Insert Coins a slice of heaven for gamers


The problem I have with video poker is: I'll be sitting there, watching electronic cards being dealt, and after five or 10 minutes, I'll think, "I wish I was playing video games instead."

Our video game brains are trained to fire bazookas at Nazi zombies during cinematic adventures that look better than "Avatar" (which is why I've never sat through all of "Avatar").

How is video blackjack supposed to compete against next week's new game "Catherine," in which you portray a guy who gets seduced into bed by the hottest woman ever drawn?

To gamers' rescue comes Insert Coins downtown. It's set up like a neighborhood casino bar -- but instead of poker and blackjack games, it's packed with video games.

You sit around a horseshoe bar. You order a beer for $6 ($1 off if you're local). Bartenders (some female, wearing tight shirts) give you an Xbox 360 or PS 3 hand controller to play nearly any game you want.

This week, founder Chris LaPorte is installing 100 ISPs so gamers will be able to use their online gamertags to play the online multiplayer of "Call of Duty: Black Ops."

This means dozens of customers could be playing "Black Ops" against each other there, while looking at their own flatscreen TVs.

That will be yet another massive multiplayer socialization -- in person, in a party atmosphere -- all for the price of a drink at Insert Coins.

Other gamers at the bar eschew Xbox 360 and drop quarters into dozens of authentic stand-up arcade consoles girdling the walls -- "Donkey Kong," "Frogger," "Street Fighter," even the original "Tron," which still has the coolest-looking, glowing joystick of all time.

Right about now, you nongamers are thinking, "What a scattering of dorks." I know you're thinking this, because it's what some of you posted on the Review-Journal site before Insert Coins opened.

Well, whatever. Drive downtown and look at the lines around the block to get in Insert Coins on a Friday or Saturday night.

At night, it's packed with hipsters who stroll across the street from the Griffin, Beauty Bar, Don't Tell Mama and Downtown Cocktail Room.

During the day, Insert Coins scores tourists stumbling in from Fremont Street, plus locals from nearby architectural and interior design businesses.

The demographic is about 70-30, male to female. It could be more female, but LaPorte refuses to plug in Wii games.

"I've seen enough YouTube videos of (Wii) controllers going through TV screens," he says.

Adding a slight nightclub feel are bottle tables, just like at Marquee nightclub. But bottle service here lets you play Xbox 360, PS 3, Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis (Sonic!) on a big TV. You get that service for a two-drink minimum during the day, or $25 per person at night.

Meanwhile, the DJ music doesn't suck. It's terrific, skilled mixing and scratching of old school (Beastie Boys, DJ Shadow, James Brown), recent school (Snoop Dogg) and new school (Rihanna, Dev).

As a hard-core gamer, I've been hilarious-ized by some things that people in the press have written about Insert Coins -- comically suggesting all gamers are guys who don't get girls (uh, have you met me?); and insinuating gamers can't interact with people (uh, have you met me?).

Insert Coins is imperfect. Some old arcade games are out of order, because they're a bajillion years old.

But if you're a gamer (we who make gaming the third-biggest entertainment industry in the world), Insert Coins is a little slice of heaven -- a heaven where you slice Nazi zombies' throats.

Vegas really is a great video game city, welcoming conventions and game launches throughout the year. Soon, July 29-31, the Rio hosts 7,000 international gamers competing at Vegas' annual Evo Championship Series. They'll be playing "Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition," "Marvel vs. Capcom 3," "Tekken 6," "Mortal Kombat 9" and "BlazBlue: Continuum Shift2."

"It's a $50,000 grand prize -- not poker, but (expletive) 'Street Fighter,' " exclaims LaPorte, a Brooklyn guy who has lived here for some years. "I geeked out the first time I realized I was in a city that had that going on."

Some big-timers from Evo are scheduled to appear at Insert Coins, particularly Daigo "The Beast" Umehara, one of the world's great "Street Fighter" competitors. Although, let's be honest. Who?

Meanwhile, LaPorte says he has bank approval to open a second Insert Coins in Minnesota. He's looking to open in California and Florida.

It would be a dream, he says, to have some sort of gambling involved with video games, or at least big tourney payouts.

Whether he could make that happen -- who knows?

But if you Vegas casinos, and makers of video poker, are paying attention, hear this plea: If you want to hook more people into gambling, give Sony and Electronic Arts a call, and see if you can come up with something more exciting than three jacks, an eight of clubs and a deuce.

Doug Elfman's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Contact him at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

 

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