DeKALB – The window paint on the front door of Star Worlds Arcade is enough to make an old-school gamer’s heart skip a beat.
“Space Invaders Tournament! Save the Earth Here!” it proclaims in neon pink letters.
Space Invaders, released in 1978, was the first video game arcade owner
Patrick O’Malley ever owned, so it seems fitting he should choose it to
celebrate his 25th year in business.
O’Malley began collecting full-size arcade games as a child in the
early 1980s. By the time he was 12, there were 18 machines crowding his
parents’ Maple Park home and garage, he said. Eager to get their house
back, his parents helped him to rent a game room in Maple Park, which
he ran every day after school until 7 p.m. At 15, O’Malley was placing
games in other businesses like restaurants and bowling alleys in
addition to running the arcade.
“Doing business with people when you’re that young, a lot of people
say, ‘Get out of here, you’re not ready for this,’” O’Malley said.
“People who took faith in me got to see I really did know what I was doing.”
O’Malley started playing and collecting because of a passion for the
games, he said. When he graduated from high school, he decided to
follow that passion and work at the arcade full-time.
In 2005, he moved to DeKalb because it was a larger market and closer
to his core group of business customers. The arcade buzzes and beeps
with the sound of 40 games, sounds O’Malley can distinguish like a
parent recognizing a child’s cry.
“If I get a new game in, it can be all the way in the back, but I’ll
know from listening there’s a new game back there,” he said. “That’s
just my insanity.”
Over the years, home gaming systems have dramatically changed the
landscape for arcades, but Star Worlds continues to go strong, O’Malley
said. His regulars include adults, students from Northern Illinois
University, children and families.
“My crowd is ages 4 to 54,” O’Malley said.
“That’s changed since I opened the first room. It used to be all boys
playing video games. Now I get families coming in here for family time
and we get a lot more girls, moms playing with their daughters.”
The games are a mix of new and old, though some classics – Ms. Pac-Man,
Burger Time, Tetris and pinball – are such crowd favorites O’Malley
said he could never get rid of them without risking the wrath of his
With his 25th anniversary, O’Malley is launching a new initiative. His
campaign, “Celebrate the Arcades” will focus this year on fun events at
Star Worlds, like the Space Invaders tournament. He hopes to sign on
local businesses to sponsor events and eventually expand the campaign
to help other arcades across the country reach out to their customer
“You have to get out with your customers and promote,” he said. “A lot
of people, as they get older, they put someone in to run the business.
I can’t do that. I’m always here.”
Star Worlds Arcade
Address: 1234 E. Lincoln Highway, DeKalb
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