Who: Star Worlds Arcade
What: Retro video games and pinball
Where: 1234 E. Lincoln Hwy. (Rte. 38), DeKalb, IL, (815) 787-4599
Hours of operation:
Fall FunFest 30th anniversary party October 4, 2014:
4pm photo shoot (free)
5pm-11pm – $25 includes all you can play video games and dinner
If you’re a gamer in the DeKalb area, chances are Star Worlds Arcade is no hidden gem but an old favorite. You might have caught the 2011 documentary short about the place (and if not, you can order it through the link).
As a casual gamer new to the area, I’d been meaning to check it out for some time. I’d pass it often on its fairly isolated (though less than a mile east of NIU) stretch of Route 38, especially last summer as I headed back and forth to the city, slowly retrieving the last of the boxes from my old apartment.
I finally checked out Star Worlds with a new friend recently. The arcade is on the small side, giving off a cozy basement feel. Every inch of the place is filled with love for video games, with paraphernalia everywhere such as Pac Man drapes and board game versions of video games (who knew that was a thing? Not me). I didn’t feel uncomfortable or out of place as a woman and casual gamer (though, admittedly, my new friend yammered on about pinball like he was getting paid for it).
I spoke with Star Worlds owner Patrick O’Malley, who was so friendly and excited about the place you’d think he just opened it and could barely believe it. In fact, they’re coming up on their 30th anniversary. Asking him what he did before Star Worlds, he said “Nothing; I was 12 years old.” A native of Maple Park, IL (a further jog east down Route 38), he started collecting video games at a young age. His house was the hangout for all his friends. “Finally, my parents said, ‘Look, we love your friends, but get them out of here.’” It wasn’t a business in a cute, air quote kind of way, but an officially licensed one (in his parents’ names ‘til he turned 16).
You might wonder how a small niche business stays afloat in this day and age, and the answer is having fingers in many pies. “In the arcade, we have 40 games, but overall we have over 600 machines now. I supply other restaurants and bowling alleys and bars. We do have a warehouse, because with that many machines, you know there’s stuff that’s gonna be coming in that you’re looking for parts for and stuff like that.” Starting out in Maple Park, the business moved to DeKalb 10 years ago to be closer to the college town spots he supplies.
Games are rotated near weekly, and he gets a particularly robust crop in the fall when summer attractions they supply such as Wisconsin Dells have closed for the season and head back to Route 38. O’Malley also keeps repairs the games for Star Worlds as well as other locations. “Oh yeah, I would never be in business if I had to pay someone to fix this stuff,” he said. With all the crop rotation, a few old favorites can always be found there, however. “The original Pac Man that my parents’ friends gave me as a graduation present when I opened the arcade when I was a kid, I keep that one there. That Burger Time will never go anywhere, that’s my mom’s favorite game. If I get rid of it, she’ll kill me.”
O’Malley said his current favorite games are the newer music based ones such as Dance Dance Revolution. He was particularly excited about Pop’n Music, a Guitar Hero-esque Japanese game where you choose a song and hit the notes as they fall from the sky. “We have the only one in Illinois. Some of our friends actually had it imported; it took like three months to come over on the slow boat from Japan.”
Star Worlds’ 30th anniversary is actually January 11th, 2015 (it’s near my birthday, so I asked the specific date). “It’s January, so we could have a blizzard going on [then],” O’Malley said, “so I’m having an event on October 4th at 4:00. I’m trying to get as many people, like a flash mob, out in front of Star Worlds for a huge picture together. There is no charge for that whatsoever. What we’re doing to kind of give everyone a chance to have something cool for coming out is, when everyone checks into this picture they’ll get a coupon. At the end, once this picture is taken and we’re done with it, we’re gonna draw one lucky winner and they’ll win a $200 birthday party at the arcade here. Then at 5:00 we have the rest of our event, Star Worlds Fall FunFest. That’s a $25 ticketed event that we only have a limited amount of space for. Everything will be on free play that night for the guests along with dinner and tournaments.” Party is sponsored by South Moon BBQ (where O’Malley also supplies games), Pita Pete’s, Billy Mitchell’s Hot Sauce, and Video Game Scoreboard.
Fall FunFest will also feature “special gaming celebrities,” including Walter Day, founder of Twin Galaxies, an organization that tracks video game world records. O’Malley considers Walter Day a friend and mentor. “He’s taught me a lot. He has always just given me opportunities. He kept on giving me opportunities and I was just like, ‘Okay, this is not what I planned,’ but I’m someone that, in 30 years of business, as in life, I look at it as, opportunities do only come across often once in life and if you don’t take them, I don’t want to be someone that’s gonna regret not taking an opportunity.”
Mr. Day was featured in the movie King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Day’s current venture is a set of baseball card-type video game hall of fame cards, 18 of which are affiliated with Star Worlds. Cards for three of Star Worlds’ high scorers will be unveiled at the FunFest.