Placing itself directly in the spiritual Leeside home of modern social gaming, Kaiju Gaming Lounge has put a lot of stock in the city’s core gaming community, as well as the idea of videogaming as a casual social activity. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with end-of-level boss Paulo DeBrito.
Videogaming’s potential as a social phenomenon has been overlooked since the dawn of the medium. From the earliest days of its development, when multiplayer became a defining feature of pioneer computer game Space War and arcades became staples of urban centres around the world, to the massively multiplayer online environments of triple-A titles across multitudes of gaming platforms, collaboration and competition has been an important part of the medium’s enduring appeal. Cork, of course, is not without history in this respect: while arcades have been present to some extent in the city centre since the seventies, McCurtain Street’s Coliseum centre, now the Leisureplex, is the sole survivor of coin-op gaming’s heyday, while Barcadia on the Mardyke Road competes for the casual consumer buck with a strong lineup of refurbished arcade cabs and Neo Geo MVS machines.
A lesser-spotted part of gaming in Cork, however, has been the ever-shifting migratory pattern of the PC gaming community, serviced ably before the economic crash by outposts like Area 51 and the Webworkhouse. With its popularity growing on a cult basis in recent years, the time has been right for a while to revisit the idea of a physical centre in Cork city. For Paulo de Brito, it was just about mad enough to work. “Kaiju Gaming Lounge was initially discussed playfully between friends, while I was on holidays three years ago. I then realized that it was worth a shot to try to open a gaming lounge, and decided to take a start-your-own-business course in Cork, to understand how to plan a business. There were many challenges initially, such as budgeting for the machines, choosing each component for the computers, and the overall decoration and business identity such as the name and logo of the place.”
Offering a selection of custom-made gaming machines and augmented console experiences, Kaiju occupies a space in the city that’s been waiting to be filled. While the aforementioned venues hit specific beats in terms of gaming fandom, there are still groups of gamers in the city that have been going between available venues for a while, including the Cork Fighting Game Community, veterans of world-class competitive fighting games. A place like Kaiju is well-positioned to meet a variety of gaming niches, and challenge stubborn mainstream perceptions of gaming as an anorak pursuit. “Straight up, we wanted to offer a variety of choice between console and PC gaming, as there was no other place in Cork city offering this range of services, and I had visited other gaming lounges outside of Ireland that were successful by catering to PC and console gamers. The overall idea of the social events was definitely to bring a more positive aspect to gaming, that is still seen as a loner activity by some people. We wanted to create a place where you could meet up with friends or make new ones, without the need for alcohol, for people of several ages, ranging from children with their parents, to adults that remember fondly their videogame times.”
Arriving in the site of the former Area 51 on North Main Street was surely no accident. In the pre-recession times, the internet café was the centre of a then-nascent gaming culture, centred around multiplayer games at the outset of their popularity, like Counter-Strike, as well as demented sandboxes like Garry’s Mod, a user-led contortion of the Half-Life engine. Puerile in-jokes, like a stock of the inappropriately-monikered Bawls energy drink, abounded, while the overnight gaming deal made for great impromptu accomodation for gig-goers in the event of a missed last bus. Huge shoes to fill, then. “Area 51 definitely left a mark in Cork, and people have mentioned it as they come in, sometimes as a joke they even call it ‘Area 51 2.0’. Overall, the reaction has been great with some people saying that Cork was overdue for a place like this. We are fortunate to have been able to find this premises, as it not only brings back memories of friends playing videogames together late at night, but also have had some parents that want to bring in their kids on the way to or from shopping in town.”
The physically solitary nature of online multiplayer gaming, rife with broad and offensively inaccurate stereotypes of foul-mouthed youngfellas, is something the space seeks to combat in its own way, rather than simply play on nostalgia. There is an element of pre-internet social gaming to the space’s M.O. and configuration, though. “Online videogames can still be quite isolating, but I believe that to be caused more due to the convenience of being able to login, play and chat with friends from around the world, without leaving the house. It is, however, important to remember the origins of videogames, as before online gaming was introduced, players would have to gather around the living room and play together. What we aim to bring back is precisely that, a friendly place where you’ll want to meet your friends and make new ones.”
Virtual-reality gaming and console rental are also part of the space, mirroring the experiential marketing of the arcade sector and providing access to the cutting-edge of this gaming generation’s technology for a fraction of the retail price devices like PlayStation VR command. It also provides a little bit of people-watching joy for DeBrito and staff. “An unexpected side of VR gaming that we’ve seen at Kaiju has been how much friends enjoy gathering together to see the one that using the VR equipment, and either help out getting through a tough part of the game or have a laugh at how silly things can get. We haven’t had a dull moment with it.”
It’s an interesting one to consider, how a space like Kaiju develops: without precedent for change in recent years, and with the explosion of competitive gaming as a spectator attraction, potential is definite for something like it to expand and maintain its own niche in the city’s social life. “Once it becomes possible, we’ll start investing in promoting eSports which is an area that goes deeper into competition and specialization into a specific game. This should definitely change how gaming is perceived by anyone that hasn’t had the chance to be introduced to this kind of entertainment, from simply playing a game to a challenge for the mind, in terms of coordination and team cooperation.”
Kaiju Gaming Lounge is open now on North Main Street. Find it on social media, or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on social gaming packages and party rates.