Do you remember the last time you visited an arcade? Surely there were SEGA, Nintendo and Atari game cabinets lining the walls of arcades back in the ‘80s, but the up-and-coming independent video game scene is a vibrant and popular sect of the industry, especially in New York City. A collective of independent video game developers who build arcade cabinets, design video games and curate art installations known as Death By Audio Arcade is looking to change the landscape of the video gaming experience.
Mark Kleback, the founder of Death By Audio Arcade, and his longtime business partner and co-founder, Stephanie Gross, are bringing indie video games to Brooklyn with their newly funded venue, Wonderville. The pair will retrofit a local mainstay venue, Secret Project Robot, on Broadway and Lafayette into their new indie arcade and event space.
Kleback and Gross launched a Kickstarter campaign in early March with the goal of raising $70,000. Just a few days shy of their April 2 deadline, the pair reached their goal. “Wonderville is going to be an art gallery full of new, independent arcade games and those games will be in arcade machines like traditional ‘80s, ‘90s arcades, but also maybe games made out of LEDs, games made out of door stops or any sort of interactive art,” said Kleback, wearing a black t-shirt with the words “Black Emperor” emblazoned in Twizzler red block letters. Behind the words on his shirt is a lime green outline of a tiger with its head turned sharply towards you. It’s a reference to the newly released game of the same name, which was created and polished in the beginning of March, then added to the space. Games such as these are made by independent developers and housed in the cabinets that Mark and his team construct, making their presence in Wonderville feel special and unique. While the lease that the former tenants have has yet to run out, Kleback and Gross are in a position to take over the remaining years left on said lease. They plan to officially open by early summer.
As you walk through the venue door, separating yourself from the noise of the subway and traffic outside, a sensory overload awaits. Splashes of colorful, geometric designs fill the walls with bright expression. To your left are two large arcade cabinets (“Black Emperor” and “Nothing Good Can Come of This”), which stand in a state of anticipation. Above you hang colorful handmade paper streamers and cardboard decorations lazily floating from the ceiling. Opposite the bar sits an inconspicuous door opening up into a larger room with vaulted ceilings. That is the event space, split between clustered arcade cabinets and a stage. It’s a sizeable space, one that’s been entirely customized by the current owners. This space holds the majority of the independent games like “Particle Mace,” “Video Freak” and “Slam City Oracles.” That DIY mindset is the very same that brought Death by Audio Arcade into fruition in the first place, something that Kleback and Gross are not very intent on losing.
The duo met at Death by Audio, one of several independent music venues housed in a spacious warehouse on the cusp of the East River in Brooklyn, on New Years Eve in 2010. During a time when the creative output of the borough seemed to be blooming, Death by Audio came to serve as one of the central spots where bands, artists and fans could gather and share ideas. For the better part of nine years (between 2005 and 2014) the space provided a start for artists such as Thee Oh Sees, Parquet Courts, Future Islands and Mitski — who would outgrow its limited capacity and launch into successful music careers. While the building was bought and its tenants forced out by Vice media in 2014, Mark and Stephanie met for the first time, where the seeds of Death by Audio Arcade would begin to form.
Wonderville hopes to continue that same ethos, but legally. “I think DIY can exist in a legal space. It’s just that we’re going to do a lot of the build-out ourselves,” said Kleback. Secret Project Robot had a fully stocked bar in the venue, which Kleback and Gross are keeping, so the arcade will be a 21-and-older venue. Gross promised, though, that they will have special video and board game nights designated for all ages.
Stay tuned for our video on Wonderville coming soon!
Black Emperor was developed by Tomas Vicuna
Nothing Good Can Come Of This was developed by Cartwheel Games
Particle Mace was developed by Andy Wallace
Video Freak was developed by Allen Riley
Slam City Oracles was developed by Jane Friedhoff