Back to the Future

Toby Russell—master gamer, MUD lover and Elephant MD—talks about The Artcade, the monthly retro-gaming night at Elephant West that is making old-school multi-player computer games cool again.


What inspired you to start The Artcade?
Over the years I’d built up quite the collection of old computers and games machines and, like any old piece of machinery, it shouldn’t just sit in a cupboard collecting dust, it needs to be used. The Artcade has given me the opportunity to give those machines purpose and do what they were made for: entertain people.

Presumably you were a teenage gamer. What did a Toby Russell night of gaming look like back in the “glory days”?
Well, I started as most early-80s kids did with microcomputers, things like the ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro. So gaming was a rich mix of typing in games from magazines or sitting patiently for ten minutes whilst a game was loaded up from an audio cassette. Those were simpler times!

Quite quickly, though, I got online, sending my first email in 1982. Around this time the first multiplayer game called MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) came into existence. This was a simple text-based adventure game where you solved puzzles and battled your way around a dungeon. Many, many hours of fun were had playing online, much to the despair of my parents, who ended up with horrendous telephone bills as a result of all the hours I had spent online.

How did you begin collecting games?
The collection really grew out of my years collecting old 1960s and 70s computers. At the time these were frequently being thrown into skips, so I started to preserve them. To my nerdy eyes they were things of extreme beauty worthy of saving. From there the progression to collecting 80s microcomputers and games consoles was natural.

Where do you store them?
I have numerous sheds and a garden office which are somewhat stuffed with machines. My wife has a very strict rule, which I routinely flout, that I’m not to fill the house up with old computer junk!

Which is your favourite and why?
Now that is a difficult one! My all-time favourite game is probably Elite, a 3D space game where you fly around the universe trading and fighting your way to “elite” status. At the time this game was a huge step forwards and many hours of fun were had playing it.

My current favourite item in my Pacman arcade machine. It is simply beautiful and an icon of gaming.

Will younger people who are only familiar with more contemporary games feel at home at The Artcade?
Absolutely. Good games are a timeless thing and many of the games of today have their origins in the games of yesterday.

Do you think they’ll be converted to more old-school ways?
The great thing with older games is how easily accessible they are as there are less buttons to worry about and a simpler storyline. This makes them über-easy to pick up immediately and enjoy.

Is there a dress code for the evening?
Hell no, gamers don’t do smart! Jeans, t-shirt and a clean pair of underwear are all we ask.