ZapCon Arcade And Pinball Convention Brings Classic Games To The Valley

By Annika Cline
Published: Friday, April 17, 2015 - 4:17pm
Audio icon Download mp3 (3.32 MB)
(Annika Cline/ KJZZ News)
Classic pinball games owned by Wes Cleveland and Rachel Bess.
(Annika Cline/ KJZZ News)
(Annika Cline/ KJZZ News)
Wes Cleveland and Rachel Bess play classic pinball games.
(Annika Cline/ KJZZ News)

A few decades ago, if you wanted to play a video game, you went to an arcade. It was a place where kids could turn allowance money into tokens and play as 8-bit heroes.

Even though everyone’s face was glued to a screen, it was a shared experience that the creators of the ZapCon Arcade and Pinball Convention hope to recreate.

Zapcon organizer Wes Cleveland and his wife, Rachel Bess, have exclusive access to this arcade because it’s in their house.

Seven pinball machines and one classic arcade game line the walls, all of them at least 15 years old. They don’t make them like this anymore. Well, they don’t make these at all anymore.

"Pinballs kind of died in the late 90s, early 2000s," Cleveland said. "Home consoles started getting really great, people stopped going out to arcades."

When Bess and Cleveland got their hands on an Embryon machine from the early 80s, it hadn’t aged well.

"The inserts in the playfield were like, busted through," Bess said. "One of them had like a broom handle with a penny and some duct tape."

Bess and a friend restored the machine to its original state and now it plays like new.

It seems like just about every pop culture icon was turned into a pinball machine. There’s "The Addams Family," "Johnny Mnemonic," "Creature From the Black Lagoon" and "Tales From the Crypt." 

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that as a child of the 90s, I had only ever played pinball on a computer. So Bess and Cleveland let me try out the Twilight Zone.

It takes me a few seconds to figure out how to launch the first ball and only about a minute before my third ball drops straight through the flippers.

Bess and Cleveland said at Zapcon they meet more people like me and introduce them to their first-ever pinball game.

"People in their mid-30s are probably the last people to remember going to arcades, you know the way that arcades used to be," Bess said. "And so part of us doing this is just to keep that experience."

They partner up with other collectors to bring more than 250 games to Zapcon. So here’s my hint to all the newbies out there: Tilt. But not too much.

 ZapCon will be at the Mesa Convention Center this weekend. There is an entrance fee, but you can leave your quarters at home because all the games will be set to play for free.

The Show