For Love of the Games

Power Play panders to a defiantly aging demographic.

The neighborhood arcade used to be the place where you could tangle with the undead, drop the clutch of your Porsche 911, and throw down against the Knicks, all for only a few quarters. But with the advent of home entertainment systems, the public arcade has become an endangered species.

"I guess you can't help but think that [home systems] have changed the market, but the hardcore gamers are going to come to the arcades," says Gerald Jones between games at Power Play in the Flats. "It's the whole competition thing. No matter how good you are, there's always somebody better."

Located inside the Powerhouse, Power Play is one of the few arcade dinosaurs that still roam the Cleveland countryside. Boasting nearly 50 video games and a slew of other interactive diversions -- à la Pop-a-Shot, Air Hockey, and Skeet Ball -- the game room has kept up with the old-timers who grew up in such environs by replacing the soda fountain with a bar, where the beer flows like the soft drinks of yore. There are still plenty of kids mingling with adults in the pursuit of electronic ecstasy, but they've adapted well to the adult-friendly surroundings.

"What's really changed is the young kids that give you competition," explains Jones. Now that they can practice at home, the big kids don't threaten them. "It used to be 'Thanks for the lunch money, Junior,' but that's changed."

The content of the games has also changed, as smarter computer chips and better graphics allow for more than three blips on a screen. But superior technology carries a higher price tag, which is passed on to the players in the form of more quarters per play -- inspiring many to stay at home.

"I think arcades are ruining themselves a little bit," agrees Robert Pevec, another regular at Power Play. "I mean, they're so expensive. It's like a dollar a play, and that's ridiculous. But people still come, because it's the whole experience. It's all the lights and noise. You have a couple of beers and have some fun."