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,


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,

Pole­Po­si­tion, ZooKeeper

Cab­i­nets in col­lec­tion 45


(Taito, 1982)


(Nin­tendo, 1981)

Pole Po­si­tion

(Namco, 1982)

As well as col­lect­ing foodrelated coin-ops such as Burg­erTime, Ja­cob­sen is co-host of the Ar­cade Out­siders pod­cast

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