Game on! New arcade brings old school gaming to downtown Front Royal

Youssef Ouakio,13, right, plays on a pinball machine while Evan Hill, 10, left, looks on inside the new Front Royal Arcade on East Main Street in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Fireball Arcade on Main Street transports families to the 80s through pinball and video games. That was Steve Ontiveros’ original plan: to give families a glimpse into the past via old-school gaming.

“The most interesting thing has been seeing the different generations come in,” Ontiveros said. “Because arcades are definitely generational now.

“Seeing guys who are older than me reliving their arcade experiences while their children are experiencing it for the first time. It’s a cool sight. An added bonus if you will.”

There’s a sense of nostalgia for Ontiveros. In his younger days, Ontiveros admitted to being a big gamer and fan of arcades. He recalled the 80s as being a revolution for pop culture, music, art and the economy.

“Growing up in the late 70s and 80s we had three channels on TV, rotary phones and arcades,” he said. “We’d take our quarters, hang out and go play games for hours. They were the equivalent to today’s digital watering hole.”

Evan Hill, 10, of Front Royal, plays on a pinball machine while Maya Tutton, 14, center, of Bentonville, and her sister Sarah, 10, right, look on. Rich Cooley/Daily

Ontiveros said he never dreamed of opening an arcade until his teenage daughter Bailey Ontiveros suggested it late last winter.

“She and her friends realized there is nowhere in town to hang out,” he said. “That’s what kids are looking for these days – a place to congregate and meet up.”

Despite a few minor setbacks, Fireball Arcade opened its doors in late May. The sounds of yesteryear greet gamers of all ages as they walk in today.

A dozen games including pinball, single and multiplayer competitions welcome players. Games include Ms. Pac Man, Centipede, Gorgar and the Flash. Ontiveros started with games dating back to the 80s because he said he felt like the 80s were making a comeback, especially for arcades. Over time, Ontiveros said he will add games from the 90s and early 2000s, which will include Star Wars and Sega Nascar.

Each game costs 25 cents to play. His reasoning behind that was to keep the atmosphere similar to that of the 80s. Black lights, 80s-themed tunes and art bring the arcade full circle. Still, in its early design stages, Ontiveros said by mid-summer the walls would be painted by a local artist and a glow-in-the-dark carpet will be installed, bringing it to the space age, just in time for his grand opening.

Steve Ontiveros, owner of the Front Royal Arcade, works on one of the machines inside his new Main Street business. Rich Cooley/Daily

“The funniest thing is watching people put quarters in and they can’t figure out why it won’t start,” he said. “But another gamer will walk over and teach them. Then that gamer teaches the next and so on.”

Ontiveros said he’s glad to see the community embracing his motto: social interaction, not just social media.

“More often than not kids are dropping their bikes off and they just start playing,” he said. “They’re here for hours before they even realize it. Even better, they don’t look at their phones because they’re living in the now.”

For the youngsters experiencing pinball for the first time, Ontiveros said there was a learning curve. He said that the kids are slowly discovering what it was like to live during the 80s and that technology was a thing of the future.

“It’s been really neat,” he said. “We created this space for kids to hang out, which was the entire point. But I didn’t expect the older generation to in turn bring their kids in to experience it. That was a pleasant surprise if I say so myself.”

Jonathan Derflinger, 15, drives a Nascar machine while Maya Tutton, 14, her sister Sarah, 10, Cameron Williams, and Evan Hill, 10, right, look on. Rich Cooley/Daily

In the future, Ontiveros said he hopes to open a barcade — a combination bar and arcade where gamers can play and indulge in alcoholic beverages. But for now, he’s content with his arcade on Main Street.

“Arcades still have the draw and allure with people today,” he said. “It allows people to think back on the days when they didn’t have any responsibility. There’s a certain cool factor to that.”

Fireball Arcade is located at 218 E. Main St., in Front Royal. The arcade is open 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.