Today bums me out. Why? Because the Peoria, IL Round 1 location is closing tonight at 10pm for good. For those who aren’t familiar, Round 1 is an arcade chain in Japan and the United States which offers a mix of food, bowling, karaoke, classic arcade games but most importantly to me, Japanese rhythm games. Back in its pre-COVID heyday, it was opened until 2am and allowed adults only after 10pm which made it an excellent spot to have a beer and play some games with friends or sing our hearts out.
With regard to rhythm games: think the well known titles like Dance Dance Revolution and Pump It Up but also a lot more specialized games like Beatmania IIDX (pronounced 2-D-X), Sound Voltex, Groove Coaster, Tetote and Wacca. These games have very limited presence outside of Japan. Short of visiting Japan, getting a hold of a cab yourself or ripping arcade copies from private internet sites, these arcades are the only chance to experience this niche gaming hobby.
But this hobby goes well beyond just games, it also has a thriving micro-culture of locals who have been playing for years. For me, its how I met one of my now best friends back in 2006, when we played a DDR-clone game called In The Groove back at the Galesburg Sandburg Mall in the days where we still gathered in person for such things.
It was not common to find these games or people into their special brand of electronic Japanese music. The crowd went beyond just casual gamers but extended into a fairly marginalized group that featured a mix of plain old nerds, cosplayers, furries, LGBT+ and those just interested in the fusion of dance, music and rhythm into video games. With this community I found another great group of friends that is scattered across the midwest and its hard to gather everyone.
Round 1 in Peoria offered this focal point. It opened in late November of 2017 and is closing today May 21st, 2023. It’s crazy to think that this focal point in the center of the state offered a meetup spot for old friends but also helped to rekindle some relationships with friends too. Not only that, my wife was an active participant in these games and always felt included. Plus I made a lot of new friends. In a world where we are becoming more isolated, atomized and suspicious of each other, it was refreshing to have a public space where we could all very visibly enjoy our hobby. I am sad to see yet another one of these special places close in a long line of failed ventures. COVID really did it in between declining business, security issues and a revolving door of staff. Still, for even its short-lived time in our short-lived culture, it was nice to have that space where rhythm gamers could truly feel like themselves.
In February 2019 and last week we had gathering specifically at our location. Coordinated by Discord, a gathering of folks from all across Illinois, some from Indiana and Wisconsin and others even further way, all meeting in person. Exchanging introductions usually with our Discord handles then often our real names and often times pronouns as people experiment with, and find comfort in their true identities. We are an inclusive community free of hate and vitriol sometimes seen in the wider world. Coming together felt like the childhood experience of meeting your friends on the weekend to talk video games, anime, Pokemon and to trade stories, jokes and laughs.
Today’s closure disperses an already sparse community but I look at the positives: not only the memories we made but also the connections. We have more opportunities now than ever to stay in touch and to travel and meet even more people who share our interests. The next closest location of Round 1 is in Aurora, IL in the Chicago suburbs. Some of us have friends who run private basement arcades with real cabinets and cloned software to emulate the experience. I am sure these private spaces will be where many memories also made but today is the end of something and it makes me sad. I hold out hope that perhaps we transition into something else that can give me a bright hope for the future. Until next time, friends…THANK YOU FOR PLAYING!