I think we can all agree that Dave & Buster’s is a little toxic, the kind of place that most parents endure but do not enjoy. As I descend into the dark hallows of the game room for my first visit with Robin, my senses are overwhelmed.
Not just because I am a Highly Sensitive Person (look it up) and I immediately feel overstimulated. Not because I would rather be hiking the Wissahickon on a beautiful Sunday morning. Not because it is a money suck.
OK, so for all those reasons. But also because it feels like pre-K for a gambling addiction. No daylight. No boardwalk to lure guests away from the dark side. The worst of casino culture for vulnerable developing brains. A suck on the soul and wallet, the drain narrated by blinking machines and electronic pings and whistles. You fight to hold on, but the metal claws let go just before the stuffed animal is about to drop into the prize shoot.
We’ve survived this man-made hell on earth, and you can too. Here are my survival tips.
1. Go when they open. Try 11 am on a Sunday, when the good souls of the earth are at church. At this ungodly hour, things are just getting started. Even with a couple birthday parties going, there are fewer people on the floor. This is critical not for crowds so much as the exponential noise pollution of multiple games at play.
2. Seek out games that are active, requiring some physical interaction rather than the passive video games and screens. Look for basketball, tossing games, and air hockey. Avoid the ticket-grab, one-button-push games that are over in an instant, with no real entertainment value.
3. Look for the old, incontinent Skeeball machine. They might have tarted it up with some neon or a colorful sign, but its weathered concentric circles speak of a gentler era’s amusements. Every arcade seems to have a couple tired machines that leak free wooden balls after your paid session ends. Keep playing for free with whatever you get.
4. Look for chances at free play, and teach your kids to do the same, and to be triumphant when they find them. After a little free skeeball, remind them to shoot the extra basketballs after Game Over, even though they don’t count for points. Jump on the air hockey table and free play without paying for the air. It builds character and upper body strength.
5. Pool! We pay $8 an hour for access to a pool table at the D&B near us. That’s physical, the whole family plays together, and it is a ton of entertainment for the money, a true bargain. And the best part is that at our location it is above ground, flooded with the natural light of large windows, not in the basement of despair.