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Orlando's Geek Easy keeps group gaming alive

Photo: Joseph Grey, License: N/A

Joseph Grey

When the Geek Easy returns, it'll be with one big difference: They will finally be able to serve alcoholic beverages. It's not the first gamer-focused hangout in Orlando to do so - Beat the Box and Rocky's Replay, both now out of business, reached out to adults with “buds and booze” gaming. But those places embraced the pay-per-play business model from arcades of old, requiring hourly or per-session rates to keep the good times rolling.

Instead, Haaland will offer gamers a Geek Easy membership program. A $9.95 monthly fee will cover unlimited access to the bar's exhaustive gaming library, Wi-Fi network, and free admission to all Geek Easy-sponsored book signings and shows. Of course, you don't have to be a member to buy some snacks or knock back a beer or two with friends. That's key to the social- network-in-real-life idea: Anyone and everyone is welcome to have a good time.

“When I was a kid in Vero Beach, arcades used to be in shopping malls,” Haaland says. “Your mom would go shoe shopping or something, you'd take your handful of quarters, meet up with your friends, and maybe work something out where you spend the night at your friend's house. It was a win-win for everyone. I don't know if the quarter-for-play is viable anymore, but that sense of community those places had will always be important.”

I ask about console gaming's aggressive push into the web, thanks to gigawatt titles like World of Warcraft and the Modern Warfare series. Could virtual lounges ever replace real ones like his?

Haaland looks past me to the Super Mario mural, the familiar heroes and villains all present and accounted for, larger than they ever were on any screen.

“There's no way,” he says, shaking his head. “People will always need people. And they'll want a space to meet in.”

“Some people get together to worship, some people get together to play video games - it's not so different,” Haaland says. “We just want to get the word out. We're here for everybody.”

The Geek Easy officially reopens on Free Comic Book Day, May 5.

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