Game Room Invasion-Home gaming has undergone a paradigm shift in the last 30 years


Your buddy Ted wants to show you around his place. The problem is there are scented candles everywhere. Framed pictures of poodles and kittens line the walls. There’s even a bouquet of daisies on the kitchen counter.

Your buddy Ted wants to show you around his place. The problem is there are scented candles everywhere. Framed pictures of poodles and kittens line the walls. There’s even a bouquet of daisies on the kitchen counter.

Suffering from acid reflux, you excuse yourself to the bathroom, where you are forced to lift a fluffy pink toilet seat in order to relieve yourself. With that job done, you’re thinking it’s time to take Ted to the nearest sports bar for some decorative therapy.

“Ted, I knew you had a thing for Martha Stewart, but...”
“Yeah, yeah. Myrna just moved in. But check out the, uh, dining room. Or, as I like to call it, my room.” Interest peaked, you peer in and your jaw drops to the bottom of the mini bar. As you twist off a cold one, all is understood. Pinball, foosball, bubble hockey, air hockey, billiards, darts, standup arcade games — they’re all here.


This mind-blowning declaration is being uttered with increasing frequency as the game room niche goes gangbusters. A survey of home design trends released by The American Institute of Architects this past fall determined that game rooms were the second most requested special function room after home offices, with 30 percent of participating firms reporting a spike in interest. While the demand for game rooms in Canada has not been measured, according to Gavin Nevsky, a Toronto-based interior design consultant, game rooms are smoking hot as more and more Canucks set their minds on recreating their high-school hangouts under their own roofs.

“Living rooms and formal dining rooms are things of the past, and these rooms are being turned into more useful spaces, like game rooms,” says Nevsky. “People used to put all their money in the living room, acquiring beautiful furniture and expensive rugs and artwork. That’s just not a priority anymore. Formal living rooms do not jive with most people’s lifestyles.”

Instead people are taking their home renovation dollars and splurging on functional spaces they can entertain in without having to worry if someone is going to spill beer on the couch. Home gaming has undergone a paradigm shift in the last 30 years, from kiddie obsession to hallmark of mainstream cool culture to chic interior design aesthetic. Today’s game rooms are totally pimped-out versions of the ’70s rec room. It’s not good enough anymore just to have cool toys; they’ve got to look sharp, too.

“This is the reason why the game room has moved up from the basement in many cases and onto the main floor, where it is in the heart of the home and where everybody notices it,” says Nevsky. There is a googolplex of reasons for the game room craze, but real estate trends are probably the biggest factor. There is an insatiable appetite for new suburban developments that are sprawling farther and farther away from cities, so much so that in many newer neighbourhoods the nearest hot spot is at least a 15- to 20-minute highway drive away. Couple this with the increasing popularity of cocooning, which pundits first started gabbing about in the ’80s, and you have lifestyle trend liftoff.

People want one room in their house that fulfills more than its intended purpose, an immersive environment that can melt away stress and make you smile just by thinking about it. It’s your happy place. If you’re a gourmand, that may be a state-of-the-art restaurant-style kitchen. If you’re a spa nut, perhaps a luxurious five-piece bathroom equipped with a Jacuzzi and a bidet plus all the amenities fits the bill. If your idea of unwinding is slamming an air hockey puck back and forth with a pal, you can achieve nesting nirvana in a game room. “I never actually knew people had these things in their houses. It was one of those ‘Hey, this is really cool’ moments,” says Ed Zathey, who was inspired to build his fortress of fun-itude after being introduced to a friend with a few pinball machines in his basement.

A pinball wizard, Zathey had initially intended to buy just one machine, but it’s an addictive game and that one pinball machine mushroomed into a bank of 14. “I’ve also got a pool table, a home theatre, one of those domed hockey games and an arcade game. It’s a customized Sega Dreamcast home console machine that is wired so you can play all the games with arcade controls. It also doubles as a standup jukebox.”

While all of Zathey’s toys get plenty of play action, pinball is his passion, so games like Cirqus Voltaire, Firepower and Star Trek The Next Generation are constantly having their high scores bumped up. “It’s never the same game twice. It’s hit and miss. You can have a great game, you can have the high score on one ball, and then two seconds later you play again and drain all three in a couple of minutes, and that’s the beauty of it. I think everybody should own at least one pinball game because no matter what, whatever room you put that thing in it will light up a room.”

And nothing beats pinball for replayability. “If you play a game on your Xbox, once you’ve completed it you are probably never going to go back and play it again, but you can always turn on a pinball machine. It’s always very challenging and anything is possible. It’s totally random.” Fourteen machines are enough for Zathey, but then again, he said that when he just had two. His game room doesn’t have space left to house any more, and though he has considered relocating some of his toys to other parts of his house, it’s not that simple.

“Oh, I’d love to. I’d love to have a pool table in the living room, but unfortunately women don’t agree with that,” says Zathey, who couldn’t convince his better half to sign on to the idea. Justin Keywood, a marketing associate with Starburst Coin Machines, a Toronto-based retail outfit that is to game rooms what Staples is to office supplies, has a foosball table, a pool table and a jukebox in his home hangout. “The jukebox is great because it works as a DJ whenever I have people over. It can set the mood,” says Keywood of his favourite piece in his collection. “It’s great to have around for any situation.”

While pool tables were the classic centrepieces of game rooms of old, a lot of Generation Xers who may have less space to work with are building their game rooms around foosball. “A foosball table is great because you can play with up to four players if you want to. It’s exciting and it’s more economical than a pool table, which can get pretty pricey,” explains Keywood. And while in Keywood’s expert experience the basement is still game room central, he has started to see elements worm their way into other parts of the house. One sales consultant at Starburst used to keep a pool table in his dining room. (Psst, Ed, see, it can be done.) The foosball-kitchen-office table combo is also a possibility.

“One of my friends in college has pretty much that situation. He has one room and a foosball table is the only piece of furniture in it,” admits Keywood. So there you have it, lack space is no excuse. Even if you have a 500 sq ft bachelor pad to work with you can always sleep on a ping-pong table.

This Article First Ran in Chill Magazine

Copyright © Mike Dojc, 2006

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