Some guys spent the early days of the pandemic muddying their porch deck or learning to play the guitar. Health communications consultant Peter Riemenschneider purchased and refurbished seven affordable housing units on Rice and University Avenue in St. Paul owned by Donkey Kong Jr. and Mortal Kombat among dozens of other arcade classics in his retro meeting room.
The Two Bit Game Room – sort of a showroom for his aptly named “Rent My Arcade” rental business – contains about half of his collection, or about 50 games, mostly from the 1970s, 80s and 90s, as well as obscure board games. games and collecting. It’s a safe space for Generation X to revisit eight-bit video treasures – some call them antiquities – like Pac-Man, Space Invaders or Rampage, away from the judgmental eyes of children and grandchildren raised on 64-bit technology. PlayStation or Nintendo Switch.
Another 50 classic arcade games are in various states of refurbishment or on loan, usually for a month, in people’s living rooms and garages in the Twin Cities.
The Two Bit Game Room – a $10 booking gets you unlimited play for three hours – opened in February as a discreet addition to the neighborhood, directly across from the recently restored White Castle and down the street from the new St. Paul’s Cathedral. The building of the Pavlovsk city school. Riemenschneider’s two renovated residences are located just above the gaming hall, and all seven participate in the city’s 4D Tax Credit Program, which offers tax credits to landlords who agree to maintain stable rents.
Riemenschneider doesn’t sell his games, carefully assembled over 20 years or more, to saloons or open his doors to the general public for 25 cents a game. Most of the people he deals with have a fondness for the original Twin Dragon and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which go back to, say, 1989.
Weekly rent can cost $150. Monthly rent? Only 75 dollars. Which rent gets cheaper over time?
“Less travel,” explained Riemenschneider, who drives a big blue delivery truck himself. “I do it because basically it’s fun. This is for personal use and not for bars and restaurants because it is still my collection. I spent my pandemic building an arcade.”
Riemenschneider, a lifelong resident of the East Side, lives with his wife, Jen, and two high school-age children just nearby—where else? — Arcadia street.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
AT: I’ve driven past the Two Bit Game Room a few times and even walked past it, unaware that there’s an arcade inside. What was before?
BUT: It was several things. Originally a paint shop, then The Salvation Army, then Miłosz furniture, and most recently a thrift store. The commercial/retail space was vacant for three years before we took over in November 2020. It took about 14 months to renovate the premises before we opened to the public in February.
AT: How did a medical professional become the owner of a classic slot machine?
BUT: I have been collecting arcade video games for about 20 years, even before my daughter was born. We received our first game, I poked around inside, figured out how it works, did a light restoration. I put it in my basement. I took a few more and put them in the garage. My wife said you have a collection. Why don’t you try renting out some of them?
We started talking about two years ago. People asked about a place where they could view them and see what they want. We’ve had fathers showing their kids how games work, and that’s a good transition.
We wanted more than just games. I collected – well, I didn’t collect, but for years I kept things from the 80s. Nintendo board games and magazine, Atari games, Nintendo Entertainment System including Zapper and Rob the Robot if you remember that. Nothing too modern. I was a Nintendo guy, so basically that’s what I collected. This is Mario Kart on the big screen.
AT: Are your kids into classics?
BUT: Not so much. My son plays on PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch. My daughter plays on Nintendo Switch. My daughter hosted a basketball banquet here. I think they appreciate more when they see the reaction of their friends.
AT: What are your favorite games in your collection?
BUT: I’m a big Star Wars fan and we have a 2010 Star Wars immersive game with a big dome screen. You are recreating several scenes from the Star Wars movie. You’ll complete the original Death Star ride, the Battle of Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back, and speeder through the forests of Endor in Return of the Jedi.
I am most surprised and like to say “Space Invaders”. This one is mounted at the bottom of the cabinet, facing up to a one-way mirror that creates the effect of a hologram illuminated by a black-lighted moonscape. It’s a black and white monitor, so they put color gels on the monitor to add color when it wasn’t available. It came out in ’78 or ’79.
It looks like aliens are actually hovering in space above this moon. As you go down the game, there is this anxiety – the experience of real descent, be it lighting or sound – that makes it special.
AT: Where do you find your games?
BUT: Part of the fun is the chase, the hunt. I got the games from Little Rock, Arkansas about 13 hours one way. I found games in barns in northern Minnesota. In fact, these are old operators who rented out games to bars and restaurants. They ran routes: “Okay, we’ll put Pac-Man in these five restaurants.” And then Mortal Kombat will come out, and Pac-Man will be taken into storage. And they’re just sitting there in the warehouse, waiting for the guys to find them again.
We have a very strong arcade repair community in Minnesota where guys can repair circuit boards and monitors. They can recreate hardware when the original parts are no longer available. For example, if a game uses a certain type of chip and that chip is not available, they can find a workaround.
AT: Which bands have rented time in the Two Bit game room?
BUT: We had a baby shower – a very fun and geeky baby shower, a few boys’ parties, a few high school birthday parties. We already had two retirement parties. People who are well over 50 are also their games. … We also had one mom who had chemo and her husband and son came to visit and they rented out the whole space so there was no risk that she would get sick. Have been several times.
AT: Have modern games improved on the classics or have they lost something vital? What is the difference between the games your kids play and the games you play?
BUT: My son played the Nintendo DS, a dual-screen handheld game, and played the Super Mario game on the monitor. I think his character died three times. P-Wing, I think that’s what it’s called, picked up his character and carried him across the screen so he could bypass the level. He literally flew around the level. I think it’s fake. (In the 80s) you had to beat that level. You had to beat the high score. You’ve had three lives, and that’s it.
Now they don’t want the kids to get too upset and play something else. They want to block this player. Compare this to “ET” on Atari. This game was so incredibly difficult that they ended up being dumped en masse in a landfill because it was so awful. Now there’s a casino-style reward system with modern games like “Candy Crush” on your mobile phones that have flashy bells and whistles and the screen fills up with a candy waterfall that gives you visual stimulation. It’s all gamification. We have representative games from the 70s, 80s and 90s and you can definitely see the progress.