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January 2014 Retro Gaming Article


January 30, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

The power & traction of video games attracted Life Magazine to Twin Galaxies Arcade in Ottumwa, IA in 1982

I've seen this photo many times. Each time I encounter it, a snippet or caption would reveal a bit more info. I know this photo kept reappearing because is was iconic, important and a milestone in the history of video games. It marked a small-town arcade's, Twin Galaxies, rise to international notoriety! I decided it was time for me to find out a little more about this photo.

gamers gathered in front of the famous Twin Galaxies arcade in Ottumwa, Iowa. Life Magazine's January 1983 issue was the special Year in Pictures issue for 1982 Photo by Life Magazine photographer Enrico Ferorelli - November 7, 1982 Life Magazine's January 1983 issue was the special Year in Pictures issue for 1982 Sixteen of eighteen invited gamers posed for this photo with a half-dozen of the most popular video games of the time and several of the Ottumwa High cheerleaders. Those familiar with moving arcade cabinets know they are heavy. This makes the photo interesting in 2 ways. It was taken outside the infamous Twin Galaxies Arcade yet the photo is set up in the middle of the street and the arcade doesn't seem to be in the photo.

My experience with professional photographers is that it takes a lot of time to set up each shot. You can't just move a few arcade cabs into the street, jump into the frame and snap a picture. I'm sure Life Magazine closed down the street, prepped the shot and may have had to shoo away a few cars.

Time Magazine's January 18, 1982 issue about the popularity of video games Walter Day, opened the Twin Galaxies arcade in November 1981 after spending the Summer visiting many video game arcades. I can only imagine he was scoping out what other operators were doing, but he was also jotting down the high scores he found on each game.

About a year after opening Twin Galaxies, he publicly released his high score list as the Twin Galaxies National Scoreboard and his arcade became known as the official scoreboard of video games. This put a small town in Iowa on the international radar as Walter rose as the officiator of all arcade game records. On November 30, 1982, Mayor Jerry Parker declared Ottumwa, IA the "Video Game Capital of the World."

The Launch of Professional Gaming

When we hear about the multi-million dollar payout from the recent release of Grand Theft Auto V, it sends a clear message about the enormity of video games. The developer budgets and sales figures are astounding, but Walter Day's contributions and the force behind Twin Galaxies is equally amazing regarding that early era of arcades and video games. It was the launching pad for professional gaming and Life Magazine came to Iowa to document the pros of that era!

Twin Galaxies Arcade Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade is a 2007 documentary about the golden age of arcade games that catches up with Walter Day and several of the pros captured in the Life photo. As middle-aged men, they reminisce about the arcade scene in which they grew up and dominated. Paying tribute to Twin Galaxies and the iconic Life Magazine photo, a reunion occurred a few years earlier (Sept. 2005) outside a theater in Laconia, NH. Their goal was to recreate the look and feel of the original Life photo. Footage of this reunion is included in Chasing Ghosts.

For me, the iconic image outside Twin Galaxies represents the power and importance of passion. You don't need an NFL salary to love football. You don't need a pitch-perfect voice to appreciate the resurgence of Black Sabbath. Whether you write code or love "dropping quarters," one person can make a difference in gaming. Don't ever loose sight of your passion as it will take you far!

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