When Free Play founder Corey Hyden bought an arcade game for his house, he fell in love with the thought of owning an arcade.
Every time he’d invite his friends over, they would share a drink and play a game on the old machine.
Many people nowadays play on consoles such as Xbox, but there is something nostalgic about playing older games, kinesiology junior Ian Keele said.
“You can’t really go anywhere else [in Arlington] and play these type of games,” Keele said.
Computer emulations and consoles do not compare to the real-life arcade experience, Hyden said.
“I’ve been a gamer my whole life,” he said. “I was born in the middle of the first generation of most consoles and everything.”
After graduating college and attending law school, Hyden noticed he wasn’t playing video games as often as he used to and said he decided to change that.
Hyden opened the first Free Play in Richardson in 2015, and within six months, he signed a lease in Arlington for its second location.
Free Play Arlington opened in late April 2017 and serves as the brand’s “model location” in terms of size and layout, Hyden said.
This arcade, located behind J. Gilligan’s Bar and Grill downtown, became Arlington’s spot for retro gaming, he said.
Games like Pac-Man, Frogger and Asteroids were the first few Keele noticed as he and his friends celebrated a birthday party at Free Play Arlington.
The arcade also invests time and effort to create the “vintage vibe,” Hyden said. Played throughout the arcade is a set playlist of a couple thousand songs that are highly curated to capture the late ‘80s, early ‘90s era.
“People still really love these games, and they really love arcades. And I think a lot of people were bummed because arcades started to die out in the ‘90s,” he said. “So you have to figure out a place that will remind them of what their youth was, but also give them, like, the modern amenities that they expect.”
Low lighting and cartoon-esque murals aim to design a venue that feels old but also new, Hyden said.
After 30 years, arcades still remain entertaining, said Cody Ralls, Free Play Arlington general manager.
Ralls said he noticed people at Free Play hardly come in upset because it’s an experience for people to play retro games together.
“You can play a game with someone you’ve never met before and have a good time,” Ralls said. “One of my best friends now, I met here.”
Things as simple as trying to get a high score on a video game can bring people together in a community, Hyden said. All it takes is an outlet for people to connect.