The Family That Plays Together: Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo 2015

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pinball machines

Last weekend required some sacrifices. You see, not only was Saturday Free RPG Day, it also fell right in the middle of both HeroesCon in Charlotte and the Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo in Atlanta. Sure, I could’ve done some creative scheduling and hit up all three, but–with two kids in tow–I knew it was best if I limited myself to a single event.

After talking with our own GeekDad Preston about SFGE, I decided that this sounded like my best bet. I chose wisely.

Atlanta’s Marriot Century Center served as the host site for Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo 2015, and it was an environment well suited to the expo’s needs. There were rooms dedicated to modern and retro console gaming, panel and movie screening areas, and vendors–but surely the biggest draw was the hundreds of free-play pinball machines and arcade cabinets.

As GeekDad Jim Kelly has already mentioned, the venue was crowded but amazingly civil. In a post-Gamergate world, it’s easy to view your fellow gamers with doubt and trepidation, but the throng was almost universally polite. No one camped on any particular machine, and the short lines moved quickly.

I was far from the only parent there with their children, and it was wonderful to see kids with (likely) no real sense of nostalgia for the experience totally immerse themselves in arcade culture. The sites and sounds–though, thankfully, not the smells–of the arcades of my youth were in full effect, and being able to share that with my geeklings was a rare treat.

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As for favorite moments, getting to enjoy a Tapper cocktail table, a 1978 Star Trek pinball machine, and even revisit Miner 2049er on an Atari 400 were easily at the top of my list. My six-year-old was particularly fond of NES Duck Hunt (“Dad, I know these guys from Smash Bros!”), Ms. Pac-Man, and the massive, four-player Pac-Man Battle Royale machine–the last of which she seemed freakishly good at.

My eldest is ten and autistic, so I worried a bit about sensory overload with all the lights and buzzers, but he did wonderfully. He was drawn to a number of pinball machines, but also managed to find several other boys his age packing their 3DSes, so he spent a good hour battling and trading Pokémon.

At this year’s Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo I saw Billy Mitchell peddling hot sauce, I saw a five-button Asteroids machine, and I saw the joy on my kids’ faces as they entered a massive room full of games from a bygone era.

I’m not a gameroom guy. I’m not a high score guy. Hell, my passion for pinball specifically has never translated into any genuine prowess at the game, but that didn’t matter. At the SFGE I was among my tribe, and I’ll definitely be returning next year. If you’re within easy driving distance of Atlanta, I’d recommend you join me.

Even if you don’t care about the history of Rampage, meeting VGM trailblazer Jerry Buckner, or participating in an epic Walking Dead pinball tournament, the free-play game offerings alone are well worth the price of admission. From proto-pinball machines and lovingly restored arcade cabinets to pristine condition consoles and shiny new iterations of your favorite classics, the Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo is where all your gamer dreams come true.

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