By building a bar for sociable computer gamers, Christopher LaPorte seems at first glance to be chasing an oxymoron.
In the popular image, reinforced by the movies and occasional news reports of addictive behavior, gamers interact more comfortably with monitors and consoles than with other people. Whoever is on the other end of a game is just another opponent to be destroyed.
But LaPorte and two investors have made a $1.5 million bet, an unusually high sum for a 7,000-square-foot bar, that gamers will come to 512 Fremont St. and play each other when Insert Coin(s) opens to day.
"A lot of people talk about gamers as a sect, but they have become mainstream," LaPorte said.
Insert Coin(s) will partly reprise the video arcade with the addition of liquor service. He has moved in more than 40 cabinets of nostalgic favorites such as Donkey Kong, Space Invaders and Pac-Man designed to appeal to a now-graying demographic of people who played the first generation of video games.
But the heart of his business plan revolves around 43 flat-panel televisions, either 32- or 60-inch, and a video wall where bar patrons will be able to play each other on consoles they can rent. LaPorte estimated that the electronic design, hardware and integration alone cost about $1 million.
Susan Panico, senior director of Sony's PlayStation Network, said some recent games have incorporated aspects that appeal to women. Still, 18-to-35-year-old men remains the core market.
"Gamers are primarily interested in the competition as opposed to being social," she said. "Gaming has become more friendly and more of a social experience, but social can also mean expletives being yelled across the room. There is still some social behavior that needs to evolve."
Burnishing the image are rare but vivid news stories such as the one about Seungseob Lee, a Korean who collapsed and died in 2005 after playing StarCraft for nearly 50 hours straight.
A significant amount of gaming still comes down to testosterone-driven duels to obliterate opponents and lay waste to virtual landscapes, said Michael Legg, president of Las Vegas-based Petroglyph, a computer game designer. But he also thinks gaming has matured enough to render stereotypes obsolete.
"That has changed a lot," Legg said. "A lot more gaming now involves people cooperating with friends, working together without trying to kill each other."
Furthermore, many games now require headsets so gamers talk to each other instead of just reacting to moves on an illustrated battlefield.
According to the 2010 survey by the Entertainment Software Association, gamers averaged 34 years old with about one-fourth younger than 18 and another fourth older than 50. Sixty percent are men and 40 percent women, the survey found, while 64 percent play with someone else in person, up from 59 percent in 2008. As a bar, the minimum age for admission to Insert Coin(s) is 21.
LaPorte, a New Yorker who came to Las Vegas seven years ago, describes himself as a gamer who has long liked the idea of a bar for his virtual kindred but never saw anyone else do it. He put up a Facebook page more than a year ago to test-market the idea and proceeded based on the response. A former medical device salesman with no experience in building or managing a bar, LaPorte recruited two spine surgeons as investors, one he knew through family and one he didn't. With the money in hand, he started Insert Coin(s).
"I know lots of people who had the idea and wanted to do it," he said. "Well, I did it."
To appeal to women and more than just a hard-core crowd, he hired local artists to paint murals based on classic game characters and incorporated soft touches to the furnishings, such as couches that look like tufted mattresses that stand vertically and have padded benches on the bottom.
However, he decided to avoid food.
"I don't want people getting my consoles greasy and I don't think other gamers want that either," he said. "If someone wants to eat, there are several places here on Fremont Street."
He could have started on a smaller scale with fewer TVs, no video wall and a bar shorter than 70 feet. But he wanted a large size to show that Insert Coin(s) can work on a scale that could grow beyond a single location.
Contact reporter Tim O'Reiley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5290.