Visitors to The Strong can try their hand at “Giant Tetris.” // © 2016 The Strong, Rochester, New York
Feature image (above): Seattle Pinball Museum has 50-plus machines available for playing. // © 2016 Seattle Pinball Museum LLC
It’s often hard to convince kids that going to a museum will be exciting — particularly during the summer months when school is out and they just want to have fun. All across America, however, there are museums where visitors can go and play games. Following are some of the most impressive.
American Classic Arcade Museum
Part of New Hampshire’s legendary Funspot amusement center, American Classic Arcade Museum (ACAM) ranks as the world’s No. 1 classic video museum. ACAM is home to more than 450 vintage pinball and video game machines that date from before 1990, with around 275 available to play. Gamers will be thrilled at the chance to try rarities such as a yellow version of the controversial “Death Race” pinball machine and “Computer Space,” the first commercially available coin-operated video game. Admission is free.
America’s Playable Arcade Museum
The tiny Midwestern village of McLean, Ill. (midway between St. Louis and Chicago) feels like the natural place to honor quintessential Americana pastimes pinball and video games. Owner John Yates stocks the America’s Playable Arcade Museum (also known as Arcadia) with around 70 machines from his collection of nearly 1,500 games, while his Route 66 Arcade Museum (located on the historic Route 66) features older models. Yates even has a game-centric bed-and-breakfast and plans on opening Pinball Paradise for more fun. Admission is free.
Entering the Musee Mecanique, located on San Francisco’s famous Fisherman’s Wharf, is like stepping back to a bygone era. This palace of old-time arcade games and carnival amusements contains around 300 playable machines. Some date back to the 1880s and others — such as a large, mechanized diorama of a farm — are one-of-a-kind creations. Owner and operator Dan Zelinsky maintains this eclectic collection of coin-operated games that his father started in the 1930s. Admission is free.
National Videogame Museum
Only open since April, National Videogame Museum is a massive, modern shrine to games. Guests can take on the world’s largest home “Pong” console or face off against family and friends in the “Head-To-Head” game hall. The 1980s loom large with a special arcade area as well as in a retro-styled bedroom and den where you can play old-school games. The history-minded museum also displays many unique treasures, including a Sega Neptune prototype. Admission is $12 for adults and $10 for those 10 and under.
Pennsylvania Coin Operated Gaming Hall of Fame and Museum
At Pennsylvania Coin Operated Gaming Hall of Fame and Museum (or simply Pinball PA), you can try your luck on around 400 machines from the museum’s collection, which range from ever-popular titles such as “Asteroids” to ultra-rare ones such as “Thunderball.” Located outside of Pittsburgh, Pinball PA also showcases the history of arcade games. An original Japanese version of “Space Invaders” is on display, in addition to several machines that have been opened up so curious visitors can see just how these games work. Admission costs $19.99 for two hours of unlimited play or $39.99 for an all-day pass. Ages 4 years and younger enter for free.
Roanoke Pinball Museum
Virginia’s Roanoke Pinball Museum, which marks its first anniversary this summer, has a compact yet impressive collection. Games range from a high-tech 2012 “Mustang Pro” to the no-tech “Skill-Score,” a 1932 bagatelle-style game that doesn’t use electricity. The museum is part of the city’s Center in the Square cultural hub, so you can also visit an aquarium, a butterfly garden and history museums during the same trip. Admission costs $12.40 for adults; $6.78 for children 6 to 8 years old; and free for children 5 and younger with a paying adult.
Seattle Pinball Museum
Seattle may be a tech-centric city, but Seattle Pinball Museum has carved out a niche for itself. Charles and Cindy Martin started the museum in order to share their passion for these machines, which they see as interactive kinetic works of art. While the museum’s oldest item is the 1934 “Mystery Six,” its approximately 50 games generally favor models from the past five decades. “Hobbit: Smaug LE” and “America’s Most Haunted: Spooky Pinball” are among Seattle Pinball Museum’s most prized pieces. Admission costs $15 to $20 for adults and $12 to $17 for children 7 to 12 years old.
Also called National Museum of Play, The Strong contains International Center for the History of Electronic Games, National Toy Hall of Fame, World Video Game Hall of Fame and the world’s largest collection of historical toys and games. Visitors can play “Hercules,” said to be the world’s largest commercial pinball machine, and the only “Giant Tetris” in North America. This summer’s special temporary exhibits both have sci-fi themes: “Rockets, Robots and Ray Guns” and “The Force at Play.” Admission costs $14 for ages 2 years old and up.