Game Grid: Utah’s Arcade Exclusive

Adam Pratt opened the Game Grid in 2008 after being inspired by the movie Tron: “I don't know if it was nostalgia or something … but you know, I loved it.” Photo: Barrett Doran

Upon walking into Game Grid Arcade’s tight phalanx of flickering arcade screens, I felt like I had stepped into a part of the past I’d almost forgotten. Somewhere between the enticing medley of background music, cries of victory and “Game Over” screens, there was a nostalgic reminder of a time when the arcade was still in vogue. It was an age where anyone could step up to an arcade game and experience something out of the ordinary, whether it was stalking the zombie-haunted halls of House of the Dead, throwing down with the colorful cast of Street Fighter or racing a friend in pretty much any vehicle you can imagine. “To me, arcades provide a different sort of tactile experience, a physical experience,” says Adam Pratt, who opened the doors to Game Grid (located in Valley Fair Mall) in 2008. “In an arcade, you almost feel like you’re sitting in a racing machine of some kind. Or a tank.”

Pratt’s enthusiasm for arcade games is infectious, and he is often seen playing a game alongside one of his regular customers. He borrowed the name Game Grid from the movie Tron, which he explains influenced his desire to own an arcade. “I don’t know if it was just nostalgia or something. I know it wasn’t the greatest movie of all time, but, you know, I loved it.” He idolized the protagonist, who also owned an arcade. “I thought that would be cool. It eventually came to a point where I opened [Game Grid] in 2008.”

Though he admitted that in his youth, he didn’t go to arcades very frequently, he vividly remembers his first arcade experience. “I was about six and at a friend’s birthday party, and wandering around [the 49th Street Galleria] arcade, which was almost pitch black, and trying to find coins. The first game I remember coming across was Discs of Tron. It mesmerized me as I was standing there. I was like ‘Whoa, this is so cool!’”

To Pratt, the arcade is a great place to gain skill at gaming, where new and inexperienced players can come and learn from the veterans. “When you’re playing with someone who’s really good at a game, they’ll give you tips. That’s really common on fighters, too, where sometimes you’re playing against someone who completely smashes you, but then that person starts helping you out. I like contributing to that,” says Pratt. 

This isn’t to say that Game Grid is only for serious gamers. Their most popular game, Terminator Salvation, regularly attracts non-players. “They just pick up the guns, because they’re these huge guns that make you feel
like Rambo.”

Yet competition is still alive and well in the arcade. “It used to be really big in arcades to host big competitions. You might have heard of the documentary The King of Kong, where it’s all about competing for the top score.” In fact, Pratt discovered Salt Lake City’s competitive Street Fighter community when he installed Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition. “We had 60 to 80 people show up, and this being the space that it is, it filled up really fast. But it stopped a lot of people, people who just stopped to watch people play, because it’s fun to watch people who are good at a
game play.”

Competition and skill aren’t the only reason to stop by Game Grid, however.Pratt’s wide selection of rare titles features several exclusive games that can’t be played anywhere else in the United States, let alone another arcade. Chase HQ 2, Warlords and Darius Burst: Another Chronicle are all exclusive to this arcade, along with the world-exclusive interactive comedy, The Act.

Pratt and I sat down to play Darius Burst: Another Chronicle, a sidescrolling shoot-em-up game whose Chronicle Mode features literally thousands of missions and challenges. Many of them require you to round up a few friends and explore its vast universe of battles with giant sea-creature spaceships. With each success, new levels and features are unlocked for everyone who plays afterward, so each personal victory directly affects the experience of those who play after you. As we played, Pratt explained the machine’s features, and even posted a high score after a particularly hard boss fight with a massive space-faring sea turtle.

When Game Grid first opened, it wasn’t the only arcade in the mall, but something about this small, yet surprisingly modern arcade has kept going where others have failed—and it isn’t finished growing. Pratt intends to expand if he can find a bigger location, explaining that his intention is to use sites like Kickstarter to finance the expensive search. “I know it’s not a food, water, shelter necessity that we offer, but it’s always been fun to go out, whether by yourself or [with] your friends to just ... play around. We want to be a place where people can feel comfortable hanging out and enjoying themselves, and get something unique out of it.”

Adam Pratt opened the  Game Grid in 2008 after being inspired by the movie Tron: “I don't know if it was nostalgia or something … but you know, I loved it.”  Photo: Barrett Doran