By Chris Mellides
Huntington’s first retro video game event was hosted Oct. 17 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Gamers, collectors and vendors were welcomed for a day of gaming fun and fundraising, with proceeds going to the fellowship.
The event, dubbed Keep Pluggin, is the brainchild of Ben Farrell, 22, formerly of Huntington, an avid gamer and video game collector with childhood ties to the fellowship.
In the months leading to the event, Farrell said that he was focused on acquiring video games and establishing relationships with dealers who he welcomed to attend the event for a fee of $50 per table.
“The challenging aspect was just learning everything because I didn’t know anything about doing this kind of thing,” Farrell said. “There are a lot of awesome volunteers at the fellowship here, and I probably couldn’t have done it without them.”
He added that his video game expertise proved to be a valuable resource for event planners who would have had a difficult time running the event without him.
“That’s where the mix really comes in well,” Farrell said, describing his working relationship with members and planners of the fellowship’s religious community.
Farrell’s father, Ken, is the owner of Just Kids Nostalgia, a company founded 35 years ago as a brick and mortar on Main Street in Huntington. The business’ physical storefront became a staple in the community, selling games and pop collectibles before transitioning to an online-only retailer.
“I’m kind of aware of what the market has been in my generation, which is Howdy Doody and the like,” Ken, 65, said. “My son Ben has moved into the modern era, which is 80s and 90s video games, which is the up-and-coming market and makes Howdy Doody look like it’s over.”
Ken has seen his son and his own business moving into video gaming as a larger and more viable market, one that resonates more with today’s younger people, but admits that the store had an effect on his children, including Farrell.
“I think it was a blessing because I was exposed to a lot growing up in terms of pop culture,” Farrell said. “And just the social aspects of life and dealing with people and owning a business, it was all just around me.”
Farrell said that he was about 10 years old when his father launched Just Kids Nostalgia, and that his experience helping his dad and brother as a child at the shop really shaped his interests, and later led him to use his knowledge to help benefit his community.
“It was a good thing to be exposed to and I appreciate it a lot on the basis of being exposed to pop culture because I like knowing things offhand. I’ve always been around records and posters, movies and memorabilia so I kind of know a lot of stuff about that,” Farrell said.
Saturday’s event saw roughly 20 dealers and private collectors selling and trading a wide selection of thousands of retro video games from Centipede to Pac-Man along with classic gaming consoles like, Nintendo, Sega Genesis and Playstation.
Keep Pluggin also encouraged free arcade play and had an assortment of old gaming consoles hooked to about 25 televisions located throughout the facility where both children and adults had the option of playing casually or competing for prizes.
Sitting with his father, 9-year-old gamer Luigi Scolieri was one of those who attended the event. Luigi stared intently at a 34-inch TV screen while playing Donkey Kong on an old Nintendo Entertainment System and attempted to blast through the game’s levels to win the Donkey Kong competition.
“I think what they do here is really cool,” Scolieri said. “I usually play old games like Donkey Kong, which I’m good at, but I play Halo and Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U, too. I hope that I win this contest.”
Liza Burby, a former president of the fellowship’s board, said that she’s been a member for 28 years, and after seeing the risk of the organization’s annual renaissance former fair fundraiser, which she says was very weather-dependent and labor-intensive, she was willing to help facilitate Farrell’s gaming event project.
“This is an old building and it takes a lot just to keep the lights on,” Burby said. “Demographics are changing with churches and I think every single church has membership issues and so we’re just trying to be as creative as possible with what we do to fundraise.”