This year’s Southern Fried Gaming Expo was a slice of gaming heaven in the heat of summertime in Atlanta. Rows and rows of pinball machines, old and new, lined the ballrooms of the Renaissance Waverly hotel, arcade cabinets, and arguably best of all, scores of game lovers moved happily past one another, eager simply to see the games. And truly, the games were the stars of SFGE. While other conventions spread across multiple interests and avenues, the Southern Fried Gaming Expo has a primary focus of video games, and this focus is pursued with passionate enthusiasm. There were vendors, there were stars (like Lance Guest, of The Last Starfighter), cartoonists, video game greats, and movie screenings, but they were all supporting players to the arcade cabinets and pinball machines.
I could hardly contain my excitement upon seeing my favorite arcade cabinets occupied by players with the same avid fandom as myself. I had come prepared to leave a quarter on the cabinets I wanted dibs on next, but SFGE had an entirely free to play floor. There were a few games you could pay to play with proceeds going to charity, but every single game on the floor was free. It gave everyone the opportunity to play beloved games repeatedly and the incentive to try new ones. What this meant for me (and for all the other adults with kiddos there): games could be discovered without restraint. This, coupled with the stacks of footstools cleverly placed in multiple areas around the games, fostered an environment that was incredibly kid-friendly. With GeekDad as one of the convention’s sponsors, and one of its contributors, Preston Burt, at the helm of SFGE, it is no secret that one of the missions of the gaming expo is to pass the baton (or joystick, in this instance) from our generation to our children’s. A panel featuring this very topic was a highlight of SFGE this year, and given the positive, family friendly environment, I am excited to see many other parents following Burt’s example in the years to come.
There were crowd favorites, cult classics, and new additions to the arcade game scene. I had the distinct honor of showing my four year old son the arcade cabinet for Outrun, complete with steering wheel and pedals. We played Joust, Dig Dug, Virtua Fighter, Defender, and dozens of classic pinball machines.
SFGE did not disappoint with new games, though. There was an entire section of one ballroom dedicated to modern, digital pinball machines. We saw some of our favorite franchises, Plants Versus Zombies, and of course, Star Wars. We spent quite a bit of time with Zen Studio’s new Star Wars Pinball: Heroes Within titles, and while they didn’t have the enticing charms of a classic pinball machine, the graphics were a lot of fun and we had a hard time walking away from this machine.
Between the giant Jenga games, the newest Ghostbusters pinball machine, tabletop gaming,and the rows of retro games I could leave alone, this year’s Southern Fried Gaming Expo was incredibly fun. It’s no surprise that in the three years SFGE has been in existence, it has outgrown previous spaces and multiplied in attendance many times over. When I asked Preston Burt, organizer of SFGE (and podcaster, writer, GeekDad contributor, husband, father, and graphics designer!) where he saw the convention going in the future, his answer? More gaming, but a plan to feature indie game development will keep the Southern Fried Gaming Expo riding the wave as one of Atlanta’s best annual conventions.
When Preston graciously accepted my request for a few minutes of his precious time, I had to ask him his origin story, the SFGE origin story- the inspiration. His story started as humbly as many others: wrecking face in Street Fighter 2 against adults at the local arcade, and the enjoyment reaped from winning. This history led us to Preston’s next milestone: purchasing his first arcade cabinet and rekindling the joy of arcade playing from childhood as an adult. And that, in a sense, was the birth of the Southern Fried Gaming Expo: the desire to relive, enjoy, and share the experience of arcade gaming with other enthusiasts, friends, and family.
Twitter account: @SFGameroomExpo
Dont forget to check out our gallery of the event for more photos from Southern Fried Gaming Expo 2016
JoypadAndMe Gallery: SFGE2016 Gallery