The 8-bit comeback: Why arcade machines are making a resurgence in Macon


Mahima Sultan

Reboot Retrocade & Bar brought back a nostalgic sense of fun back to Downtown Macon, helping revitalize the area and stimulate the economy. Graphic by Mahima Sultan.

In the 70s and 80s, arcade games like Pac-Man, Tetris and Donkey Kong were a big part of life.

That trend began dying out in the early 2000s, and arcade machines became more of a novelty. Nowadays, some machines can even sell up to nearly $10,000 from The Pinball Company.

Using the magic of raspberry pies, his personal curiosity and an assignment for his Instructional Design class, a junior at Mercer University took it upon himself to make arcade machines on his own. Alex Donnelly, a Technical Communications and Information Systems Technology double-major, began building arcade machines after being given a project to teach others how to do something efficiently. 

“I’ve always been into playing a lot of retro arcade games and retro games in general,” he said. “There was actually a retro arcade in my hometown that really got me thinking about all of this because you go in there, you pay $7 and you play all the games as many times as you want.”

When Reboot Retrocade & Bar opened up in Downtown Macon in 2016, it gave Maconites the opportunity to have that experience. The bar, lined with classic video game cabinets and pinball machines, is the self-proclaimed “nerdiest bar in town.”

“Not having a lot of arcades around and hearing all about the golden age of the 80s, it made me really interested in them (arcade machines), especially when I came here and going to Reboot downtown also sort of piqued my interest in them again,” Donnelly said. “The aspect of having the arcade downtown sort of brought it back to my attention.”

He said the idea of being able to make your very own arcade machine at home with unlimited games is more plausible than you might think.

“I just really liked the idea of being able to go down (to Reboot) and play arcade games with friends. It was really the friend aspect that inspired me to do it because every time I go down there I had to spend money on all of it, and you know, I went down there a good bit,” he said. “Eventually I thought to myself, ‘Well if I go down there all the time, why not build one of my own and have it in my own apartment, in my own house, and all my friends can come over and play it here?’”

The machine building process took roughly 12 hours, which took him about a weekend to get done. The majority of the time spent on the machine was researching the methods.

The Mercer junior said he spent an estimated $250 on equipment, wiring and controls for the machines and said he wouldn’t change a thing. 

There are currently similar machines for sale at Walmart being sold for roughly the same price, but are limited in the options they have when it comes to what games they can play. 

“Those machines have, I want to say three games on them. (My arcade machine) can have a couple thousand on them, however many I want on there. So for $250 and endless amounts of games, I think it was a no brainer,” he said.

Shelby Woodward, a recent graduate of Middle Georgia State University, has been with Reboot for the past year serving as a bartender.

“We’re another bar, but we’re a bar you can take your family to, which I feel like is a big appeal for a lot of people,” she said. “People want to spend time with their kids indoors and it’s not like Chuck-E-Cheese where you have to spend so much money. It’s just a little more economical but also a fun place to hang out for anyone.”

At Reboot, tokens are a quarter and many games need only one token to play. They also have a happy hour special, where if you buy an alcoholic beverage, you receive a free dollar per drink. 

Recently, they adjusted their hours so you can be 18 years of age or older and still be able to come in after 6 p.m., which has broadened their clientele. 

“A lot of other places downtown are geared towards certain demographics, and while we definitely have more younger crowds, we still get 60 and 70-year-olds who come here because it’s really nostalgic for them, because it’s like ‘oh, my childhood,’” she said. 

Downtown Macon boasts plenty of bars, but the added oddity of arcade machines is what makes Reboot stand out.

“I think it just goes back to having something to do while you’re drinking. A lot of our regulars don’t even come in for the drinks, they come in for the games,” Woodward said. “There’s not a lot of places around here that have that. . . I think there was an arcade in Warner Robins that just recently shut down, I mean, it’s a dying art.”

She said that Reboot being located in the heart of Downtown Macon definitely plays a role in the local interest in arcade games and the increase of attendance.

“With us being in a downtown location where people are already starting to come back downtown and starting to come back to downtown where it’s more revamped,” Woodward said. “People will be at the Rookery having dinner and look over and say, ‘Wow, there’s an arcade bar, haven’t seen that in ages!’”