All week long, media outlets including the NY Daily News, Time and Complex wrote about 37-year-old New York man Chris Kooluris, who spent more than $30,000 (and countless hours) transforming his spare apartment into the ultimate 1980s video arcade hangout. Most of them focused on the angle that Chris’s fiancée had left him, which made it sound like he’d ruined their home, obsessively chosen retro gaming over her, and would now be forever alone with Ms. Pac-Man.
Well, Chris is actually a good friend of mine, so I called him up to set the record straight — and find out exactly how this incredible home renovation happened…
I have known you a long time. Why on earth would you do this?
I had this apartment in Manhattan that was just sitting there, collecting dust. I was trying to sell it, but my broker got no offers for six months. I was living with my fiancée at the time in Brooklyn and it just kept eating away at me — why am I spending money for an apartment and getting no use out of it?
It was staged beautifully for sale (as you can see from the before photos), but still, it just sat there. So I fired my broker and decided to do something crazy with the space. Everyone who knows me knows that I’m just not normal. In a world that does what’s reasonable and responsible, I tend to do the ridiculous. So I thought to myself, “What’s the most ridiculous thing I could put in this apartment?”
After reading the book “Ready Player One,” I knew the answer: An arcade. But don’t get me wrong, I’m no arcade poseur. I grew up in the arcades as a kid, owned every system when I was young, even had a Neo Geo home system.
The media ran with the story that it cost you your fiancée. Is that true?
The rumors are true. But let me state that the arcade was one of the main reasons we called off our engagement. Relationships are tough. When you’re in love, everything’s amazing. When things start to falter, it’s easy to search for comfort elsewhere. When our relationship started to splinter, I dove headfirst into this hobby.
Looking back on it now, I wish I didn’t dedicate so much time to the arcade. But since breaking up, we still are friends and are there for each other in different ways.
How did this project wind up making the news in the first place?
A friend of mine from Wired was just hanging out at the arcade one night, and thought it was a really interesting story that I turned a bedroom into an arcade. It started out as a story for the gaming section, but once my engagement ended, it become a story about love and loss.
What did you hope to gain by going public?
All I want is to have a place where people can come by and have a good time. The more people who know about the space, the better. Since my friends are so busy, I really want to open up my doors to other gamers out there who can appreciate what’s in this arcade.
I also want to inspire people to rethink the spaces of their lives. To do crazy stuff because it makes them happy. To not conform and live by other people’s expectations of them. I think this room represents a real defiance to conform — or grow up, as some would say. But I don’t believe people should ever have to fully grow up.
If any of our readers wanted to do something like this at home, could they do it on a budget? (I mean, a real budget?)
For sure. You can buy lots of classic games for well below $500 each. You just have to always be on the lookout for deals. Check local auctions, Craigslist, the online message board KLOV. Remember, these are 300-pound machines and a lot of places and people just want to get rid of them. You can find some real deals.
What’s going to happen when you eventually decide to move out?
My friends and I take bets on what will happen first: Me moving out or a new Guns N’ Roses album. People ask me all the time, “Will you take the games with you?” Part of me wants to sell the apartment “as-is” and let someone else enjoy this amazing place. When I do move, I definitely will be bringing some games in tow.
Do you think this arcade will keep women away in the future?
Women love arcades. And the ones who don’t, let’s face it, aren’t that cool.
Photo Credit: Chris Kooluris