ICON Gallery hosts video game legends
FAIRFIELD — On Saturday, the Iowa Contemporary Art Gallery in Fairfield was teaming with some of the most legendary video gaming gurus in the country. The gurus were there for the second annual art gallery exhibition of video game trading cards and posters of Twin Galaxies, named for the Twin Galaxies Arcade that put Ottumwa on the map in 1982 as the “Video Game Capital of the World.”
The event began at the ICON Gallery during Friday’s art walk, and carried over on Saturday for trading card signings and a red carpet awards event that night.
Ottumwa Mayor Tom Lazio was in attendance. Fairfield’s Mayor Ed Malloy was scheduled to attend but was unable to due to an emergency.
“Mayor Malloy wasn’t able to be there due to a family emergency but he was there in spirit,” Lazio said.
The festivities continued on Sunday in Ottumwa, where the city’s 32nd year as the “Video Game Capital of the World” was celebrated.
Walter Day, the original co-owner of Twin Galaxies Arcade, was the event’s organizer.
“We’re thrilled that we had that recognition back in 1982; Walter has done a lot to maintain that,” Mayor Lazio said. “He has certainly cultivated a great group of people from every corner of the United States.”
He added that, “Mark Hoff was certainly a major player in getting the video team together and corresponding with all the people to get their bio and pictures together. He’s such a hard worker and a team player.”
Canadian photographer James McEvoy replicated an original photo published in LIFE Magazine in 1982.
According to a release, McEvoy said “When I heard they were going to re-enact the legendary LIFE Magazine photograph from 1982 that honored the video game superstars of the “Golden Age of Video Game Arcades” — the picture that helped put Ottumwa on the world map as the ‘video capital’ — I knew I had to be there and take the photo. It was a dream come true.”
According to the release, the original photo included 16 “Superstar VIP” video game players. This year’s shot included Billy Mitchell, of Hollywood, Fla.; Steve Sanders, of Kansas City, Mo and Joel West of Gastonia. Day sat in the center in his referee jersey as the official video game scorekeeper.
“People came here to see Walter,” West said. “Walter Day is probably the most loved man in Fairfield.”
Day, who is a longtime Fairfield resident, opened Twin Galaxies in Ottumwa with a friend in November 1981. Initially, Day only wanted to own an arcade because he enjoyed gaming.
But after Day reported the score of a teenager who broke a record at his arcade to Replay and Playmeter magazines, he discovered there wasn’t any official way of keeping score for the coin-operated industry.
By a stroke of luck, Twin Galaxies became the official arcade game scorekeeper in February 1982—just three months after it opened.
Day has been the official video game scorekeeper of the world for 32 years.
“Some deep, deep thing was working its way out in me,” Day said. “It’s all about serving and helping people.”
Initially, Day kept score as a service to the players.
“Walter is the one who in 1981 threw a pebble in a pond that created a ripple that started competitive video gaming,” West said.
West said because of Day, the course of his life changed forever. He added that he’s not alone in his sentiments.
As a youth, West was featured in the Charlotte Observer after breaking a record in an arcade in his town.
“I got the call that Walter Day was looking for me,” West said.
Adding that he was prone to getting into trouble and that his mother would always ask, “What’s he done now?”
“I’m not alone. There are many stories like mine,” he said. “Walter helped change many people’s lives.”