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I stepped in from the unseasonably warm winter night, sliding my ID into my jeans pocket. The walls, a huge Insert Coin(s) logo scrawled across them, thrummed to a musical rhythm from the room beyond. My friend Cory followed after me, a grin across his face like a kid in Disney World. While waiting in line to pay the cover charge, I looked out the front window at the late night street beyond, pondering what had brought us here.

We’d come to check out Insert Coin(s), a new club in Minneapolis that bills itself as an interactive night life experience. It supposedly touts an arcade and a robust game library along with a dance floor and bars. Sort of a nerd-chic night club, if you will. Still, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I knew I had to find out more about this place if it had a connection to video games. Two attractive ladies greeted us, pulling me out of my reverie as we reached the front of the line. They flashed us a pair of smiles and bid us a good night as we handed over our crinkled five dollar bills.

Turning, we got our first glimpse into the club proper. It was packed with people, neon lights, and arcade cabinets. Cory expressed interest in heading

Insert Coin(s) 

The Video Game Nightclub Adventure

to the bar, so we began making our way through the throng of human beings. There was barely room to squeeze through the undulating crowd on the dance floor, but in the process I caught glimpses of the cabinets that lined the walls. I could feel the excitement fluttering in my chest and a familiar urge to mash buttons. Reaching the bar, which radiated a blue light through the glass sheen of its surface, I left Cory to order his drink and investigated the cabinets. I found a very solid selection that left my fingers itching to spend some quarters: Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat II, Defender, and Centipede. I turned back to rejoin my friend.

With his drink in hand (I’m not much for drinking myself, and besides, this was for JOORNALIZM!), Cory and I spent a few minutes at the glowing bar taking in the cacophonous symphony of people enjoying themselves. Surprisingly, the place didn’t seem much different from average night clubs, excepting a slight variation in clientele and the addition of video games. There were scantily clad dancers on the raised platform where the DJ was performing loud music. it was dark with solid light shows in place to provide a sufficiently game-y atmosphere. Off of the dance floor appeared to be home of the more irregular club goers. I couldn’t really put my finger on it, but many of the people off to the sides or in clusters near some of the cabinets didn’t seem like the kind of people who normally frequent clubs, not that I am a connoisseur of such things. Numerous booths lined the sides of the dance floor, presumably you can rent these, but I was never able to confirm that.

With these observations Cory and I decided to venture up the flight of stairs leading to the second level of Insert Coin(s). The wall lining the stair was covered with an impressive video game mural; in fact many of the walls showcased some very cool video game inspired artwork. Coming to the top of the stairs, an incredible vista of arcade cabinets awaited us. Super Mario Bros. Frogger. Tetris. The Simpsons Arcade Game. X-Men. Heck they even had Dig-Dug and Space Invaders as well as old standbys like a couple pinball tables. These lined the walls between two separate bars and a large opening that looked down on the dance floor.

Cory and I made a beeline for the X-Men cabinet, a game that we had both been hoping to see. After feeding our coins to the machine, we were playing as Colossus and Cyclops. After a couple frustrating minutes, we realized that the cabinet was old and broken in several small ways that made it very frustrating to play. Colossus could only move and use his special move (which had very limited uses). Storm couldn’t walk up. Wolverine wasn’t playable at all. The only character that controlled properly was Cyclops and, let’s be honest, making progress in the X-Men arcade game is nearly impossible by yourself. The sad truth was that many of our most desired gaming cabinets after a closer inspection would be revealed to be out of order or broken. This included one of the two pinball machines (the other was engulfed in a crowd of tipsy people), Street Fighter II, and a couple others. This wasn’t surprising, but a tad disappointing.

After being let down by X-Men, we turned to Dig-Dug and proceeded to while away some time and coins using the most inefficient weapon ever deployed in a video game to fight monsters (I mean, a pump? Really?). Really though, we were just killing time until the Super Mario Bros. cabinet opened up. Popping in four quarters we accidentally hit the one player instead of the two player button. As Cory jumped and shot fire from his hands, I took a walk around the club. An announcement was made by the DJ that ladies in the club would have free champagne at the pink bars, and the blue lights illuminating the bars shifted to rosier hue. Taking a closer look now, there were definitely people around who had either never been to a night club before or didn’t get out too often. In fact, that was part of the beauty of this place. It gave people who had little interest in dancing something to do besides hang out awkwardly at the bar. If you don’t want to dance, just go play some House of the Dead or Space Invaders. I know that, personally, I am not a huge fan of night clubs. I feel uncomfortable and awkward, more so than usual. But the fact that there are video games built into Insert Coin(s) seemed to set me at ease and feel a common camaraderie with fellow club-goers.

With these observations safely tucked away in my skull, I returned to the Mario Bros cabinet to find that Cory had finally died and it was time to trade off and for the Mario master to take the joystick. I died in about three seconds. Being generous, Cory gave me another chance and this time I lasted almost a minute before dying in lava. We put more coins in and correctly selected the two player button on the cabinet. I finally made progress and beat the first level no problem. Being the butt that I am, I made it through the second stage by running on the top of the stage and used a warp pipe to arrive safely in level 4 before meeting my first death. Cory took his turn and died in 1-2. At this point, he left to get another drink, leaving me to my second life. I died fairly quickly in 4-1 (when did I get so bad at Mario?).

Unfortunately, cabinet Mario Bros. doesn’t have a pause option and Cory wasn’t back yet, so I nervously watched the clock tick down. At this point, a man wearing a Christmas sweater vest wandered up and asked me if I was playing with anyone. I answered in the affirmative; Cory was just over at the bar. He nodded understandingly. Seeing that Cory was not coming back promptly, I took it upon myself to get him to the end of that level before time ran out. I deftly, hopped and hit blocks, avoiding traps and monsters while the strange man remained behind me. Then he offered to buy me a drink, which I politely declined and, dying for the last time, wandered off to find Cory.

Spying him at the bar, I made my way over to him and we discussed the possibility of leaving since it was around 1:30AM. We decided that before we leave we should go head-to-head in Mortal Kombat II. Neither of us being terribly good at fighting games, we made for an even match of button mashing vs. button mashing. I somehow managed to emerge the triumphant from each round of combat, going on to be slaughtered ruthlessly by the computer-controlled Baraka. After winning three rounds in a row, Cory conceded me the victor and we headed out a little before closing time.

On our journey back to our parking spot (an adventure all by itself), we discussed what a video game night club meant for gaming in general. Did it mean that gaming, after being accepted by mainstream culture, had become a part of mainstream culture? If so, was this a bad thing or a good thing? Was it some niche thing that would fail in a year or two (unlikely)?

Is Insert Coin(s) an extension of gaming along the lines of things like I Am 8-Bit or trendy video game t-shirts? We talked and discussed and came to our own conclusions, but one thing is certain: I had a lot of fun.

Photos courtesy of Insert Coin(s)

Originally posted on 12/05/12​

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