In the courtyard of the Benton County Fairgrounds on Friday, July 8, a cacophony of noise filled the air as more than 30 iconic video game stations buzzed with life, sights and sounds of a bygone era.
Set the scene, a A nearby speaker blared lively 80s music as the players’ hands flew furiously over the controller buttons, battling for the upper hand against their opponent.
While many of these consoles are now considered obsolete, the 64 Bits or Less event offers visitors the opportunity to revisit their favorite game from childhood.
For four years, the Portland Retro Gaming Expo has been sponsoring this family-friendly outdoor festival to bring players back to the past. Due to high demand, it only recently expanded to the Benton County Fairgrounds this year.
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Featuring 25 original game systems from the 1970s to the 1990s, each station comes equipped with a console, controllers, a CRT television, and multiple games to choose from.
“We try to make it very unique,” says co-founder Erik Jensen. “There are a lot of retro gaming and expo events happening across the country, but we are the first event to do just gameplay, no salespeople. All TVs, consoles and games are original.”
Jensen remembers video games as a formative part of his early childhood, but didn’t discover the retro game scene until 2014. At the time, he and his wife Leyna hosted backyard theme parties for comic and music bookstores at their home in Corvallis.
“Originally, we called the event Animation Fests, where we would show cartoons from all over the world and different time periods,” Jensen said. “For a year I just decided I wanted to do something different.”
Jensen came up with the idea for 64 Bits or Less with Phil Hochheiser, Courtney Spaulding, Christopher Legg and Stefan Francavilla. The festival includes a total of 25 game systems, of which Nintendo, Atari and PlayStation are just a few prominent names.
The event also features a charming 8-bit gaming computer lab and light gun shooting gallery for visitors to enjoy.
Four-player N64 games such as Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros are projected onto a large screen for even more entertainment. Players who make it to the top of classics like Donkey Kong, Duck Hunt and Joust can win prizes, including a weekend pass to this year’s Portland Retro Gaming Expo.
Free kettle corn and soda are available on the front table while gaming.
“As long as things go well this weekend, I plan to book this location again for next year in a few weeks,” Jensen said. “We just want to keep expanding the space and adding more stuff, and also going to participate in game systems alternate in Corvallis.”
64 Bits or Less runs through Saturday, July 9, from 2pm to 11pm. To buy tickets online for $15, go to www.64bitsorless.com or pay $18 at the door. Children aged 5 and under can enter for free.