“Shall we play a game?”
This seemingly innocent question almost leads to global thermonuclear war in “WarGames,” the 1983 Cold War classic starring Matthew Broderick.
At the Let’s Play Gaming Expo this weekend in Irving, you can zap all the space invaders and gobble all the dots you want with pretty much zero chance of causing an international incident. Attendees can play more than 90 different games in the event’s “Arkham Arkhade,” including such classics as Asteroids, Donkey Kong and Ms. Pac-Man, along with a number of rarities, including Black Widow, Quantum and the crazily named Kozmik Krooz’r.
“Star Wars” and “Pokemon” fans are covered, as are “Tron” junkies, and you can even play a game based on the largely forgotten fantasy film “Krull.”
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Casual gamers may want to just wander around playing whatever strikes their fancy — no quarters necessary, no pressure to break anyone’s high score — but diehard joystick jockeys and others who think they’ve “got game” can enter tournaments, most of which are free to enter (with the price of admission).
“This year we’re doing a Q*bert high-score competition, and the winner will get to play head-to-head with the game’s creator,” says Christian Deitering, co-founder and PR coordinator of Let’s Play. “This is legendary programmer Warren Davis’ first year to come to our show, and we’re super excited to have him out.”
Other tournament games include Guitar Hero, Tekken 7, Saturn Bomberman (featuring 10-player action), Street Fighter V, Dig Dug, Pole Position and Mario Kart: Double Dash. For the legions of fans of the popular Smash Bros. fighting game series, there are tournaments on the Nintendo 64, GameCube, Wii and Wii U.
The Smash Bros. tournaments always sell out ahead of show time, but crowds typically gather to watch the action. Yes, video games have become a spectator sport, and a couple of the tournaments will have fairly high stakes.
“The past two years we’ve been the only regional qualifier for the Classic Tetris World Championship that takes place at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo,” Deitering says. “This year we’ve added a qualifier for Tecmo Madison, which is basically the national championship for Tecmo Super Bowl on the NES. So we’ll be flying contest winners to both Portland, Oregon, and Madison, Wisconsin, this year, which is cool. We don’t think any other expo is doing anything like that, and we’re doing it twice.”
Keeping things moving
Deitering and his associates pride themselves on hosting a convention during which there’s never a dull moment.
“The constant interaction is a unique aspect of the expo,” Deitering says. “The number of tournaments, consoles, arcade cabs and tabletop games — there’s just a lot to do, including cosplay and a gaming achievement-based scavenger hunt. You shouldn’t be able to walk more than 20 feet without being able to pick up something to play. We even encourage our exhibitors to have something that’s interactive at their booths.”
Speaking of booths, Let’s Play boasts more than 85 vendor tables, with fans selling off their extras, local store owners displaying their wares, and out-of-town dealers offering everything from Atari cartridges to PlayStation peripherals to vintage consoles complete in the box. You’ll find items from a dollar or two apiece for common game discs to hundreds or maybe even thousands of dollars for rare items. If it can be plugged in and played on a TV screen, there’s a good chance someone at the show will be selling it.
Hosting an event like this requires months of planning. This is the third year of Let’s Play Gaming Expo but the first one in Irving. Previous shows were in Plano.
“The Plano Convention Center was a great venue, but the concern was growth,” Deitering says. “We’d already maxed out the space for the most part in terms of attractions and tables, but if we experienced another doubling in size like last year, it was going to get cramped. And that’s not what we wanted. We want people to come, have a great time for the weekend and go home happy. It’s hard to have that great experience if you’re bumping up against people the whole time.”
Rise of retro
One reason Let’s Play and similar shows have shown such growth is that retro gaming is huge. Its meteoric rise began around a decade ago, thanks to a number of factors, including the popularity of such YouTube celebrities as The Angry Video Game Nerd and Pat “The NES Punk” Contri, the introduction of the Wii Shop Channel and other convenient ways to play classic games on modern consoles, and the embrace of geek culture in general.
“Nostalgia plays a big part as well,” says Darren Sulfridge, co-founder and arcade coordinator for Let’s Play. “Nostalgia is important in any collectables market, but especially so for retro gaming. Kids who were there for the earliest beginnings of console and arcade gaming are now well-established adults and have disposable income to finally pursue the games they wanted to play but couldn’t.”
There’s also fun in exploring the unknown.
“It’s a blast to experience a new game or console that I never knew about,” Sulfridge says. “With retro gaming it’s possible to have something new to play, and you can discover completely different gameplay types that you may not ever see in a modern game,” such as simple non-scrolling shooters, maze titles and climbing games.
In short, sometimes it’s fun to pick up and play a game where you don’t have to read the manual, wait for console updates or figure out what to do with 15 buttons on the controller, whether it takes you back to your childhood or not.
For Sulfridge, the Let’s Play Gaming Expo is a labor of love.
“After years of traveling all over the country attending shows like the Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas and the Midwest Gaming Classic in Milwaukee, it occurred to me that North Texas needed an interactive show for gamers,” he says. “When the opportunity to work with a great group of people, all with different gaming experiences, presented itself, I jumped on it. As a team, we all put in a tremendous amount of work because the end result is something fun that we want to attend. But if it were to turn a profit, none of us would be disappointed.”
Let’s Play Gaming Expo
Saturday and Sunday
Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas
500 W. Las Colinas Blvd, Irving
10 a.m.-6 p.m. each day (VIPs get in at 9 a.m. Saturday)
Weekend pass: $25 ($30 at the door); Saturday only: $15 ($20 at the door); Sunday only: $15 ($20 at the door); VIP $75. Midnight Friday is the deadline for purchasing advance tickets online.
Children 7 and under get in free
The Smash Bros., Tetris and Tecmo Bowl tournaments cost extra
Retropalooza in Arlington
If you can’t make it out to Let’s Play Gaming Expo, or if you go and enjoy it so much you want to do something similar in the area, check out Retropalooza this fall in Arlington. Hosted by popular YouTubers Jay and Billy, aka The Game Chasers, Retropalooza features video games galore, but also comic books, toys and other geeky goods.
Arlington Convention Center
1200 Ballpark Way, Arlington