Further ReadingA visual tour of the United States’ biggest video arcadeWhile we didn't play all 400 games, we saw everything there was to see.“The largest video arcade in the USA,” boasted the website.
The mid- and late-'80s saw a decline in arcades, and despite some intermittent surges in popularity, they've never recaptured the glory years that I remember from high school.
Galloping Ghost, located in Brookfield, Illinois, about a 25-minute (best case) drive from downtown Chicago, is one such place. Galloping Ghost resides in an unassuming brick building on a commercial section of busy Ogden Avenue not far from the Brookfield Zoo. The wall behind the front counter is populated by pixel-art characters from popular video games. Further ReadingThe surprising, stealth rebirth of the American arcadeNostalgia and alcohol fuel a gaming comeback.Independent, rather than franchised, arcades have had a bit of a resurgence in recent years, driven by the realization that "beer + videogames + nostalgia" can be a winning combination.
I drifted from cabinet to cabinet, not having to worry about digging through my pockets for another quarter or visiting a change machine for more tokens. Brookfield, where Galloping Ghost is located, has a limit of only six coin-operated machines per building.
So he dropped a PlayStation 3 into the cabinet so gamers could have the most current experience. Having spare parts and extra cabinets allows Galloping Ghost to give some games special treatment, as well.
Developer NetherRealm heard about Galloping Ghost’s custom Mortal Kombat cabinet and commissioned Mack to build one for Injustice: Gods Among Us.
With all of the rare and obscure titles at Galloping Ghost, I wondered if there were games Mack wanted but couldn’t find.
Galloping Ghost currently has two different locations in the same building: the arcade and Galloping Ghost Studio. Mack walked us around the studio, including a back room with about a dozen pinball tables and a closet full of boards, carts, and CRTs. The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Conde Nast.
Gaming these days mostly happens on a console at home, on a smartphone or tablet, or at food-and-gaming behemoths like Dave & Busters. Upon entering, my senses were assaulted by the beeping and blooping of hundreds of cabinets. Some of them looked the worse for wear, with chipping or fading paint and burned-in monitors.


There's a room full of fighting games, including more versions of Mortal Kombat than I knew existed. I quickly found that, while my Q-bert skills were rusty, I still remembered the patterns I had memorized for Donkey Kong and Ms.
Not having to pay for each game had one unanticipated side-effect: walking away from a game in progress. Sometimes the joystick didn’t work all that well, a button needed to be mashed really hard, or a trackball wouldn’t spin very smoothly.
In winning approval for the arcade from the city, Mack stressed the educational aspect of Galloping Ghost. In between is a catering business that Mack would love to take over so he could have the entire building to himself.
As Mack fished the keys out of his pockets, I peered through the window at even more classic games, including Xevious, Scramble, and Crazy Climber.
Hearing Berzerk say “stop the humanoid, stop the intruder” upon completing a level and having Gorf taunt me with “bite the dust, Space Colonel” 30-plus years after the last time I encountered one of those cabinets in an arcade almost made the trip worthwhile by itself.
Galloping Ghost, an arcade located in the western suburbs of Chicago, was said to house well over 400 vintage games.
Too many Saturdays, I would hop on my bike, ride to the Aurora Mall, and exchange my paper route earnings for tokens at the arcade there. Though shrunken in numbers, arcades like those of my youth still live on in scattered locations. And hold onto your receipt, as it will get you back in should you choose to head across the street to Tony's Breakfast Cafe (now open 24 hours) for some nourishment. Others resided in generic-looking cabinets, or their appearance didn’t square with my memory of how the consoles looked; Mack later explained that they often cannibalized parts and cabinets to keep the games alive.
The back row of the arcade consists of shooting simulators, and one of the middle rows was apparently the early-'80s nostalgia section. My first shot at Donkey Kong Junior resulted in two deaths on the first screen, so I cut my losses and moved on to Defender sequel Stargate. And some of the games on the floor were powered down. Given the sheer abundance of old titles, the disappointment of finding a game in less-than-perfect working order was always tempered by the joy of spotting another long-lost friend. To that end, he has—you guessed it—a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to buy out the caterer and expand into the space. As we walked into the studio, the first thing I noticed was a massive cabinet for a game called Dark Presence.


Mack fired it up for me and patiently watched as I reacquainted myself with the game’s odd control mechanic well enough to make it to the third skyscraper.
The combination of proximity and the desire to while away an afternoon in a warm, nostalgic gaming haze eventually overpowered our excuses not to go, so we made the trip. I spent many an afternoon blasting aliens, gobbling glowing dots, leaping over barrels, and dodging bird poop and potted plants while climbing skyscrapers. And as I scanned the dimly lit interior, I saw little more than wall-to-wall consoles resting on well-worn gray carpeting. Its excellent beer list and solid game collection made it a great place to unwind after two days of meetings.
It was there that I found the cabinets I spent much of high school pumping quarters and tokens into: Gorf, Ms. If somebody brings something in, instead of us just fixing it for them, we show them and let them fix it." Those classes have paid off, not just for folks who have a cabinet or two in the basement, but for owners of other area arcades who have attended weekend repair clinics.
Included in the expansion plan is a dedicated pinball room, gaming lounges for PC and console gaming, and even the “Ghost Luxury Hostel” for visiting gamers. Gaming has come a long way from the arcade’s heyday, with immersive stories and rich graphical experiences reaching heights undreamed of when I was a teenager in suburban Denver. As the console games of the time felt like graphically inferior knockoffs of my arcade favorites, my video-gaming attention was focused first and foremost on the arcades.
Stools and chairs are scattered around the aisles in case you want to take a load off while getting your game on.
Pac-Man, Tempest, Donkey Kong, Missile Command, Bump and Jump, Frogger, Zaxxon… the list goes on.
Take King of Fighters XIII: "when this came out, there was nobody in the US who had it," said Mack. But sometimes it’s good to revisit the past, when game mechanics were simpler and plots nearly nonexistent, if only to marvel at how far we’ve come. Many of the consoles have placards perched on top with record high scores, both worldwide and for Galloping Ghost. And alongside smash-hits like Galaga were less-popular sequels like Galaga 88 and Galaga 3; for every Centipede, there was a Millipede.



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