Summer of Fun: 1980s arcade in Springfield is an escape back in time

This is the first in a series of “Summer of Fun” articles by The Heartlander showcasing fun things to do across Missouri and Kansas.

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Springfield-area residents and visitors have found a new way to escape the gloom of today’s news – by transporting themselves back in time to 1984 Arcade.

The retro arcade at Walnut and Jefferson downtown is filled with 80 vintage games from the ’70s and ’80s, 20 pinball machines, claw machines and more.

The arcade’s story begins in the year 1985 when Devin Durham presented his brother Jason with a TRON arcade game as a Christmas gift – then followed that with an Asteroids Deluxe machine for his bedroom the following Christmas.

It made Jason the coolest kid around. 

And it had Durham developing a passion for purchasing coin-operated arcade games – ending up with more than he could handle.

He tells The Heartlander he would sometimes split the cost of games with friends who would buy them as a group. Eventually, they devised the idea of an arcade club where people could pay a monthly fee or donate a machine to play unlimited games.

“The idea was to get them all in the same place where I could turn them all on at the same time to get that sound of arcade machines running all at once,” Durham said. “That kind of evolved from one thing to another. The next thing you know, I’ve got a bunch of games in a retail space and we’re charging people at the door.”

Established in July 2005, 1984 Arcade was split among seven friends and family, and is about to celebrate its 19th anniversary. Durham also has a stake in 1984 Arcade Branson, in The Shoppes at Branson Meadows, 4240 Gretna Rd.

In the Springfield location, access to arcade games without the hassle of quarters is available for a $10 fee, after which you just push a button to play (although pinball and claw machines require coins, due to additional maintenance requirements).

“A pinball machine has two modes. It’s got an attract mode and a play mode. When it is in attract mode, it is mostly shut down and is mostly lights and sounds. When you go into play mode, all the solenoids come alive, all the sensors come alive, especially these older machines with giant motherboards in them. It not only uses a ton more power, it generates a lot more heat.

“What would happen was that a kid would walk by and press the start button four times and get a four player game going, play one ball and walk away from the game. If you let one of those (games) sit there for a couple of hours in that mode, you can smell how hot they get. They aren’t meant to do that. They are meant to be played and go back into attract mode. We were doing a lot of repair work.”

Durham says the 1984 pinball machines are the best deal at just 50 cents per play, considering that most modern machines charge an average of $2 per play.

1984 Arcade has been forced to raise its entry fee from $5 to $10 over time due to an increase in the city’s property tax. “Any price increase, you can blame on the city of Springfield. Not because I wanted to raise it; because I have to.”

On the other hand, Durham says the city electric bill is surprisingly lower than most people would anticipate.

The arcade is open just 28 hours a week, from Wednesday through Saturday, not including special parties and events. In order to reduce expenses, 1984 handles the repairs of its own machines at a self-named “boneyard.”

Durham tells The Heartlander that games featuring tube monitors have not been made for at least 15 years. When a tube fails, it’s a problem for all parties involved because they become impossible to find.

“When parts start going out on those, it becomes difficult to find the parts for them. If the tube goes, it’s just gone. You’re never going to replace it. Generally, if you come into 1984 and see that a game is down, the monitor is probably the problem with it. It is a constant fight with the monitors. I know we can swap them out for flatscreens, but it wouldn’t be the same and I refuse to do that.”

One way for visitors to gain fame at 1984 is by securing a spot on the leaderboards. There are two scoreboards: the first one displays recent scores that are subject to change weekly; the second one is the highly prestigious all-time scoreboard that gets printed. High scorers receive a free pass for their next visit, their name on the board and a special pin.

If you want your high score in 1984 to be on the board, you’ll need to inform the desk attendant, because scores are not saved overnight.

Nearly all the machines forget the score every night. “Back in the ’80s they were meant to be turned on and left on. They didn’t really think about trying to save the scores. Some of the late ’80s machines do save the scores, but it is pretty rare.”

Durham lists Ms. Pac-Man, Spy Hunter, Pole Position, Tron, and the Star Wars cockpit game as some of the most popular games at 1984. And he jokes that visitors should brace themselves for chaos if the Galaga game is out of order.

Arcade snack foods and bottled soda pop are the exclusive offerings at 1984. Durham says visitors can feel free to play some, go dine at a local restaurant, and come back to play some more. 1984 also offers merchandise, including its popular t-shirts with regularly updated designs.

The bottom floor of the two-story arcade previously had a Ghostbusters-themed room, but that area is currently undergoing renovations to become an intricate escape room. Durham says the escape room’s theme is still a secret and he can’t release the details.

In the meantime, guests can enjoy an 80s-inspired living room and watch classic 80s movies on a vintage television.

The arcade has a small selection of board games floating around, as well as 80s magazines, comic books, and other items that will bring back the nostalgia from some of our childhoods. 

“If you want to amuse yourself and not play video games, there is stuff for you to do here. We get people who just wander around to look at all the stuff on shelves and the walls. I want to have as much visual clutter as I can have around here. We’ve got ’80s stuff just jammed in every corner.”

Durham has a special message to share with The Heartlander’s readers.

“If today’s world is making you tired, come back to the ’80s. It is a better place. Saturday is our busiest day, with about 250 to 350 people coming through. Thursday is probably our lightest day. If you are really wanting to concentrate on the games, I’d show up on a Thursday. If you’re wanting to just get that ’80s vibe and have people around, Fridays and Saturdays are going to be your day.”

For groups and personal parties, 1984 has two distinct party packages to choose from. Details for party packages, times, pricing and location can be found on the website

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