‘Let’s a go!’ Gamers join forces to fund classic arcade exhibit

The Arcade Age Exhibit features over 60 playable game cabinets, and has been hosted on-and-off by the Cradle of Aviation Museum for the past nine years. // Photo by Lara Rydesky/Long Island Advocate

By Lara Rydesky

Sounds of 8-bit ray guns, clinking digital coins and Depeche Mode filled the air as neon-clad guests strolled around the second floor of the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Uniondale, chatting, singing and playing their favorite classic arcade games. 

On Feb. 24, the Cradle of Aviation Museum hosted an ’80s-themed arcade night with the Long Island Retro Gaming Expo to celebrate and raise funds for its annual Arcade Age Exhibit, which features more than 60 classic game cabinets and doubles as a fully functional arcade.  

The goal “is to bring people in to raise money for the museum, raise money for us to continue to preserve the arcade cabinets themselves, and preserve the inventory and the culture of video gaming,” said Seamus Keane, the museum’s special events director.

“There’s a big history behind arcade games and the tech behind arcade games, which leads us to all of our tech now,” said Keane. 

Data taken from IGN’s “The 10 Best-Selling Video Games of All Time” // Graphic by Lara Rydesky/Long Island Advocate

The exhibit, curated and preserved by the Cradle of Aviation, comes out of storage every nine to 18 months, and is usually accompanied by these mini-events. According to Keane, the museum typically sees 300 to 500 guests each Arcade Night.

Gianna Nicosia, 10, and her father, John Paul, played the classic shooting game “Duck Hunt” side-by-side at Saturday’s event. // Photo by Lara Rydesky/Long Island Advocate

Video game fans of all ages turned up on Saturday to play games, learn and have fun, including 10-year-old Gianna Nicosia, who normally plays more modern games like “Super Mario” and “Minecraft.”

“Some friends told us about an ’80s night with video games from the ’80s, and I’m raised in the ’80s so we came,” said Gianna’s father, John Paul Nicosia.

The night also featured karaoke, with over 40 guests crooning past hits such as R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” and Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot.” An audience built up throughout the evening to watch the performers, even chiming in for the “ah-ah-ah’s” in one visitor’s rendition of Spandau Ballet’s “True.”

At the same time, several contests, including a costume contest, video game tournament and raffle handed out prizes such as tickets to this year’s Cradle-con and a Switch Lite, which typically sells for almost $200. Meanwhile, several vendors sold collectibles and handmade comic-themed crafts.

Jay Stuart of Poppycock Productions showed off his original artwork as one of six vendors at the Arcade Night. // Photo by Lara Rydesky/Long Island Advocate

Brittany Pleasant sold hand-crocheted amigurumi, or Japanese crocheted stuffed toys, a business that she started almost a decade ago.

The Artisan’s Nook, run by Brittany Pleasant, sells handmade dolls of cute characters, including Pokemon like Pikachu and Eevee. // Photo by Lara Rydesky/Long Island Advocate

“The Cradle of Aviation is like my favorite place to vend ever. I love this place. The entire staff is amazing,” Pleasant said. “It’s just a lot of fun.”

The Arcade Age Exhibit is open to the public on weekends and school breaks through April 1 for a $10 admission. In addition to Saturday’s event, a second Arcade Night was hosted March 23. The Cradle of Aviation will also host Cradle-con, a comic collectible and pop culture convention, in May.

“People like to say, ‘Why are you doing this stuff, you’re an airplane museum?’ No, we’re a STEM education center,” said Creative Director Rod Leonhard. “Conventions are a good source of revenue for us. Really, education is our bread and butter.”

Leonhard, who has worked at the Cradle of Aviation 20 years, said he believes in the museum’s mission to “preserve Long Island’s aerospace heritage, and to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and pilots.”