In 2008, the Guinness Book of World Records designated Funspot — the three-story arcade in the lakeside village of Weirs Beach, New Hampshire — as the World’s Largest Arcade. I spent a lot of time there as a child, never realizing its importance to the gaming world.
If you’ve seen The King of Kong, the popular 2007 documentary about Donkey Kong whiz Steve Wiebe, then you might recognize Funspot as the place where Wiebe reached the game’s elusive kill screen in front of a large live audience.
Funspot owns about four hundred arcade games from the ’70s and ’80s, about three hundred of which are on the arcade’s third floor at any given time. They include Computer Space, a 1971 shooter that predates the retro classic Pong by about a year — don’t worry, they have Pong too, and Q*bert, Centipede and Contra, not to mention lesser-known oddballs like Tapper, a Budweiser-produced game in which players pull a draft handle to serve beers as quickly as possible.
The non-descript Funspot building is a beige block surrounded by a bingo palace and a zip-line course. It’s built into a hill so the third floor is actually the floor you walk into. Inside, beige carpets and dropped ceilings downplay the arcade’s majesty suggesting that the place is due for a reboot, or at least a new life. The 18-hole indoor mini-golf course seems there mostly to take up space, while other sections of the arcade sprawl with vintage games, organized by manufacturer. There’s also a fun bowling alley featuring both regular and candlepin bowling, a variation on the game with skinny pins that you’ll only rarely see south of Boston.
The fact that the arcade is in New Hampshire matters too. New Hampshire is a quirky state, an unpredictable but important one in presidential primaries, the state’s people tend to take their state motto – Live Free Or Die – very seriously. Liquor stores are state run and conveniently located at highway rest areas, for instance.
When you get to Funspot as an adult, there’s some signage that’s a little… unexpected: Conservative political signs dotting the lawn and a light-up marquee flashing a quote from wordy libertarian novelist Ayn Rand — “Who Is John Galt?”, a reference to Rand’s 1168-page novel Atlas Shrugged. Libertarians traditionally have an iffy relationship with queers, so does that mean that it’s still okay to support the arcade?
84-year old arcade owner Bob Lawton has run the business since 1952 and publishes the Weirs Times, the village’s very libertarian-leaning newspaper. On the one hand, groups like Outright believe that libertarianism is a step forward for LGBTQ rights, since it advocates a small government that would decriminalize sex work and allow trans people to easily self-identify without risk of criminal repercussions for using a different public restroom (for instance).
But the converse of the no-government policy is that the libertarians’ hands-off approach to government means that they also disapprove of interference if, for example, someone gets fired from their job for being gay. These are tricky feelings to navigate if you find yourself in New Hampshire and just want to play Space Invaders or Dig Dug. The world’s largest arcade is obviously worth the trip for gaymers and other queers, but the politics of the place makes it all just a little bit bittersweet.
Previously Published November 1, 2015.
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