Vintage video games still rule at DeKalb’s Star Worlds arcade

By Kelli Duncan For Chronicle Media

Electronic music, blasts and bings plus bright lights are hallmarks of vintage arcade video games of the 1980s, featured at DeKalb’s Star World Arcade on East Lincoln Highway. (Photo by Kelli Duncan)

There’s not an Xbox or Playstation to be found inside the brick-and-plate glass storefront on DeKalb’s East Lincoln Highway.

Instead, entering Star Worlds Arcade is like stepping back into the 1980s when six-foot console games ruled and all a player needed was a quick wrist, a joystick and a pocket full of quarters.

Patrick O’Malley, Star Worlds co-owner, is happy to share his love that era and vintage video games since opening his first arcade in 1985 in Maple Park.

O’Malley was just 12 years old at the time, but he had been collecting vintage pinball machines and arcade games in his parents’ home for years. He said his collection started as a reward for getting good school grades.

“The garage became full of games, the house was full of games and eventually my parents said, you know, ‘we like your friends and all but they have got to go along with all of these games,’” O’Malley said.

That was the first time that O’Malley told his mother he wanted to start an arcade.

“They kind of laughed when I said I was going to do that but the next thing you know we’re all in business together,” O’Malley said.

His mother ended up handled the paperwork and other adult duties and served as an early partner.

Star Worlds Arcade co-owner Patrick O’Malley got his start in the business at age 12.

O’Malley said the name was taken from the arcade that he used to play at as a kid – Star Worlds Arcade in Geneva.

The original Star Worlds opened in 1978 and but was nearing a shutdown when O’Malley had the idea to start his own. O’Malley said he decided to buy the rights to the name in an effort to continue the legacy of his favorite hangout spot.

“Star Worlds started out in my heart and in my mind as an arcade that I went to as a kid and it was awesome that I was able to buy the name and keep it moving forward,” O’Malley said. “And we still have a lot of people who stop in that recognize the sign and the name from their own childhood and get really excited.”

He originally started the arcade in his hometown of Maple Park before moving it to DeKalb as he began to expand the business.

“It started out as kind of like a hangout for me and my friends but now it’s all about family,” O’Malley said. “I’ve seen generations of people just grow up here and whole families come in together and they all have fun.”

Today O’Malley owns the arcade along with his partner, Glenn Thomas. O’Malley said his mom is now considered an honorary member of the arcade and still comes by quite often to play her favorite game – Burger Time.

O’Malley said they haven’t raised the price of tokens once since they started in 1985, something he is very proud of.

“I’ve always tried to keep things family-friendly and affordable so here for 20 bucks the whole family can have fun all night,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley said one of his main priorities is to make sure that Star Worlds Arcade continues to embody the spirit and ambiance of the video arcades of the 1970’s and ’80’s. Last year, O’Malley was recognized for his efforts to keep the history of arcading alive.

“I was inducted to the International Video Game Hall of Fame last year so I was very honored by that,” he said.

O’Malley said he is proud of how much the arcade has grown since he started it as a child.

“I always tell young people, just because you have a dream doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to achieve it,” O’Malley said. “But you should always fight for it.”

When asked about his favorite arcade game, O’Malley said it is a toss up between Centipede, Guardians of the Galaxy and Dance, Dance Revolution.

Star Worlds holds occasional video gaming tournaments where participants can win gift cards to local businesses. The arcade is also available to rent for private birthday parties or other events.

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