A glow-in-the-dark, multicolored carpet. Purple LED lights. Nine pinball machines and a jukebox playing “Purple Rain.”
Would you believe that’s the description of someone’s basement — in 2022?
Dennis Cole transformed his living space into a player’s paradise, modeling it after the arcades he grew up loving as a kid. The Oakdale resident has been collecting pinball machines for 20 years.
In more recent years, other Long Islanders have turned their dens, garages and basements into game rooms, too. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, others jumped on the trend as a way to keep themselves entertained at home.
After picking the perfect games, setting it all up and decorating the rest of the space to match, these Long Islanders shared why it was all worth it.
An ode to the '80s
It all started during a late-night service call. Dennis Cole, a plumber and electrician, was leaving a customer’s house when he spotted something unusual in the garage: a pinball machine.
“I’ve always wanted my own pinball machine,” says Cole, 54. “Ever since I was a little boy.”
Growing up, his parents owned a record store in Farmingdale. There was a pizza place in the same strip mall that contained a haven of arcade games, so it became one of his favorite spots.
Seeing a pinball machine in someone’s garage all those years later opened up new possibilities for Cole. He ended up sticking around and playing games into the early morning hours.
“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 home in Oakdale in 2013. He got to work on their basement, painting the walls navy blue, installing LED lights and picking out a carpet with a colorful geometric pattern. Cole wanted his basement to resemble the Time Out arcade located in Massapequa’s Sunrise Mall throughout the 1970s and '80s.
Then, he filled the space with pinball machines. Cole has 19 arcade games in his home, 10 in his den.
He collected them by going to large gatherings in the tristate area, where people take pinball machines for others to test. He’s met a lot of his friends this way.
After coming home from these events, he’d go home and do some research on whichever his favorite games were, using eBay and The Internet Pinball Machine Database. (The database contains stats including the 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 doubled and tripled in price.”
Plenty 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 games, depending on what they are,” he says. “Once there’s too many games on the circuit, the power supply won't get enough power from the circuit and the game will continually reset and won’t stay operating.”
For those looking to purchase arcade games for their homes, 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 vendors.
“I have a Facebook page called Long Island Pinball Owners,” Cole adds. “There are lots of helpful people there.”
He feels that this niche but tightknit gaming community on Long Island will live on for years to come.
“We have to save this stuff; it matters to people,” Cole says. “I have two sons, one that’s 22 and one that’s 19, and I know for sure that my two sons will have this when they’re older and it will continue.”
Gaming in the garage
After moving in 2017, it took Andrew Prelusky about three years to create his arcade setup at home in Babylon. He decided that his garage would be the ideal spot, since it has strong flooring for the heavy machines and some of the games can get “kind of loud,” he says.
But the garage itself turned out to be a fixer-upper.
“It was in rough shape,” says Prelusky, 36. “The walls were dirty, the windows were cracked and the doors were rotted through.”
He also hired an electrician, because the garage didn’t have power. Following the major renovation, he ultimately brought in a collection of seven games. “It was a passion project,” he says.
In addition to classics like Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga, Prelusky houses Japanese rhythm video games including Pop'n Music, Beatmania IIDX and Dance Dance Revolution.
“My overall favorite is Dance Dance Revolution,” he says. “That was the game that really got me into rhythm games in the early 2000s. And it’s very good exercise so I use that to stay somewhat fit.”
Prelusky used to work at an arcade at the Westfield South Shore Mall in Bay Shore, and had been dreaming of owning his own machines since. Once he moved to Babylon, he started looking into it. Beatmania IIDX cost him $4,500 and Pop'n Music was $1,500, he says.
Prelusky generally knew what to expect, as far as prices went. But there was one surprise that came up, once he acquired the games.
“The biggest shock was how big some of them were,” he says. “One of the machines was too tall to fit through the garage doors, so I had to partially disassemble it to get it inside.”
There are bright colors featured on some of the game cabinets, and Prelusky added some flashy posters to the walls to bring the space together.
“I just wanted it to be a nice, colorful space that felt bright and inviting,” he says. “Some arcades make the walls pitch black 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 always feel very fortunate 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 it, but I play this stuff multiple times per week and I just love it. Opening the garage doors to let the sun come through and playing these games, it’s something I really enjoy.”
Pinball wizard on the move
Tim Ruymen (who also goes by “Timball Wizard”) moved to Lindenhurst with his family 10 years ago.
Just a few years back, he bought a pinball machine and taught himself to repair it using Facebook forums and YouTube tutorials. He went on to buy another, then he repaired and sold that one. Ruymen was enjoying the hobby, which also turned into a way to make extra money — during the pandemic, his work as a wedding videographer came to a halt, and his focus shifted.
He currently has nine pinball machines in his basement, all of which were used. Ruymen restored them himself.
“I try to buy something that’s broken or needs work, then I repair it because it’s cheaper and I can afford that,” says Ruymen, 42. “Some machines are $9,000 and I can’t afford that, so I look for ones that I can work on and make my own.”
Now, Ruymen, his wife and their two daughters are moving to Syracuse. His friend will be storing his pinball machines for a month, and then transporting them to Ruymen's new house. It also happens to have a bigger 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 need to bring the machines up and down stairs,” he adds.
He’s ready to see what kind of community there is for pinball players in Syracuse, but he already feels that there are more like-minded people on Long Island than upstate.
Ruymen has worked hard for his collection, and says he’s learned a lot along the way as he did research so he could identify and troubleshoot technical problems within a pinball machine.
“When you buy a machine, you’re gonna have to fix it because they always break,” Ruymen says. “Learning how to repair and maintain your machine is a necessity. There are a lot of moving parts — switches, balls flying around that are going to break things. When you buy your first machine, learn how to repair and maintain it.”
One thing he’s still figuring out: How to get his daughters, ages 8 and 5, interested in pinball.
“I think when they’re a little bit older, they might enjoy it more,” he says with a laugh. “When I was older, maybe between 10 and 13, that’s when I got into it. Maybe they’re a little young.”