I like it dark down here. I try to keep it with just the ambiance of the games," said Burt, a Gainesville resident, about his basement arcade.

"I’ve been to nice game rooms where people have finished their basements and have carpet and paint on the walls. It’s fun to play the games, but there’s something missing.

"People walk in here and it just takes them back instantly. Growing up, usually when you would play the games, it would be in the back of stores or bowling alleys and it would be dim and dark and sketchy."

Although he grew up riding his bicycle to play games at a convenience store near his home, Burt didn’t have his own until after he’d graduated high school.

"My very first one was a machine that I bought when I was in college. I worked at a movie theater and right across the walkway was an arcade, and they sold me one," Burt remembers.

"I couldn’t believe I could buy one."

Even though he enjoyed hours of childish fun, adult duties came calling.

"Then came marriage and with it went the video game," Burt said.

"My wife said, ‘When we move into a house that has a basement, then you can start getting them back.’

"And I did. I kind of went crazy."

In his den of nostalgia, you’ll find 13 arcade games and five pinball machines. Although most of the games are from the ’70s and ’80s — the golden era for that entertainment — there are also a few newer models. They typically start in price around $150.

"My favorite one is probably the ‘Tron Legacy’ pinball machine," Burt said.

"I also love ‘Galaga.’ That’s my favorite arcade game. I grew up playing that one."

He began rebuilding his home collection about five years ago. Since being able to relive a piece of his childhood has a priceless quality to it, it’s fitting that he didn’t pay a dime for the first machine in his new collection.

"I put out a request to offer my website design skills to trade for a machine," Burt said.

"An operator out in Alpharetta took me up on the offer. I designed a website for him and he gave me a Ms. Pac-Man cocktail table (game).

"That started the addiction again. From there, it just blew up."

Bartering helped get his arcade up and running.

"Initially, what got me started was I would offer repair services for trade. I’d fix a machine and then I’d get one for free," Burt said.

"It was usually broken (also), but then I would fix it up.

"The hobby kind of fuels itself. You can get some that are broken for $50 or something, then you can fix it up and keep it or sell it for a bit more. The cycle just continues."

Just as he taught himself how to move to the next level of each game, Burt’s repair skills are also self taught.

"It’s trial and error," he said.

"I’m lucky that I came into the hobby during the Internet age because a lot of resources are available online to help me figure out how to fix things."

To help give back to the online community, Burt created a blog — www.gameroomjunk — that contains information on all things related to game rooms and arcades.

Burt’s arcade is a labor of love that provides hours of entertainment that money can’t buy. Literally.

"I fixed it so you don’t need quarters," Burt said.

"Some people in the hobby do like to have the quarter experience, but to me it’s easier for home use to just push a button and go."

Although one of his machines has several different games on it, you won’t find a modern gaming system in this arcade.

"New technology like the Xbox and Wii have their place, but this is one-of-a-kind," Burt said.

"There’s just something about the way these machines take you back to a time that’s not here anymore.

"These are works of art."


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