Pinball Wizards of Long Island: Diehard Gamers Keep the Magic Going with Home Arcade
A multicolored rug that glows in the dark. Purple LED lights. Nine pinball machines and a jukebox playing “Purple Rain”.
Would you believe this is the description of someone’s basement – in 2022?
Dennis Cole has transformed his living space into a gamer’s paradise, modeling it on the arcades he loved as a kid. The Oakdale resident has been collecting pinball machines for 20 years.
In recent years, other Long Islanders have also turned their dens, garages, and basements into game rooms. During the COVID-19 pandemic, others have jumped on the trend to entertain themselves at home.
After choosing the perfect games, setting everything up, and decorating the rest of the space accordingly, these Long Islanders explained why it was worth it.
An ode to the 80s
It all started with a late night service call. Dennis Cole, a plumber and electrician, was leaving a client’s house when he spotted something unusual in the garage: a pinball machine.
“I’ve always wanted my own pinball machine,” says Cole, 54. “Since I was a little boy.”
Growing up, his parents owned a record store in Farmingdale. There was a pizzeria in the same mall that contained an arcade game haven, so it became one of his favorite places.
Seeing a pinball machine in someone’s garage all these years later opened up new possibilities for Cole. He ended up staying and playing games until the wee hours of the morning.
“I called my wife at 2 a.m. and said, ‘I’m not dead, I’m playing pinball’,” he says.
Cole, his wife and their sons moved into their Oakdale home in 2013. He got to work in their basement, painting the walls navy blue, installing LED lights and choosing a rug with a colorful geometric pattern . Cole wanted his basement to look like the Time Out arcade located in Massapequa’s Sunrise Mall in the 1970s and 1980s.
Then he filled the space with pinball machines. Cole has 19 arcade games at home, 10 in his den.
He collected them by going to large rallies in the tri-state area, where people take pinball machines for others to test. He met many of his friends this way.
After returning from these events, he would go home and research his favorite games, using eBay and the Internet Pinball Machine database. (The database contains statistics including date of manufacture, number of units produced, and notable features of each game.)
For a pinball machine, “the pre-COVID price range was $1,000 to $10,000,” says Cole. “After COVID it skyrocketed, which we never thought would happen. Games have doubled and tripled in price.
A lot of power comes into play with a setup like this. As an electrician, Cole knew what to expect.
“On a typical circuit, you can plug in four to six sets, depending on what they are,” he says. “Once there are too many games on the circuit, the power supply will not be powered enough by the circuit, and the game will continuously reset and not continue to work.”
For those looking to buy arcade games for their home, Cole’s advice is twofold: find Long Islanders who share your passion and play the game before you buy it. He recommends buying games from local collectors rather than sellers.
“I have a Facebook page called Long Island Pinball Owners,” adds Cole. “There are a lot of helpful people there.”
He thinks this niche but close-knit gaming community on Long Island will live on for years to come.
“We have to save this thing; it’s important to people,” says Cole. “I have two sons, one who is 22 and one who is 19, and I know for sure both my sons will have that when they are older and that will continue.”
Games in the garage
After moving in 2017, it took Andrew Prelusky about three years to create his arcade setup at his home in Babylon. He decided his garage would be the perfect spot, as it has solid flooring for heavy machinery and some games can get “a little noisy,” he says.
But the garage itself turned out to be a repairman.
“He was in bad shape,” said Prelusky, 36. “The walls were dirty, the windows were cracked and the doors were rotten.”
He also hired an electrician, as the garage had no electricity. After the major renovation, he finally brought a collection of seven games. “It was a passion project,” he says.
In addition to classics like Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga, Prelusky is home to Japanese rhythm video games like Pop’n Music, Beatmania IIDX, and Dance Dance Revolution.
“My favorite is Dance Dance Revolution,” he says. “It’s the game that really introduced me to rhythm games in the early 2000s. And it’s really good exercise so I use it to stay in shape a bit.
Prelusky worked in an arcade at the Westfield South Shore mall in Bay Shore and had dreamed of owning his own machines ever since. Once he moved to Babylon, he began to inquire. Beatmania IIDX cost him $4,500 and Pop’n Music $1,500, he says.
Prelusky generally knew what to expect, price-wise. But there was a surprise once he acquired the games.
“The biggest shock was the size of some of them,” he says. “One of the machines was too tall to fit through the garage doors, so I had to partially dismantle it to get it in.”
There are bright colors on some of the game cabinets, and Prelusky added flashy posters on the walls to bring the space together.
“I just wanted it to be a nice and colorful space that was bright and inviting,” he says. “Some arcades black out the walls and do black light stuff. I wanted it to be open and bright.
Having windows to let in sunlight (and moonlight) was also important to Prelusky and makes the area even more special.
“I still feel very lucky to be able to have this in my garage,” he says. “Some people feel like it’s a status thing or you post pictures of it on Instagram and forget about it, but I play this thing a few times a week and I love it. Open Doors garage to let the sun in and play those games, that’s something I really enjoy.
Moving Pinball Wizard
Tim Ruymen (also known as “Timball Wizard”) moved to Lindenhurst with his family 10 years ago.
Just a few years ago, he bought a pinball machine and learned how to fix it using Facebook forums and YouTube tutorials. He bought another one, then he fixed it and sold that one. Ruymen enjoyed the hobby, which also turned into a way to earn extra money – during the pandemic his work as a wedding videographer stopped and his focus shifted.
He currently has nine pinball machines in his basement, all of which have been used. Ruymen restored them himself.
“I try to buy something that’s broken or needs fixing, then I fix it because it’s cheaper and I can afford it,” says Ruymen, 42. “Some machines cost $9,000 and I can’t afford them, so I look for ones that I can work on and create my own.
Now Ruymen, his wife and their two daughters are moving to Syracuse. His friend will store his pinball machines for a month, then transport them to Ruymen’s new house. It also happens to have a larger basement, which Ruymen says his wife kept in mind while they were house hunting.
“The basement also has a ground-level entrance, so we don’t have to run machines up and down the stairs,” he adds.
He’s ready to see what kind of community there is for pinball players in Syracuse, but he already senses there are more like-minded people on Long Island than upstate.
Ruymen has worked hard on his collection and says he learned a lot by researching to be able to identify and solve technical problems with a pinball machine.
“When you buy a machine, you have to fix it because it always breaks,” says Ruymen. “Learning to repair and maintain your machine is a necessity. There are a lot of moving parts – switches, balls that fly around and break things. When you buy your first machine, learn how to repair and maintain it.
One thing he is still looking for: how to get his 8 and 5 year old daughters interested in pinball.
“I think when they’re a little older, maybe they’ll appreciate it more,” he laughs. “When I was older, maybe between 10 and 13, that’s when I started. Maybe they are a little young.