Turning my one bedroom apartment into an arcade to save my sanity
As you would expect for someone who looks, talks and acts like me, I live alone. I’m lucky in that regard – not everyone is as lucky as me. Which really means someone in their late thirties must be “lucky” to be able to use the bathroom whenever they want. Oh, the future world we live in! What marvels will he offer us next?
But even though I’m lucky that my cries are only heard by myself and thousands of cockroaches, my apartment isn’t particularly big. I live in New York, where if you work hard and believe in yourself, you could get what can only be described as a “fun” kitchen with a fridge almost as big as the real thing. The place also doesn’t get much light. My building is relatively tall and shaped like a horseshoe – with my specific unit in the lower inside corner of said horseshoe. In other words, I get sunshine ratings from around 11:35 to 12:05. Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge loved it.
During the first few years of my stay in this apartment, none of this was a big deal. In fact, it was quite nice. I could go to work in the outside world and then return to my hovel where I could play video games in complete shade as our lord intended. Saturday morning cartoons? Saturday afternoon cartoons? Saturday night cartoons? It was the same thing.
Like many people, my work has taken place remotely during the pandemic. Since then, I have been working from home. And it went well. Many people, for many reasons, need remote work to be able to give flexibility to lives that have essentially been put in a blender. Others hate remote work because it robs them of the ability to yell at their employees in person. Work is a spectrum of suffering!
I have now spent two and a half years working from home. Living alone and working from home while your apartment isn’t getting the kiss of God’s light can be a bit hard on your sanity, it turns out. It can break your brain a bit when the only light to greet you in the morning is a panicked Slack. And that’s where I was lucky enough to have a steady job.
At some point, I realized that space was breaking me. So I did something for myself that I had never done before: I remodeled my whole apartment to make it an arcade room.
Since I’ve only spent my adult life in apartments in big cities, space has never really been one of my greatest resources. But I like the little things and have spent years collecting tiny arcade machines. Growing up, the arcades were a screaming place of peace, where I could relax and find joy in tiny moments of defeat by big kids in Mortal Kombat. This is my Rosebud, which, spoiler warning, was a sled.
Most of my little arcade was actually in my office at work. I never really played it – it just seemed like something to put on my desk because why in the name of god would I put pictures of my family? When our offices closed, these little arcade cabinets were shipped to me in banker’s boxes and they went home to Mom.
And that made it all possible.
The color-changing lights in my bedroom were swapped into the living room. I set up a projector on the far wall to play old video game commercials from the 90s (and then, in later arcade builds, movies like The Wizard). I shot one of those old planetarium star projectors on the bathroom ceiling for effect. I made it all purple/dark blue vibe.
I also took the liberty of buying “bundles” and “tickets” on Amazon. Is it stupid? Yeah, that’s stupid. But I spread out little cheap plastic prizes and awarded points for each. Then I laid out my arcade — including toys like a miniature Whac-a-Mole game and a Skeeball machine — and gave each of them a price tag. The smaller arcade machines – which usually replicated older classics – cost a quarter. The biggest machines and emulators attached to an arcade stick cost fifty cents. Wii gun games and playing Mario Kart using Labo cardboard steering cost one dollar. Riding a virtual reality roller coaster in my Quest headset cost two bucks.
Why assign a cost? Oh, baby, because I just got a cup full of arcade tokens from my local Barcade. So I literally had arcade tokens and arcade prizes awarded to tiny arcade games in my little apartment. None of that mattered. It was all wrong.
Still! Not one to rest on my laurels, I baked confetti cake (for me) and baked nachos (for me). In future arcades, I would switch to pizza – usually finding the lowest quality imaginable to match the feel of the arcade.
Again, I recognize how weird this is.
But it worked. And it always works.
There was something comforting about immersing myself in a different space — especially in the early months of the pandemic when that literally wasn’t an option for me. I felt like I had taken a small apartment and divided it into something much bigger. I played songs from the 80s and 90s on my speaker. It was stupid. It was fun. I spent a lot of money. I finally beat Mad Dog McCree for the first time in my human life. If you don’t know what it is, don’t worry – you shouldn’t.
The first time I did this my weird magic toy arcade was on vacation. I felt normal in a way I hadn’t felt in months. It was dumb, dumb and ridiculous, but it was so nice to just be ridiculous for a little while. It had been ages since I had done something useless. Oddly, it felt less like a nostalgic trip than an entirely new room in my house – a room bigger than the house itself. I still felt like an adult, but I had more space to move in while finally having a chance to breathe.
And then I continued to do them, although rarely. I’ve found that recreating an entire archway in your apartment by moving furniture around and buying accessories isn’t exactly sustainable. Nor is it a magic trick that works easily. But when it works – with a little non-ironic wonder – it’s something beautiful. When things got back to another kind of weirdness, I even brought a date while I was doing it – who was perfectly sweet about how fucking weird the experience must have been for her.
I sometimes get jealous of my friends who have room for full arcade machines. Mainly because they can afford a house, not because they have the arcade machine. But by throwing myself the dumbest pity party in the world, I discovered that I could create an entire place for myself…it happened in an entire place for myself. I was able to have my arcade. I was able to eat a birthday cake and a cheap pizza. I won tickets. I bought prizes.
Then I put everything away and went to bed.
Next: Steam Deck helped me get to low settings