Feature

Chuck E. Cheese's

An Unaccompanied Adult’s Guide To Chuck E. Cheese’s

Is Chuck E. Cheese’s as much fun as it used to be—if it was ever fun?

By Matt Kodner • June 19, 2013

As the commercials say, Chuck E. Cheese’s is a place “where a kid can be a kid.” Started in 1977 by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, the chain advertises itself as the 9-year-old’s ultimate arena for pizza, games, and cheap prizes. But what of adults seeking entertainment, who long for a place where they, too, can be a kid? I wanted to find out if my old birthday stomping grounds still had that magical appeal, so The Gameological Society sent me to the very same Chuck E. Cheese’s of my childhood just north of Chicago in scenic Skokie, Ill.

Because Chuck E. Cheese’s does not want to be a place where a pedophile can be a pedophile, you can’t enter the premises unless you’re accompanied by a child. I enlisted some help in the form of a family friend and her two more-than-willing daughters, and my own parents tagged along too, presumably to supervise me. After going through $30 worth of tokens and scouring every spotless inch of the establishment, I came away with this guide. It’s the best and worst of what the modern-day Chuck E. Cheese’s has to offer a nostalgic adult.

Cyclone Junior
Cyclone Jr.

I never thought I’d feel so alone at a Chuck E. Cheese’s. I couldn’t find Cyclone anywhere. This is one of the standard games for any arcade that offers prize tickets. You watch a light zing around a circle full of numbers until you hit a button to stop it. If the light stops at the number “3,” for example, you get three tickets. But if you time it perfectly and the light stops directly in front of you, you’ve hit the jackpot. Legends were built around its storied 500-ticket payouts. Was it truly possible to hit it big? Everyone knew somebody who knew somebody who had broken the bank. But at this establishment, I only managed to find Cyclone Junior, a smaller, single-player imitation of the game, tucked away in a corner. It wasn’t the same without the thrill of a captive audience. I was hoping for at least one “IN YOUR FACE, BILLY!” moment where it would be borderline acceptable for me to yell at a stranger’s son or daughter. Instead, I got eight tickets. At least the tickets won’t ask me to vacate the premises.

The Ghost Hunter
Ghost Hunter

The Ghost Hunter is one of those games where you drop a token into a gun and try to shoot it into an inexcusably small target. Most of those games are total rip-offs, but this one lets you load four (!) tokens into the gun at once. Now that’s value, for some reason! The playfield is sparse, sporting just two spooky targets. Apparently, if you hit both targets in succession, a drawbridge drops, and you can shoot for a vampire worth the big tickets. I imagine children would be terrified if they were actually able to lower the bridge, but that will never ever happen. In under a minute, I had gone through eight (!) tokens. Still, I had a fat stack of tickets to show for it.

Dog Pounder
Dog Pounder

Dog Pounder is a hilarious game, whether it was meant to be or not. A humongous, blood-red bulldog bellows, “BOY! AM I HUNGRY” every three seconds that some hapless youth isn’t playing it. The premise is simple: Feed this dog as many plastic balls as possible. By any means necessary. Balls are strewn about below the dog’s horrible maw, and you have to launch the balls mouthwards by repeatedly plunging a giant dog-bone handle like you would a bike pump. The few 4-year-olds who tried Dog Pounder before me were awful. Thanks to my relatively superior physical condition, I managed to get six tickets and a lot of disapproving looks from area mothers. Oh, and pride. Lasting pride.

NFL 2 Minute Drill
2 Minute Drill

When I came across NFL 2 Minute Drill, a game where you toss mini-footballs into holes for points, I was skeptical, but I decided to soldier forward. In high school, I realized that the only sport for which I had any natural skill was volleyball. In college, I spearheaded an intramural C-league volleyball team. Our first year, we finished 0-6. I extended my record of athletic perfection by notching zero points in my sole attempt at this game. The 9-year-old next to me scored 120 points. Kids, learn to throw a football before it’s too late.

Photo Ride With Chuck E. Cheese
Photo Ride

Getting your picture taken in the middle of a roller coaster ride is one of the best features of any theme park. I’m always willing to shell out a few bucks for a particularly funny snapshot. So imagine my delight when I came across Photo Ride With Chuck E. Cheese. Not only do you get to ride back and forth in a choice red car with Chuck E. himself, but the machine also takes a picture of you and the massive rodent. The best part: It doesn’t even charge you an extra token for the print. Score!

Though the machine is clearly designed for use only by children, I poured my slight frame into Chuck’s jalopy and had a fantastic time. It might have been a tight fit, but it was worth it. I was going to have my picture with Chuck E. Except the photo never printed. I waited for a long while, but no luck. I stuck around for a few extra minutes advising hopeful children that the printer was broken. The lesson: Just because an anthropomorphic mouse gives you his word doesn’t mean you can trust him.

Egg Timer
Egg Timer

I don’t remember Egg Timer from my Chuck E. Cheese salad days, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s considered a classic among Chuck E. enthusiasts. It looks like it’s been around for a while. The game imagines Chuck E. as a simple chicken farmer, and you have to help him count his eggs before they hatch. The eggs are put through an intricate system of treadmills, and they dump out into the world’s slowest waterwheel. To gather the eggs, you make Chuck’s outstretched hand smack into a target that empties the payload into your basket. Get the timing right, and an egg or two will come barreling down. Each egg counts for one prize ticket, so you know you’re getting your token’s worth with this one.

Chuck E Cheese’s Sketch Book
Sketch Book

I had already been burned once before by the promise of a free commemorative picture, so I was wary of Chuck E. Cheese’s Sketch Book. This time, I exercised caution. I let a couple of mother-daughter pairs go ahead of me, so if the printer was on the fritz, they’d take the hit. Let no token go to waste. I determined that the machine was in working order, so I went ahead and chose the two-person portrait option (despite the fact that I was going it alone). The machine amusingly “sketched” out my picture before my eyes, and the wait wasn’t too long before my masterpiece tumbled down a chute. Unfortunately, the end result looked like something you’d see pinned up at the post office. Do not wear a beard to Chuck E. Cheese’s.

Chuck E.’s Marathon Runner
Marathon Runner

I used to have a hamster named Speedy. Like many hamsters, he had an affinity for his hamster wheel. After spending not 20 seconds in Chuck E.’s Marathon Runner, I don’t understand why Speedy or any other hamster would find pleasure in such a device. My trek through stationary hell commenced only after I warded off numerous toddlers who were intent on sitting in the wheel. Within moments, I had overexerted myself. My glasses were slipping down my nose. At some point, a small girl entered the area. The distraction led me to fall on my face. To add insult to injury, I didn’t even get any tickets. Hamsters don’t know anything about anything.

Chuck E.’s All Star Hoops
All Star Hoops

At this point it’s not a big secret. Sports aren’t my thing. I like a good game of alley basketball, though, and free throws I can handle. One summer at camp, I even proved to be half-decent at this game called Spectrum with mini-basketballs. So I thought maybe I had a chance at Chuck E.’s All Star Hoops, but then the backboard moved away from me mid-shot. Bullshit. Avoid All Star Hoops. It’s rigged.

Say Cheese [smartphone app]
Say Cheese

At some point in the last few years, the familiar cartoonish iteration of Chuck E. was scrapped in favor of a totally hip Chuck E. who’s animated in full 3D. The newest extension of the Photo Ride and Sketch Book attractions is an augmented-reality app that lets you snap a picture with this virtual Chuck E. Cheese. “Say Cheese” is one of the more unsettling ways to document your time spent at Hausse De Fromage.

I first noticed one of the app’s signature posters at our table. It tells you to “Say cheese here!” in order to take a picture. The idea is that you fire up the app, get your kid in the frame, Chuck E. shows up, and voila: an instant photo memory that you will cherish for a lifetime. It’s awkward, though, because if you’re the picture’s subject, you can’t see what Chuck E. is doing on the screen. This very well might be a good thing, because the animators make the mouse burst forth from the sign like an otherworldly being tearing a rift into our plane of existence. Then he dances around a little and strikes a pose.

I noticed a handful of these signs littered around the establishment, but in my three hours there, I didn’t see anyone else use the app. Above you can see my dad trying to give Chuck E. a high five, though.

Wheel Of Fortune
Wheel Of Fortune

Wheel Of Fortune, the game show, is simple. You spin a wheel and play hangman on TV. Pat Sajak ribs you in front of a national audience. That’s about it. Wheel Of Fortune, the coin pusher game, is evil. Coin pushers are those games where you drop a coin into a machine full of other coins, and you hope that your coin forces those other coins to fall down. Because they’re right on the edge! Just look at all those riches!

First of all, the coins never fall. That’s standard. But Wheel Of Fortune adds insult to injury with a bonus wheel that simply does not spin and an ersatz Price Is Right Plinko board that appears to do nothing.

While Laura, the younger of the sisters who accompanied me, managed to win 100 tickets on her first token (again, evil game), Amanda burned through a huge chunk of coins with little to show for it. She only managed to push a few coins down twice, which gave her four tickets. She announced her intent to stop after two more turns. Four tokens later, she turned to me and said, “I always make these promises to myself that I know I can’t keep,” and put a few more tokens in the slot. Chuck E. Cheese’s: teaching kids hard life lessons since 1977.

Share this with your friends and enemies

Write a scintillating comment

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    Who is the wizened lumberjack with you who’s Force pushing everything in each picture he’s in?

    • vinnybushes

       From behind he looks a little like Alan Arkin.

    • Master Prudent

      That’s Kodner Snr. According to the text he’s attempting to high five Chuck E Cheese in the smartphone app picture.

      • George_Liquor

        It must really sting to get iced out by a cartoon rodent.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        Oh, look at that.  Right there in the text.  Thanks for pointing that out, I completely missed it.  I assume it’s because I was distracted by the incredibly strung-out looking rat Chuck E. Cheese’s decided would be an ideal youthful mascot.

        • http://gameological.com/author/mattkodner/ Matt Kodner

          Twist: the rat is my father!!!

  • vinnybushes

    As a native New Yorker I grew up with what I felt was the vastly superior Sports World, with nary a strange animatronic animal-thing in sight. Lots of fantastic mid 90′s arcade games though.
    The Chuck E. Cheese near where I live now lost its alcohol(!) license after too many drunken brawls between parents. They may have even been shut down. So, obviously we know which establishment is superior…

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      Good lord! A question for your local liquor board: Exactly how many drunken brawls are “too many” for a Chuck E. Cheese’s? Because I know what number I have in mind.

      • vinnybushes

         It’s Wisconsin, so, kind of par for the course.

      • The Otter White Meat

        Is it 7, John?

        • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

          THERE ARE FOUR FIGHTS 

      • SisterMaryFrancis

        Is it five, John? I bet it’s five.

      • vinnybushes

         The answer is 12 fights including one that involved as many as 40 people. Oh, and it might have been gang violence: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122878081364889613.html

        • lokimotive

          Oh yeah, that happened in Brookfield. Man, I miss Milwaukee. Leave it to living in Tuscaloosa to make a person miss gang violence in Chuck E Cheese.

        • Sam_Barsanti

          I went to college in Waukesha, probably ten minutes away. I always wanted to go to that Chuck E Cheese and get in a few drunken brawls.

        • HobbesMkii

          “…and then one of the Crips pushed one of the Bloods into the ball pit, and that’s when the knives came out.”

        • DrKumAndGo

          “Amid pressure from local politicians, some Chuck E. Cheese’s have stopped serving alcohol and added security guards who carry pistols.

          I think this sentence encapsulates everything wrong with our country.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          The Latin Kings are having a difficult time running the animatronic band off their turf, given that their bolted to the floor.

        • http://gameological.com/author/mattkodner/ Matt Kodner

          @DrKumAndGo:disqus 
          “One woman removed the red rope that marks the entrance queue and handed it to another woman, who swung the metal clip attached to it at others involved in the incident.”

          dear god. that’s some Anchorman-level brawling right there.

      • WaxTom

        According to the amount of needles in the ball-pit, they still have their heroin license!

    • George_Liquor

      Yeah, the Chuck E. Cheese. It was obviously too awesome for this world.

    • Chris Hansen

      I was more of a FunTime USA guy, myself.

    • Cool Lester Smooth

      Grand Slam USA was where it was at in my suburb just north of Philly.

    • morley

      I remember loving the Sports World in Paramus, which (if my memory doesn’t fail me) had an indoor mini golf course in addition to its sea of arcade games. That was the first place I played the classic Simpsons arcade game.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    There’s a good reason not to let unaccompanied adults into establishments such as these. The Chuck-a-Cheese-alike in my hometown, a place called Midway, lets pretty much anybody enter. It has been the site of a shooting and multiple stabbings.

  • The_Helmaroc_King

    Kodner, I appreciate it when strangers on the Internet risk embarrassment and/or imprisonment doing things I wouldn’t, all to amuse us, the faceless masses. I just want you to know, thank you, we were all counting on you.

    So, what’d you get with your tickets?

    • PaganPoet

      I hope it was a handful of glow in the dark spider rings, a chinese finger trap, and a blow pop.

      • WaxTom

        Well la dee freaking da! We got ourselves the fucking Pope over here! Meanwhile the REAL people are getting one “Superball” they’ll lose when they try to bounce it in the parking lot.

      • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

         Wherein I share an amusing internet video which expands upon this premise: Awesome Prizes

      • http://gameological.com/author/mattkodner/ Matt Kodner

        I bequeathed my tickets to the girls I went with, who promptly bought three mini boxes of nerds, two superballs, and a handful of stickers. They didn’t even try for a bag of cotton candy. 

        • The_Helmaroc_King

          Good call. The market does favor a conservative, Nerd-heavy portfolio.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      A mustache comb.

  • http://www.facebook.com/deejaytaufiq Mohamad Taufiq Morshidi

    From what i know about American franchises from Rifftrax,

    it seems that Chuck E. Cheese and Denny’s are the two most disgusting places in North America.

    Any truth to this?

    • George_Liquor

      In terms of overall grossness, I’d put Waffle House slightly ahead of Denny’s.

      • UserGoogol

        There aren’t any Waffle Houses anywhere near either Minnesota or Southern California, so the MST3K people have presumably been sheltered from it.

        • Sam Huddy

          I didn’t believe Waffle House was a real place until seeing them in Georgia.

        • Kid Gruesome

          There’s an intersection in Atlanta where there are literally two Waffle Houses across the street from each other. They probably compete to see which can poison the most patrons.

        • http://warren-peace.blogspot.com/ WarrenPeace

          When I first went to Texas for college (I grew up in southern Oregon) I thought the first Waffle House I saw was a chintzy local place, until I saw another one, and another, and realized they’re all over the South. The food there actually isn’t bad, but the restaurants themselves are invariably tiny, understaffed, and kind of gross. 

      • Professor_Cuntburglar

         You take that right the fuck back

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        Also, every gas station,ever.

        • exant

          The first thing I did the first time I came to the city where I would go to college and make a life was go to a gas station. Someone had taken a shit in the sink. Thanks, Kum & Go.

        • HobbesMkii

          My favorite fast food restaurant is Sheetz, which actually is a gas station. Unfortunately, I no longer live anywhere near one.

        • DrKumAndGo

          You’re welcome, @exant! Kum again!

      • EmperorNortonI

         WTF is your goddamn problem with Waffle House?  I’m a native Angeleno, and thus my experience with waffle house is not tinged by nostalgia in any way, shape, or form.  It happened to be the only place open at 4:45 AM in the vicinity of the St. Louis Airport, and thus the venue of super-early morning breakfasts with my father before departing the US on an international flight.  Waffle House exceeded all expectations for quality of food and general service.  It is a solid institution.

        • Anon210

          Yeah, Waffle House is great. It was one of two things I actually liked about living in the South for nine years. Cheap, delicious, super-unhealthy food, open 24 hours—seriously, what’s not to like?

        • George_Liquor

          I’ve been to the St. Louis Airport. Comparatively speaking, Waffle House is a goddamn palace.

      • stakkalee

        I’ve gotta agree on Waffle House – it’s the only restaurant I’ve ever been to where my arm got stuck to the table because the staff did such a bad job of cleaning up the syrup.

      • Celebith

         I love Waffle House and Denny’s.  Any restaurant that closes from Noon until 6 p.m. and is open all night and serves breakfast the entire time it’s open is okay with me.

      • lokimotive

        Waffle Houses are weird. They’re incredibly small for how popular they are (in the South, anyway), but there’re so goddamn many of them. Denny’s restaurants are a fairly reasonable size, though, to be honest, I’ve never been in one when it was even half full of people.

        As far as the food and over all level of grossness, I don’t know it’s hard to gauge. Waffle House seems to have a bit simpler fare, but I don’t really like waffles or breakfast that is on the sweeter side, so I’m not really the person to gauge it. I’ve never been to Waffle House or a Denny’s that was particularly gross, cleaning wise. They weren’t sparkly by any means, but they were fine.

        This may just be a thing in Tuscaloosa, but every Waffle House I’ve been in here has a rather nice black gentleman working the door, letting people in, smiling, gesticulating to various tables, nodding and holding the door. It seems strangely anachronistic, especially because all the church going whites seem fairly nonplussed by it. Maybe I’m just overly sensitive ’cause I’m a Norther and I still don’t really get this place.

      • Cornell_University

        you know not of what you speak, little cherub.  for truest eldritch horrors in breakfast all day form, cast thy despairing eyes upon…. Huddle House.

        yes, a Waffle House for people that cannot afford the cuisine and gentility of Waffle House itself.

    • Sam Huddy

      Taco Bell makes them both look like Delmonico’s.

      And yet, people with cheap access to the world’s best Mexican food claim to love it.

      • Liam

         When we went to Florida as a kid I ate at Taco Bell whenever I had the chance. There are next to none in the Uk and this saddens me.

      • EmperorNortonI

         Taco Bell, home of Cat Meat.

        • Marozeph

          Europe, home of Horse Meat.

      • Citric

        There are no Taco Bells in the entire province where I live. I’m strangely proud of that.

        • http://gameological.com/author/mattkodner/ Matt Kodner

          conversely, I am so strangely proud of the taco bell five minutes away from my apartment. They’re hard to find in Brooklyn/Queens!

    • SisterMaryFrancis

      You’d be surprised how competitive the “most disgusting place in North America” title is.

      • Kid Gruesome

        I know a contractor who was remodeling a number of Jack-In-the-Boxes. When I asked him if they provided lunch, he said they did, but after being in the prep area of more than a few, he would never eat there again. He didn’t elaborate. But seeings how the Ultimate Cheeseburger was one of the cornerstones of my diet at the time, my world view was shattered.

    • WaxTom

      No. There is always Arby’s. No matter how low you sink, Arby’s will sink lower to accommodate you.

      • Dave Dalrymple

        At least Arby’s has some decent items (Chicken Bacon Swiss!). 

      • Roswulf

         My father spent a couple years in his youth as manager of an Arby’s, and he worked very hard to inculcate this lesson deep within my brain.

      • NakedSnake

        Haha: “I’m so hungry I could eat at Arby’s…”

      • kaysarasara

        Once went to Arby’s and they had run out of roast beef. Not kidding.

        • http://warren-peace.blogspot.com/ WarrenPeace

          Madness!

    • Enkidum

      Denny’s is just a place that you never really enter unless you’re hungover or drunk. Or at least that I don’t. 

      It can also be very amusing to try and order anything at all without pork.

      But other than the general unhealthiness and chain-ness of the food (and the ridiculously large quantities) it’s by no means disgusting.

    • Dave Dalrymple

      The Denny’s of the early 90s was like the world’s worst diner.  They’ve stepped up their game now, and they’re just a bland family restaurant (albeit one that serves its full menu 24 hours a day). 

    • http://warren-peace.blogspot.com/ WarrenPeace

      I’m surprised nobody has mentioned White Castle yet. People seem to love their tiny burgers for some reason, but I find them pretty gross.

      • Nudeviking

        Those tiny hamburgers are called Sliders man!

  • George_Liquor

    I loved the place as a kid. Showbiz Pizza, as it was known in my day, was a dark, dingy, noisy wonderland where my friends and I could stuff our faces full of cheap pizza and sheet cake, pump loads of complimentary tokens into arcade games and get really impatient waiting for that stupid robot show to end. If you had your birthday party at Showbiz, you were King Shit of Turd Mountain for weeks afterwards! I loved it every time I went.

    Fast forward about 25 years, and my last trip to a Chuck E. Cheese reminded me just how damned old I’ve gotten. One of my nephews celebrated his 5th, or 6th, or 18th birthday (Hell, I don’t know how old this punk is) there last summer, and as I wandered around, I felt like Chuck E. Cheese had turned from a preadolescent wonderland to something out of the Twilight Zone. At its core, it was still the same Showbiz Pizza from my youth, but I’d aged right the hell out of its target demographic and I felt really self conscious about that fact the whole evening. 

    On the other hand, Casa Bonita remains a non-stop cheeseball mirth parade that I will never get to old to love!

    • Flying_Turtle

      I can’t even imagine entering one of those places now. Besides my being uncomfortable around children and noise, it seems like all the games are the “throw a token at the game and hope for tickets” sorts of deals. At least Dave & Buster’s throws in a few old arcade games.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000590707081 Chris Ingersoll

        This. The Chuck E. Cheese of my (our) youth was every bit as much as a “proper” 80s arcade as it was a kiddie pizza restaurant (and my mom would insist on eating in “the King’s” room as often as possible for reasons I couldn’t fathom at the time but completely understand now).

        Plus it had the incredibly awesome Cheese Factory playground/maze that would make today’s parents apoplectic in its flagrant unsupervised-ness.

        Good times.

        • duwease

          What are these reasons for wanting to eat in the King’s room?

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000590707081 Chris Ingersoll

          @duwease:disqus: So she could listen to Elvis songs while the kids did whatever the hell we did in the arcade/Factory. @Nudeviking:disqus called it “the adult holding area” a few posts down.

      • sevenzarkseven

        Went to a kid’s birthday party a couple of year’s ago at a Chuck E Cheese, and it was horrendous. They corral you to the eating area, Chucky comes out and sings happy birthday to the kids, then they push you out to the “arcade” to make room for the next group. And the arcade had no video games, just crappy games of chance that give out a ticket or two.

    • GraceSlicksVagina

      I went to Casa Bonita when I was in Denver because of South Park, and was totally unprepared for how awful the food was. I mean, oh my god. That shouldn’t be legal.
      The awful “shows” and cliff diving were very endearing, however, and the “spooky cave” was also kind of amazing in a terrible kind of way.

      • PaganPoet

        Ahh, Casa Bonita. It’s like Disneyland got pregnant on spring break in Cancun and abandoned the baby on the side of Colfax Ave. in Denver.

      • George_Liquor

        The trick to a successful meal at Casa Bonita is to smuggle something in from the Pizza Hut next door.

        • PaganPoet

          Isn’t that expensive? I mean, they literally force you to buy a dinner before they let you into the dining area. They’re not stupid, they know their food is shit.

          My philosophy is to order whatever’s cheapest. The tacos are the most edible things on the menu. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not good by any stretch of the imagination, but at least the cheese is real shredded cheddar and not crappy nacho oil-cheese. Strap yourself in, stomach through a couple of tacos, and pray for the sopapillas and honey. BAM! A night to remember.

  • sevenzarkseven

    When I grew up, we had Showbiz Pizza (which Chuck E Cheese eventually took over). Even though it was still an attraction for kids birthday parties and had an animatronic animal band in the dining area, them main part of the establishment was a huge video arcade. Most of the time, we just went there strictly for the arcade, they usually had plenty of the latest games at the time (Dragon’s Lair, Disks of Tron, Track and Field, etc).

    • Harry Palm

       Same here.  We went to Showbiz and I saw a Dragon’s Lair machine and I almost died.  I had been wanting to play that game for months.  I was shocked that it cost two tokens, but it looked so awesome I had to play it.  I died in the first room.  That was my first tasted of true Disappointment.  Then my dad came up to me and thought the game looked cool so he told me to play it so he could see it.  I told him I just played it and died in the first room and I didn’t want to waste anymore of my precious few tokens on that crappy game, but he made me play it again anyway.  I immediately died again.  I grew up a lot that day.

      • PaganPoet

        This post is a lot better if you read it as a voice over in your head with “Turn Turn Turn” playing in the background.

      • sevenzarkseven

        I remember the one game in our Showbiz that you could play for free was Pengo. Once I blew all my money on Dragon’s Lair and it’s ilk, I played Pengo until it was time for my dad to come pick us up.

  • Sam Huddy

    I hated Chuck E. Cheese’s when I was five, but still wanted to go to keep up with the Joneses. Even in kindergarten I was social-climbing.

    I never went more than twice and didn’t miss it. There were better places to go at the time; I pretty much had Downtown LA to myself by 9.

  • Nudeviking

    Was the animatronic Chuck E. Cheese band still rocking out?  Or the animatronic Elvis dog in the adult holding area?

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/mattman-begins,89632 Mattman Begins

    After going through $30 worth of tokens and scouring every spotless inch of the establishment, I came away with this guide.

    *spit take*

    I assume you meant “spotless” as a joke, Mr. Kodner, because the last time I was in a Chuck “E. Coli” Cheese institution (about four years ago, to celebrate a friend’s ill-advised 25th birthday), I noticed that the floor, which was carpeted, was…squishy.  All over the establishment. 

    Now,  obviously, hardwood floors have their own headaches.  You’d need an ER-level cleaning staff to deal with all the spilled soda quickly before a child slips, falls, and brings on a lawsuit.  But, to have a nonexistent cleaning staff instead?  With that many children running around without shoes?  And that many stains and handprints left on joysticks, the sides of gaming cabinets, etc.?  And a sign above the salad bar demanding “SEE CASHIER FOR CLEAN PLATE”?

    I’m no Melvin Udall here, but I hope you spent your fat stack of tickets on hand sanitizer.

    • boardgameguy

      In college we got a group of friends together to celebrate a birthday at Chuck E. Cheese. Everyone pitched in a dollar for the birthday girl’s tokens and gave their tickets to her at the end of the night so she could pick her gift that was from all of us. It was a surprisingly good time. The only thing the management asked of us was to avoid the tubes and ball pit. He ended up staying open an extra thirty minutes for us after families cleared off so we could play in tubes designed 8 years old. If it’s not clear, we managed to have a really good time.

      But yes, the carpet always felt a little wet and we never ordered pizza.

    • http://gameological.com/author/mattkodner/ Matt Kodner

      I don’t know, but I had a pretty neat experience. All the tables were bused pretty well, and the carpet was decidedly non-squishy!

      I will say though that tokens were FILTHY with children’s sweat and broken dreams of C.E.C. disco lights. I made sure to wash my hands before eating the pizza (which was somehow fantastic?) but I can’t say as much for anyone else there. yuch

  • Mercenary_Security_number_4

     In my wife’s day, the one in our area was all ball-pits and climbing tubes.  Now its basically slot-machines for children.  That’s what my wife says anyways.  My own parents never let me go because they sure that place was a one-way ticket to pre-adolescent damnation, so I have no notion of how “it used to be.”  There is nothing in our local one, though, that is as cool as the things in the article. 

    • The_Helmaroc_King

      I have hazy memories of another franchise called “Discovery Zone” that was all about the tubes and ball-pits. There was a similar play-center in the mall closest to me.

      Thinking about it, I almost want there to be an equivalent place for adults where you could climb around some kind of obstacle course without worrying about falling and breaking your neck. On the other hand, anything of the sort would probably cost too much and I’d never be willing to risk the embarrassment.

      Sadly, I can’t think of anything like that outside of a few game shows. Maybe I’ll just visit a boring ol’ climbing wall instead.

      • nowimnothing

        The indoor bounce house type places for kids usually let caregivers ‘help’ their kids for free. 

      • boardgameguy

        It’s FUN-beliveable fitness for kids!

      • Uncle Roundy

        DZ, Discovery Zone! Discoverin’ what I can do on my own!

      • http://warren-peace.blogspot.com/ WarrenPeace

        There’s this place here in the Chicago area: http://www.xtremetrampolines.com/

        I’ve never been there, but if you like bouncin’ and flipping’, it looks like the place to be.

      • Pig Iron Maiden

        DZ was actually brought by Chuck E Cheese. No one else is allowed to entertain your kids! All hail the Rat!
        We actually had an adult version of DZ in my town. It had the most wicked set of tubes, appropriately sized, that culminated in a huge ball pit, and not children allowed (had to be 18 to enter normally and over 21 on Friday/Saturday nights). It was the best thing ever, and I shed tears when they closed. Love you forever, Block Party!

    • Jackbert

      I was also never allowed to go to Chuck E. Cheese either. My mother took my cousins there for a birthday party before I was born, because she was the cool aunt. She hated it so much I couldn’t even attend a friend’s birthday party because I couldn’t get a ride and she refused to even step inside for pick-up/drop-off. I’m not ranting though; my younger brother attended a friend’s birthday party this year and the prevalence of pizza and loud noises in his account make it sound horrendous to me.

      • Kid Gruesome

        I could probably count on one hand how many times I visited  Chuck E Cheese as a kid and the one thing that I will never forget was the Mouse Hole “attraction”. Basically a 2 foot hole that kids would crawl through into a small room with a strobe light going bananas. Basically, an epileptic’s worst nightmare, or something that was probably used to interrogate terror suspects.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mrbananagrabber Aaron Boyer

    Chuck E Cheeses convinced me for several years that pizza was disgusting. It wasn’t until I started getting mountains of Book It coupons for personal pan pizzas that I discovered it was just Chuck E Cheese that was disgusting. Has the pizza improved at all since the late 80s/early 90s? And do they still have the same animatronic show?

    • WaxTom

      The animatronic show was at least still around by the early 00s. It’s still terrifying.

    • http://twitter.com/Yoder Yoder

      I’m just gonna leave this here.

      http://www.rockafiremovie.com/home.php

      • Nudeviking

        Well I know what I’m watching this weekend!

      • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

        This documentary is great.

      • http://gameological.com/author/mattkodner/ Matt Kodner

        this looks fantastic. I’ve spent so much time poking around the weird corners of the internet dedicated to showbiz pizza/chuck e. cheese.

        • Pig Iron Maiden

          I recommend it highly. If you also wanna know too much information about both places- showbizpizza.com. 

    • Roswulf

       This is so very true. I found the mascot disturbing and creepy, my complete lack of coordination made the games hell, but it was the pizza that truly made Chuck E. Cheezes hell.

      Thank you reading, for introducing me to the glory of solid pizza. And maybe for other things, but mostly the pizza.

    • nowimnothing

      The pizza is worse than Dominos. There is one in my town that opened in a nice new strip mall less than 4 years ago and it already manages to look like it is 25 years old, dirty and dingy.

    • Cloks

      The pizza at Chuck E Cheese was designed to make as little mess as possible so it wouldn’t surprise me if taste was the factor least paid attention to.

    • Sam Huddy

      Book it! You must be old enough to remember this:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9lvzzH0STw

      Ignore the Communist hardliner comments.

      • Pig Iron Maiden

        Book It rocked. I earned pizza monthly for years, because I was a nerd and read anything. 

  • The Otter White Meat

    I remember Chuck E. Cheese/Showbiz Pizza having bad movie poster parodies featuring the mascots on the wall by the food counter (for example: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonliebigstuff/4720758525/). Please, please tell me that those are still around.

    • Uncle Roundy

      They sure are. Went about a month ago with my nephew and was flabbergasted by them.

      • The Otter White Meat

        This makes me most happy. Were they at all recent?

    • http://gameological.com/author/mattkodner/ Matt Kodner

      there was a lot of Andy Warhol four panel artwork of Chuck & Pals around. I went around 8 pm on a Saturday, so I didn’t make it too close to the performance area, but I would guess there were some fun posters. 

  • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

    first Hatsune Miku can appear on your pizza box, now Chuck E. Cheese is getting in on the action 

  • http://twitter.com/Yoder Yoder

    They opened a Chuck E Cheese in the college town where I went to school, and they quickly ended up banning anybody that was not accompanied by a child. Especially because they had a liquor license, and sold beer (intended for bored parents, I’m sure). Not sure how those rules actually worked, but there you go.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      I remember being about 17, and driving home from work with a friend of almost exactly the same age (he’s 3 days older than me), we thought, on a lark, we’d stop at Chuck E Cheese’s for dinner and play a few video games. The ‘bouncer’ at the door turned us away because neither of us were over 18. We drove home the rest of the way making snarky adolescent nerd jokes about Chuck E Cheese’s apparently being an ‘adult’ institution.

      In retrospect, I guess, the only way we would have gotten in would have been during the 3-day window between our birthday when one of us could have accompanied the other as minor and adult…

  • Professor_Cuntburglar

    Whoever convinced people that kids like hanging out with dudes in giant, terrifying anthropomorphic animal costumes is history’s greatest monster.

    • Rick Joyce

      Walt Disney?

      • Marozeph

        Jimmy Carter?

      • Professor_Cuntburglar

         Sounds about right

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Johnson/501651 Kevin Johnson

      I have a friend (kinda) who does the mascot thing, and it’s not creepy, at least understanding it from their perspective. It’s a combo of performance training and understanding entertaining kids (things like positive reinforcement and understanding boundary). As an adult, it seems creepy, but it really isn’t – hell, as an adult, anyone genuinely interested in coaching kids sports is usually seen as creepy.

  • Mistah Chrysoprase

    Someone payed to make an app to simulate the experience of watching vermin squat on your table. Truly, this is a golden age.

  • Dave Dalrymple

    Question for those who had no Chuck E. Cheese growing up: What was the go-to place for kids’ parties when you were a kid?

    Bowling was really popular when I was a kid. Candlepin-stye. Indoor swimming pools were also lots of fun. 

    • nowimnothing

      Skating rink, McDonanlds with a play place. I think I got to go to a Showbiz Pizza once.

    • Jackbert

      Bowling and swimming pool parties happened sometimes, but their respective locations were few in the inner-city. The main destination was one of the plentiful generic parks; basketball court, large field, a few rusty swings, and a slide that was always wet, even if it hadn’t been raining. Besides those three places and the birthday kid’s house, I can’t think of any other party destinations.

      • Sam Huddy

        I grew up in an inner city where many people had pools, and everybody’s birthday was in the summer but mine.

    • Marozeph

      For most birthdays in my family, we went to an indoor swimming pool. I actually wanted to visit it again some time ago, but nobody seems to remember where it is (last time we went there was over 15 years ago).
      Well, thanks to the internet, i’ll probably be able to find it someday…

    • ItsTheShadsy

      Discover Zone. Oh my, Discovery Zone.

      For those that didn’t have it, Discovery Zone was the luxury version of the McDonalds PlayPlace. It was a surprisingly massive indoor jungle gym-type complex. There were giant bumpy slides and maze-like systems of tubes to crawl through. The ballpit could easily fit several dozen kids. I also distinctly remember a battery of punching bags for… fighting? It was unclear. None of that “games” or “prizes” nonsense. This was the real, physical, scrape-your-knees-and-loose-your-teeth shit.

      I only ever went to Discovery Zone once, but the memory has seared into my brain. I distinctly remember getting lost in the multi-level tube maze and – because the tubes were so narrow – being trapped inside by other kids with no method of escape. I was probably in first grade, but it was one of the first times that I truly knew that sublime joy-fear dual emotion. I loved every second of it, but I was afraid I was going to die.

      There was also cake, but the Discovery Zone staff made us eat it without our hands. That kinda blew.

    • LeGrandSigh

      Jocker’s, in Portsmouth, NH, was the place for kids birthday parties.  It was like a Chuck E. Cheese, but had better quality prizes, pizza, and a two or three story jungle-gym area.  Instead of a mouse mascot, it had a cartoon court jester. 

      For the really rich kids, the birthday festivities constituted spending the day at Water Country, a nearby water park, and going to Jocker’s in the evening. 

    • Sam Huddy

      Our houses/the movie theater.

    • Professor_Cuntburglar

       Cici’s Pizza.

      All you can eat for only $2.99!

      Though in hindsight all the food had the consistency of snot.

    • Pig Iron Maiden

      Showbiz Pizza was the standard here. I feel like I went with every kid I ever met at some point growing up. Also popular- bowling (I actually took bowling lessons one summer), roller skating, not that I could, and a little ways out of town, a park that had a massive pool that had ladders and slides and all kinds of things, plus a free zoo, plus (inexplictly) amusement park rides. There was a perma-bounce house (I split my pants in there once. My mom tied a towel around my waist and let me keep jumping), a super slide, a turnpike, and a dark ride. Nowadays the pool is a water park, some of the rides are gone, but the zoo is still awesome, and still free. We had some of the best picnics ever there, and there is a frozen custard shop right across the street. It’s definitely one of those things I want to share with my mythical children.

  • EmperorNortonI

    I remember Chuck E. Cheese from my distant, vaguely remembered youth.  It was the most awesome place ever, for two key reasons – pizza and arcade games.  It had the biggest and most comprehensive arcade around, which was totally awesome in the mid 80′s.  I wasn’t really into the Animatronic shows so much, though my mom thought they were kind of amusing.  I even managed to have a Birthday Party there, once.  I recall that I got the Cobra Mini-Helicopter, which I was somewhat disappointed with at the time, but which proved to be pretty cool in later play thanks to its nose-mounted swivel-ball machine gun.  But the biggest memory of that party was my father, who was so repulsed by its gaudy and thunderously loud interior that he threw a temper tantrum of his own, and stormed off.  I honestly can’t remember how that night ended up.

  • NakedSnake

    You guys, it just occured to me… Is dougtennapel going to win a
    comment cat? His commenting on that article this week is one of the most notable things I’ve seen happen on this site. I dunno if I want him to get a green jacket tho.

    • Roswulf

       I dunno, his commenting was notable by existing, but he didn’t actually say anything all that enlightening, preferring instead to peddle boilerplate bullshit about the repression of prejudiced assholes.

      There were a lot of great comments on the thread, and I would hope comment cat would latch onto the considered musings of Hobbes or EffigyPower (or many others) rather than the predictable whining of Doug.

    • Dave Dalrymple

      It’s quite possible. I’m impressed at how civil the discussion was, for the most part.

      • George_Liquor

        As far as TenNapel’s concerned, I gotta figure that even he wouldn’t be above a good banning if he had  gotten as aggressively dickish here as he does in his twitter feed.

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      I missed his appearance until you mentioned it here, then went back to recap.

      We actually have a mutual friend in common on Facebook, having both grown up in the central valley of California, though I have not met him myself.  I loved the few Earthworm Jim games and cartoon episodes I caught, especially when they referenced Modesto or Turlock.

      It’s really sad how closed-minded he is on the gay rights issue, but definitely not uncommon.

      I occasionally have arguments with a Mormon friend over it, and I keep hoping someday he’ll get his head out of his ass, but so far no luck.  Even when his church now accepts that being gay is NOT A CHOICE, which was previously one of his biggest argument points.  Of course he now just pretends that was never the issue…and still equates gays to pedophiles, which really makes me want to slap him.

      The biggest thing so many conservative fundamentalists never seem to understand/acknowledge/agree with is that religious freedom means everyone gets to believe and practice what they want UNTIL it infringes on the beliefs and rights of others.  As soon as you start passing laws that favor religious beliefs and have no basis in rationality, you’re being an oppressor.  Then complaining when people get upset and argue with you that your rights are being infringed upon is cosmically insane.

      I apologize for the following example:

      “Hey Hitler, stop rounding us up into concentration camps!”
      “How dare you infringe upon my beliefs and try to tell me what to do!”

      This is about as stupid as some of these people seem.

      • NakedSnake

        Sometimes I wish people would just be open homophobes, instead of having all these complex justifications and rationalizations about why they’re all justified in judging and preaching and whatnot. It would be a lot easier to deal with if they just said “to be honest, it just makes me uncomfortable”.

  • dmikester

    I went to Chuck E. Cheese once as a little kid and got scared by Chuck E. Cheese himself and never wanted to go back.  Much later, I happened to be good friends with two of Nolan Bushnell’s many children, Gavin and Neela, in high school, and I got to meet Nolan on a handful of occasions.  He was a very nice, jovial guy who you would never expect founded Atari and Chuck E. Cheese.  And no, I never had the heart to tell him that one of his creations scarred me when I was five or six (I certainly told him that Atari changed my life for the better though).

  • Matt Easley

    The cruelest part of Chuck E Cheese is that they serve beer but almost no one who works there is old enough to pour it. So for every round the ticket kid has to go find the manager.

  • WonderfullGizzardOfOz

    As much as I loved Chuck E Cheese back in the day (The ball pits and tubes were fun, don’t remember the ticket games so much), back in the 80′s ’round these part’s the place to have Birthday Parties was the Mad Hatter’s, which was kind of like Chuck E Cheese on Crack. I think the company vehicle was a re-purposed Hearse ,which I guess would have been appropriate since the one activity I remember involved running like madmen through a maze smashing each other with old shopping carts. It was a sad day when that place shut down in the mid 90′s.

  • Dave Dalrymple

    Off topic, but vaguely related:

    Does anyone know of an arcade that still has an Afterburner game?

    • PhonyPope

      There’s a retro arcade in Chicago (Brookfield, actually) called the Galloping Ghost that has one.

    • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

      There is a big arcade in Vegas that used to be owned by Sega. They still have Afterburner there, it moves and everything!

  • DrFlimFlam

    My chuck e cheese has an awesome roller coaster simulator. It may also cause mid concussions in children. But it’s awesome.

    • Pig Iron Maiden

      My dude friend and I used to hang at CEC unironically, and we always would ride that, shrieking the whole time. Considering he’s over 6 foot and hefty, and I’m a big girl, I was always kinda shocked that there was that much movement going on. 

  • KingZilch

    Here’s the big question: do they still have video games?

    • Scott Meyer

      Hopefully they at least have X-Men or Ninja Turtles, those were the classics for me

      • Aurora Boreanaz

        BERSERKER BARRAGE!

        I always played Nightcrawler, for one reason – when he attacked, he crouched down, which put him below the hit area for several of the bosses.

        Storm’s scepter was just long enough to fight Wendigo without ever taking a hit.

        • PaganPoet

          I always played Dazzler…mostly because being only familiar with the Saturday morning cartoon from the 90s, I had no idea who she was and was amused that Olivia Newton John was shooting fireworks from her hands.

        • Scott Meyer

          Nightcrawler was my go-to, with Cyclops a close second, mostly due to his name being Scott

    • PaganPoet

      Thankfully I live a few blocks from a hipster bar that has tons of classic arcade cabinets. Classic video games, liquor, no kids, no crappy pizza. Win!

      • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

        The crappy pizza was the best! There’s nothing like eating their shitty pizza while playing Dig Dug. I can fuck shit up on Dig Dug by the way.

    • http://gameological.com/author/mattkodner/ Matt Kodner

      I didn’t see a single one. 

      A lot of the folks here are saying there were huge arcade cabinets in the ’80s, but in the ’90s the closest thing we had was the Flintstones pinball machine and a simple Hello Kitty-looking game with a frog. 

      But that could just be the one I grew up going to, which happened to be the one I went to for this article.

  • OldeFortran77

    As a parent, I found Chuck E. Cheese to be an excellent laboratory for teaching economics. The arcade games are fine since I used to be able to get tokens for much less than 25 cents, and you get a couple of minutes of entertainment. The real lesson is from watching the blatant token-eating machines that are nothing more than to drop in a token and hope it lands in a way that earns you a pile of tickets. A token yields maybe 5 seconds of entertainment. And even if you earn a pile of tickets (which is unlikely), you can exchange them for prizes you could buy at the K-Mart next door for a tiny fraction of what you spent in tokens. It was amazing to see how quickly some children could shove tokens into those machines.

    Also, I got to play snippets of Crimson Skies there, a game I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. It convinced me to find the complete PC game. It was fun, but I really enjoyed the 30′s style voice acting.

    • Mercenary_Security_number_4

       A token yields maybe 5 seconds

      I’ve long held to the money vs. time equation when it comes to spending entertainment money.  Its not perfect, though, because a strict implementation of that system would have you buying mostly complete-series DVD sets and long-ass RPGs, and absolutely no comic books.

  • Ben Hall

    You didn’t play any ski-ball? Please leave America.

  • Conatonc

    I have many fond memories of growing up in the Detroit area and enjoying Chuck E. Cheese, Showbiz, and Major Magic’s. But as a parent in Houston who has had to take a small child (5-6) to multiple Chuck E. Cheese birthday parties, the place is like torture. The one time we took her without it being a party, it was fine. But parties are just awful there. The assigned party table in the sea of other assigned party tables. The kids who run amok without any parental attention. The “games” designed to frustrate kids and take their tokens without giving back tickets. And the sad, sad state of what used to be one of the best arcades around, now reduced to barely-working copies of Cruisin’ World and Jurassic Park the Arcade Game.

    It’s amazing how being an adult who is forced to go to Chuck E. Cheese changes your perspective.

    • Dave Dalrymple

      And that’s why they serve beer. I understand now.

    • Citric

      It has always struck me as incredibly strange that Cruisin’ World is the one game I see in every single arcade.

      • The Otter White Meat

        Ain’t that the truth. There must have been some law passed in 1996 that every arcade had to have a busted cabinet of that.

        • fieldafar

          In Australia, ever arcade there must have a Daytona USA for some reason.

        • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

           USA! USA! USA! USA!

    • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

      “I have many fond memories of growing up in the Detroit area”

      that sounds like an oxymoron 

      • Conatonc

        The key word in that sentence is “area.” There are plenty of suburbs around Detroit that were nice then and remain very nice to this day. I grew up about 45 minutes north of Detroit and only ventured down to the city proper for concerts and sporting events. The city itself is pretty much as bad as advertised, but the stretch from downtown to midtown with all the stadiums and theaters is just fine.

  • Effigy_Power
  • DoctorMemory

    Once upon a time, Showbiz >> Chuck E Cheese.

  • Danny Rivera

    This is fantastic. You should go back with friends your age, picking up random kids off the street, and see if your experience improves.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mike.podgor Mike Podgor

    For some reason, I had always remembered Chuck E. Cheese (and the local alternative, the now defunct Marc’s Funtime Pizza Palace) being dark and cavernous where you ate the pizza and watched the floor show. I went to Chuck E. Cheese several times in the past decade, and now they’re bright and cheery and all the good arcade games have been replaced. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

    This article is really kind of depressing. It’s a commentary on the sad state of affairs that arcade games have found themselves in. With the rise of console and smartphone gaming, it’s just not the same playing an arcade version of a game anymore. Why would a kid pump tokens into a Pac Man machine when they can just download a free app and play it? Better question, why would an adult? We’re spoiled now when it comes to games, sorry arcades, I loved you once.

  • Jergs

    No idea if anyone will still be reading these comments, but: Here in Michigan, there’s Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum, tucked away in a modern strip mall in suburban Detroit. It’s like a combo of arcade, Chuck E’s, and carnival fairway. There’s the usual suspects (skeeball & coin pusher game for tickets, a Time Crisis, a DDR knockoff), but the big draw is the novelty machines: the fortunetellers (choose your stereotype), the “test your love level/bravery/strength” machines, the automatons playing out tiny vignettes with a focus on music, death, and lurid promises if you insert a second quarter at juuust the right moment… To add to the feel, there’s sideshow broadsides and other roadside attraction bric-a-brac on the walls. There’s also a half-wall of pinball machines and some older arcade games (I was happy to find the Simpsons game). The closest concession I saw to current gaming trends was a large touchpad screen, maybe 2′x3′, where you could play Fruit Ninja.Of course, at any given moment, not all the machines work, although the staff is generally ok with giving refunds. It’s also slightly claustrophobic inside, but that just adds to the atmosphere imo.

    Short vid I found with the owner: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2_nohRkcdE

    On that note, should a novelty machine where you’re almost barely participating count as a “game”? Thinking mainly here about “bravery test” machines, usually where you stick a hand in a slot under the case, which has a guillotine or a door with “Beware of Dog” or something similar (Marvin’s has, among others, “The Great Chopandoff”) right where your hand appears to be, and you’re supposed to keep your hand there as long as possible, while the guillotine threatens to lower or something growls and bangs behind the door. You don’t win anything besides bragging rights if you do keep your hand there, but it is participatory…