Brooklyn’s Wonderville hosts video game telethon to stay open and defeat pandemic

Wonderville owner Mark Kleback plays “Particle Mace” on Friday, Dec. 4.
Photos by Alex Mitchell

Calling all gamers – you now have the chance to become a hero for one of Brooklyn’s most unique small businesses. 

Wonderville, an independent arcade and bar in Bushwick, is entering every cheat code it can find to overcome COVID-19’s disadvantages with a virtual, gaming fundraiser on Sunday, Dec. 20 from noon until midnight designed to keep the games going.

Streaming on Twitch with the partnership of nonprofit Death By Audio, this fundraiser is much more than just a virtual game-a-thon. There will also be live concerts streamed in a customized Minecraft world, interviews with game developers and arcade booth creators, and an appearance by local state senator Julia Salazar.

The Minecraft “Wonderverse” virtual concert hall to be used on Sunday, December 20.

Wonderville owner and Death By Audio board member Mark Kleback is no stranger to this kind of crowdsourcing. That’s how he opened the art space to house independently created games in May 2019.

“The first eight months were great,” Kleback said, adding that Wonderville was on its way to being debt free before COVID-19 happened.

All things considered, Kleback says his arcade space has been relatively fortunate to survive up this point, thanks in part to a fiercely loyal community of patrons and creative ways to both socially distance and sanitize games, such as utilizing backyard space for arcade booths.

Now, however, the arcade’s survival comes down to more than just creative layout.

The goal now is to raise $30,000 for half a year’s rent via the gamer telethon, an ambition that’s already been 14 percent accomplished from early donations, the owner told.

More than aiding the one-of-a-kind bar through a universally turbulent time, donations will also be going to keep these games in a public space as opposed to being circulated around the nation in temporary exhibits.

Wonderville’s collection is a non-commercial one, so there’s no Pac Man or Street Fighter machines. The arcade instead boasts exclusive and independently made booths – such as VEC9.

VEC9, a fighter pilot arcade game inside Wonderville.

This brings a whole new dimension to fighter pilot games. One plays as a 1980s Soviet Union bomber attacking American airspace in a three-level affair from San Francisco to Chicago, and then finally New York to drop the big one using an array of lifelike controls.

Its super-realistic controls were designed by programers who had previously worked for Lockheed Martin, and its only one of two VEC9 booths still in existence.

Other less hostile but fun games include the highly competitive motorcycle runner game Black Emperor (which Kleback will be drumming the theme of during the fundraiser) and Particle Mace, a staple multiplayer game inside of Wonderville. 

An overhead look at the now socially distanced arcade Wonderville.

These aren’t the kinds of games that can be simply downloaded and played on a couch; they’re something that can only be accessed inside of the Bushwick gamer haven — just as Kleback intended.

As a child of the 1980s golden age of arcades, Kleback wanted to bring back such an “in person experience” to the gaming world, which has turned into gamers utilizing mostly living headsets to play interactive games such as Fortnite.

But Wonderville offers more interactivity than just a gaming platform, as a patron understands from the second they enter the front door — which is a video game in and of itself.

Now, it’s up to the virtual world to help Wonderville power up and beat COVID-19 on its last life.

Wonderville is located at 1186 Broadway, Bushwick, Brooklyn, it’s COVID-19 hours are from 5 to 10 p.m. on Tuesday to Sunday. Visit deathbyaudioarcade.com/fundraiser for further information.