PSU arcade gets technological facelift

    This summer, the basement of the Smith Memorial Student Union was dark and under construction ?” hardly the place to hang out. But by new student week, Viking Bowl and Billiards will house an entirely new video game system complete with XBOX 360s, high definition projection screens and movie theater seating.

    Totaling $36,000 to complete, the costly project was funded by the Associated Students of Portland State University through technology fees. Built by the Student Technology Access Group (STAG), proponents of the new gaming center believe that eventually the project will pay for itself and will give students a new place to spend time.

    ”We’re trying to make it a place where people want to go,” said Aaron Faw, manager of Viking Bowl and Billiards. Already the subterranean game room is inviting, with the new rows of plush red theater seats. “They’re actually pretty comfortable,” Faw said.

    The seats face four 10-foot high-definition screens on which the Xbox 360s are projected. At the opposite end of the game room are 12 gaming PCs that allow students to play computer games with one another online or through a local network.

    Despite being funded through student government, maintenance of the games will not be paid for out of students’ pockets. Viking Bowl and Billiards is part of auxiliary services, and like the restaurants above it in the Smith Center, the gaming center pays for itself through self-generated revenue.

    ”It’s recreation,” says John Eckman, associate director of auxiliary services. “People need to take a break from classes sometimes.”

    Eckman and Faw said they had been thinking of ways to rejuvenate the game room for some time. Then, last March, Seth Haynes, Brenna Kutch, Jimmy Schmierbach, and Jerrod Thomas, the four core members of STAG, approached Eckman.

    STAG envisioned an area that would give students access to the latest gaming technology. They worked with Eckman and Faw to develop a plan, ASPSU was involved, and the project was approved at the end of spring term.

    The project was installed this summer and the work was done by STAG, using parts purchased from Belmont Computers, a local Portland business. There are plans to keep the system up to date and a certain percentage of income generated by the game room will go to upgrading the equipment and buying new games.

    ”Once we know what people want, we’ll take requests,” said Faw. The gaming computers enable players to compete with each other or play by themselves. They are not hooked up to enable playing over the Internet yet, but that could be an option if enough students show interest.

Previously, the gaming area held old arcade games, the newest of which were five years old and seldom used. STAG members said the cost and technology of the new gaming center is competitive with other similar gaming centers.

    ”It’s pretty cheap compared to most other places,” said Jerrod Thomas, a member of STAG.

During new student week, there will be free access to the gaming center for all PSU students. After that, students will be charged $3.60 per hour, or $4.20 for non-students, the same price to use a pool table. Faw also said that Residence Life coordinators can reserve the game room ahead of time once a term, allowing students on their floor to play free for two hours.

    Brandon Jones, a former PSU student who now works at EB Games in the Broadway Housing Building, said he does not plan to use the game room but thinks it is a great idea.

    ”It’s a really good idea, especially on a campus,” Jones said. He does not expect it will damage business at EB Games and said he might recommend it to customers to try out the company’s games.

Both Faw and Eckman said they hope that this new center will lead to new interest in the game room. The bowling alley and billiard tables were renovated two summers ago. Eckman said the project has been more than just an installation, however.

    ”It’s just been so exciting to be able to partner with a student group to do something to benefit the whole campus,” Eckman said.

    The gaming system is open 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. on Fridays, noon to midnight on Saturdays, and 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays.