THE K ING OF KONG CONVERT
Considering he has his own website (www. johnsarcade) and YouTube channel, along with a co-host role on two gaming podcasts, you might expect John Jacobsen to be a very old hand in the arcade collecting scene, but his journey began in 2007, when he watched Seth Gordon’s documentary tracing Steve Wiebe’s pursuit of a world record score on Donkey Kong. Between then and now, he’s only dug deeper and deeper into the scene.
How did collecting start for you? It started with The King Of Kong. First of all, I always had this dream in the back of my head to own a Donkey Kong. That was my favourite game as a kid, hands down. Then I saw The King Of Kong and that was it. I’m like, “Oh my god, you can actually have these in your house?” That kind of lit a fire underneath me, so I went on Ebay and horribly overpaid for one. And it was a nightmare, too, because I had it shipped from Texas and the monitor wasn’t bolted down, and I got it home and opened the back door and the monitor fell out and hit the ground [laughs]. And I knew nothing about how to fix these games. I didn’t know how they worked – I was just thrown into the hobby at that moment in time. That’s how I started.
How much do you think you’ve spent? I don’t want to know [laughs]. I couldn’t even tell you. I’m not dodging the question – I have no idea how much money I’ve spent. A lot, obviously. A lot of money, a lot of time. You get lucky, though. It’s kind of a cycle of life. You buy a game for $50, you fix it up, you sell it for $500. That buys the next game. I’ve certainly done that a few times. Eventually the hobby starts funding itself.
As for the initial investment, I paid $1,000 for that Donkey Kong because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Then I paid $50 for my second Donkey Kong. You start getting smarter the more you do it. You have lots of machines to choose from, but which would be the rarest? The rarest game, wow. That’s tough. I had a
Discs Of Tron. I think I sold some of my rarer games. I have a Major Havoc, but it’s a Tempest conversion. Is that my rarest game right now? Ah, Mad Planets is really rare. I have no idea how many were made. I use to have a Mario
Mushroom World pin. I know I’m not really giving you an answer here [laughs]. No, let’s see, I had the Mario Mushroom World pin – there were only 500 of those made. I have a
Mad Planets, which I know is really rare – there’s not a lot of those floating around. Oh, I got a Journey. Which one’s the rarest? I honestly don’t know. Is there a particular type of game that you go after? Yes. Absolutely. I’ll say this: I like happy stuff. I like games with a food theme [laughs]. You know, like BurgerTime and Food Fight. I like games with cartoon characters and mascots. And I also really like iconic, classic games that the layman would come here and play. So for me it’s really important to have Pac-Man, Ms
Pac-Man, Frogger and Donkey Kong, because those are the games people know. It makes me really happy when people come over who have never set foot in an arcade since the ’80s – they get excited when they see those games.
Normal people don’t get excited when they see a Major Havoc. So I always look for games that I want to play first. It’s easy to get caught up in chasing after the rare games. You’ll find,
“I ALWAYS LOOK FOR GAMES THAT I WANT TO PLAY FIRST. MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, THE RARE GAMES KIND OF SUCK”
more often than not, that the rare games kind of suck. It’s like, the reason they’re rare is because they were horrible [laughs]. So I actually play some of the more common games more often. I play a lot of Donkey Kong, Pole
Position, Pac-Man and Centipede. Those are the games I probably play the most, and those are the most common games.
Is your collection still evolving? It’s constantly changing. I’ve probably bought, and sold, close to 100 games. When I first started collecting it was all Nintendo, all the time. I wanted every single Nintendo game. I’ve pretty much accomplished that goal. I got all the Donkey Kong- style cabinets – Donkey Kong 1,2, 3, and Popeye and Radarscope. I even had a
Dr Mario in a red Donkey Kong cabinet. I was only missing a couple oddball games like Sheriff and the older ones – the games that were older than Radarscope. Anyway, I was all Nintendo, all the time, and then I realised that I wanted some variety. I wanted it to be like a real arcade so I started going after some of the more iconic games – your Asteroids Deluxe, BurgerTime,
Ms Pac-Man, and stuff like that. So then I think I started looking for the games that I really liked to play. I got all those, and then you kind of go, “OK, well, now I have all the standards, but I don’t have any rare games.” And you go out trying to find a Discs
Of Tron or a Major Havoc or a Tempest, and it’s like, “Oh, now I don’t have any vector games”. And you go and get the Tempest, and I had
Gravitar and Black Widow, and now I’m building a Quantum.
And then I went through a phase where I wanted junk games to restore because I started getting good at fixing stuff. Just out of necessity. Previously, I was buying working games, and I was paying through the nose, but then I started finding projects that nobody wanted. The Journey cabinet’s a perfect example of that. I’m taking it on and it’s become a big part of the hobby now – it’s not just spending money, it’s buying cabinets, fixing them and restoring them, bringing them back to life. So my collecting hobby has changed a lot.
How much use does your collection get? I typically turn my arcade on two to three times a week. I always turn it on on Fridays. That’s kind of a ritual. Pretty much every Friday, my wife and I come down and we turn the arcade on and we put Shark Tank on the TV and we have a drink and play games and watch TV.
I have certain games in this basement that will never leave because they’re my wife’s games. I want her to come down here. I have the Megatouch; I have a Neo Geo for her because Bust-A-Move is her favourite game.
Revenge From Mars is hers, and then in my Street Fighter cabinet I have a switcher that flips it to Atari’s Tetris. So those are all her games, and they’re all right by the TV so she can just come down and sit and play the games and watch her shows. It’s by design [laughs]. Is it important to share your arcade with other people? Yes, it is. I mean, my kids want nothing to do with it, but they’re girls and I think they’re just too cool for it. But my wife likes it – she’s into it. And then, of course, I love having parties. I try to have parties at least twice a year because it really makes me happy seeing people play the games. It’s a very multi-faceted hobby. There’s the woodworking, there’s the electronics, there’s the fixing and troubleshooting and the kind of deductive reasoning part of it. Then there’s the playing the games by yourself trying to beat your high score. And then there’s the whole social aspect of it, having your friends over and having a party. It’s like a gathering, a destination. I get a lot out of the hobby. How do the people around you who aren’t necessarily into arcade games feel about it as a hobby? My wife is super-supportive, but I think that normal people can’t comprehend it. Like, “What? You have an arcade in your house? What are you…? What do you mean?” So I pull my phone out and I show them photos, and they’re like, “WHAT? That’s your house?” [Laughs] I think a lot of people just can’t understand that it’s even possible.
The most common thing I get is from younger collectors on YouTube – they always think I’m rich. That’s the first thing: “Are you fucking rich?” And people always post: “Wait a minute – that’s your house?” They can’t believe that it’s in someone’s house. Does it seem like this is a hobby that could continue for you indefinitely? It does, actually. Yeah, I like it a lot. It’s turned into just such a big part of my life now because of my YouTube channel. I really enjoy making those videos. The arcade’s the backdrop for that, and it also allows me to do the restores in the garage. So, yeah, I don’t see it going away in the foreseeable future.
Full name John Jacobsen Location Massachusetts Three favourite coin-ops DonkeyKong,
Cabinets in collection 45
As well as collecting foodrelated coin-ops such as BurgerTime, Jacobsen is co-host of the Arcade Outsiders podcast