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A large screen taking up a significant portion of the back wall next to the DJ booth caught my eye. Projected onto the screen was a heated match of Killer Instinct between two twenty-something males, who sat in metal folding chairs in front of the display, looking rather serious as their thumbs moved across the controllers. This is the main attraction and what caught my eye about Friends Chill: Nintendo on the big screen.
"It started about six or seven years ago with the board games. It was about four or five years ago with the Super Nintendo," said Scott Caligure, a Whistle Stop employee and creator of the Friends Chill night. I spoke with him as he was setting up an oversized, custom-made Connect Four board in the middle of the bar's dance floor. Caligure said the bar's owner had asked employees to come up with activities to draw in patrons on weeknights. The idea came to him rather organically.
"I was spending a lot of time playing board games with friends at my house. I think the game was Apples to Apples. So I brought the idea of bringing in games to the owner, and he loved it. It was funny, you know, because here we bring in this Mensa-endorsed board game, and everyone's drinking and having a great time playing it."
The idea to bring in videogames was the next logical step for Caligure. The bar had just purchased a video projector, which they mostly used to play movies. Realizing that he could hook up a console to the machine, Caligure and his fellow employees first tried an Atari 2600. When they discovered the projector didn't have the inputs needed, they bought an SNES and some games from local pawn shops.
"We went with the Super Nintendo because it had more competitive games, like Mario Kart and the fighting games, along with the classic stuff like Mario Bros.," Caligure told me. When I asked him if men or women tended to play more, he admitted that guys usually gravitate toward the screen earlier in the evening to play fighting games, but he's seen ladies hog the system when they realized they could play Super Mario Bros. 3. The idea was to keep the games simple enough to attract people, but complex enough to keep them coming back.
Caligure saw the Super Nintendo as a way to get people talking. After all, videogames have been a constant in the lives of most young adults, so there is some common ground for people to start conversations. The entire set up is designed to get people talking, too.