It was a weekend of warm raindrops, the first sweaty night of the summer, and the official grand opening of Wonderville, the arcade-themed bar that had taken over the space since the voluntary departure of Secret Project Robot. Where beer-soaked hipsters once scrimmaged for space to alternative tunes, now large luminous boxes sat and glowed like radioactive tombs, with such names as “Killer Queen,” “Slam City Oracles” and, more ominously, “Nothing Good Can Come of This.”
All are the inventions of DIY game designers, programmers who have eschewed fighting for spots manufacturing bloodbaths for the triple-A video game industry and have gone their own way, coding games to better match the idiosyncrasies of their souls.
“I wanted more control over the stuff I was making,” Jane Friedhoff, designer of Slam City Oracles, told Bushwick Daily in April. Most are members of the Death By Audio Arcade Collective, the nomadic group that now runs Wonderville as a base of game-playing operations.
Local fans of SPR will be happy to find out that the collective has done little to modify the space. There is less art on the walls, they are in fact monastically bare, but a neighborhood of small wooden nooks still dot the sturdy den. If you walk through a thin hallway, you will get into a large modified backyard, which remains littered with the artsy effects of the erstwhile SPR’s art gallery efforts.
The variety of beers, cocktails, and minimal food program now occupy two pages instead of a the length of a chalkboard and now glows blue from a looping PowerPoint slide playing on a computer monitor above the bar. Cocktails and punches are, bless, still served in plastic cups that recall the discreet charms of suburban highway dining.
Games now abound. If your corner bar these days boasts a decade-long forgotten edition of Jenga to entertain loners and wandering minds, Wonderville brings the real and digital deal. Festooned upon the wooden walls of the entryway is a rectangle of LED lights, where small squares blip like quadrants on a digital Mondrian.
At the opening, a woman in a silver dress energetically situates herself for at least half an hour of angling a joystick placed conveniently at drink-level. All games, I notice have a cupholder nearby. This, too, is a game, one I am informed is called a “Line Wobbler” and brings to mind Pac Man.
Packed into Wonderville’s heart is the arcade itself, a small forest of christmas lights, clustered in the nostalgic fashion of a beachside arcade. In a noticeable nod to those decades of infinite gameplay—and unlike the digital festivities of the Brooklyn-based Barcade chain—all the arcade games at Wonderville are coinless and their games can be played over and over to the heart’s content and the curious mind is encouraged to try everything. (On most nights, Wonderville charges a modest cover to make up for the missed pocket change.)
The games are more like us too, social animals. You will be bereft to find any gargantuan plastic chair racers and will instead discover that a game like “Killer Queen” is most fun with all 10 players fighting in teams to gather berries before their queen is killed.
Another admirable effort to encourage conversation with strangers (who rolls into a bar with a crew of 10 people?), it is also an opportunity to appreciate the savviness of these DIY coder’s crafts. Most of game designs displayed there operate with an artisanal level of minimalism, requiring often only operation of a simple button or joystick and erect strange and colorful worlds nonetheless.
They appeal both to forgotten memories of hours spent antsing through the mazes on a Game Boy Advance and, curiously, to those who have never so much as touched a controller in their lives. What wonder.
Sunday through Thursday, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., Friday – Saturday from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m.
All photos courtesy of Wonderville.
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