Coolest Pastor Ever Calls His Basement Full of Arcade Games a Gift from God

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Jeremy Wagner
The Basement Arcade in Warrenton
When he's not at work or serving as a children's minister, Jeremy Wagner puts his engineering skills to work bringing broken video arcade games back to life.

He's Frankenstein, and he's lovingly filled his Warrenton basement with 45 of his resurrected monsters -- all free and open to anyone who wants to play.

"It doesn't matter whether you believe in God or not; I believe God has blessed me with this, and I offer it," Wagner says. "My door is open for free. Food is free. Candy is free. I see it as outreach."

Dozens of groups have taken advantage of Wagner's hospitality and collection. He's hosted graduation parties, team parties, military sendoffs, birthday parties and anniversaries.

"This was my dream, to have this place, to open up to everyone to enjoy," Wagner says. "This is a dying art. Nowadays, everyone is stuck at home or they play on the Internet."

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Wagner is a product of the golden age of video games. As he grew up outside St. Louis in the early '80s, arcades became a new kind of playground for him and his step-brother, who was only six months younger.

"Everywhere you went, they had arcade games somewhere," Wagner remembers. "We didn't have Internet and smart phones and all that. I was quite fascinated by colors and graphics and sounds."

After college, Wagner found two games for sale online in 1996, the early days of the world wide web.

"I was like, 'You're kidding me! You can actually buy these things?'" Wagner says. "We used to fantasize about if we were millionaires, what arcade games would we have in our house. I didn't even know it was legal. For all I knew, only businesses could buy them."

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Wagner's father-in-law helped build the bar.
In 2004, he bought his wife a touch screen game for her birthday. "Then I asked her, 'Hey, I just bought you a game. Do you mind if I get a new one?' That kind of set the ball in motion," Wagner says.

Wagner and his wife, Dawn, made a deal: Wagner could buy all the games he wanted, as long as they cost less than $75, which usually meant they were broken.

"People had money to spare, and to them, a broken machine was just a 300 pound paperweight in their basement," Wagner says. "You wouldn't believe how many $75 broken machines I found. If you can buy stuff broken, you can buy stuff cheap."

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Wagner's Star Wars game
When Wagner wanted a more expensive game, he bundled up a few of his new repairs and sold them to cover the cost. He's driven across the country to pick up some of his favorite games, like Star Wars and the Simpsons arcade games.

"They're very hard to find," Wagner says about the Star Wars game. "Nobody wants to let it go."

Wagner bought so many games that he filled his garage, kicking the cars to the curb. Together with his wife and six children, he moved to Warrenton, where his brother and father-in-law helped him build the ultimate gaming basement, complete with a bar, popcorn machine and 45 free games.

"I see it as something God has blessed me with," he says.

Wagner says anyone who wants to see his basement can email him at jeremy@thebasementarcade.com.

Follow Lindsay Toler on Twitter at @StLouisLindsay. E-mail the author at Lindsay.Toler@RiverfrontTimes.com.

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29 comments
Ross Ellis
Ross Ellis

The only problem is, I don't do video games or pool, but I do neon signs . I would like to have a det down Pack Man.

Leonard Paris
Leonard Paris

I'd take a good molesting to play some Spy Hunter on an original machine. But yeah, I think people are getting too up in arms over this. Dude's probably just a cool guy regardless of religious affiliation.

Justin M Politte
Justin M Politte

Christopher David, molestation is not just isolated to the "Catholic" Church. Dont be such a dumb fuck.

frankc71
frankc71

Jeremy is my best friend for 30 years. He has been collecting and repairing for years. He is also one of the most kind hearted and good willed people you would ever meet. For those of you speaking in a negative light or implication against him is simply moronic. If you can find your way out of your mommy's basement, then we can talk.

David J. McCutcheon
David J. McCutcheon

As a side note, that Star Wars machine is awesome. Played one at the Galloping Ghost up in Chicago earlier this year. It has withstood the test of time.

David J. McCutcheon
David J. McCutcheon

As a stalwart Atheist, I approve. Killer pad. If I lived near it, I'd go hang with that guy. It's too bad many people only look at what you don't have in common with someone else rather than the things you do. I also find it a little sad that people are lining up to judge this guy when he states that whoever wants to play the machines can free of charge, regardless of religious ideologies. Seems like a nice guy.

WWJD
WWJD

Why all the anti-Christian rhetoric? Many Pastors and preachers get very little compensation (if any) from collections. I know for a fact that this one barely gets enough compensation for gas money and works a full-time job outside the church.  Time to stop all the envy talk.

kjeffery30228
kjeffery30228

Some of these comments are very low!! Jeremy is a very nice guy and willing to open his home to anyone. I have been over there on several occasions and have been treated nothing less than family

chrisward99
chrisward99 topcommenter

I know a guy with a really sweet Pac-Man machine for sale.

Matthew Pickett
Matthew Pickett

The minister of my hometown church (who is also my childhood best friend's dad) used to take us to the movies and the bowling alley. It was a safe and fun way to hang out with other kids in church. He too made sacrifices to pay for the entertainment.

Kevin Brod
Kevin Brod

James, his wife only lets him buy them if they're under $75. Sure, that's around $4000, but over the span of a few years, that's not much. Maybe he stopped getting a beverage when he went out to eat, and instead saved for these... don't assume things you have no way of knowing.

Kevin Brod
Kevin Brod

Christopher,Catholics are christians. Don't be ignorant.

Melanie Gihring Dubach
Melanie Gihring Dubach

Did u guys not read the article?! Buys them broken for a little bit of nothing and fixes them himself.. Freaking haters.

James Wright
James Wright

Another show of wealth from a man of the cloth..........

Jennifer Lace
Jennifer Lace

Ross Ellis, reminds me of you! Check it out!

Christopher David
Christopher David

Couch Pig a pastor is from the Christian church where as a Priest related to child molestation is in the Catholic church. Don't be ignorant.

Couch Pig
Couch Pig

Pumping jesus must pay well...got to keep the kiddies in his basement somehow

Aaron
Aaron

@Kevin Brod That may be true in most senses, but he's not being ignorant to separate both the terms Pastor and Priest and the Protestant and Catholic churches as far as the child molestation scandals are concerned. He's just being accurate.

sam022
sam022

@James Wright I'm Jeremy's daughter and I was in middle school when he first started, and I'm nearly 20 now. Very cheap and very broken, he fixed them up himself and  I often helped clean them. It isn't a show of wealth it is his own hobby like how one would collect stamps or old coins. 

Aaron
Aaron

@James Wright False. He buys them very cheap and repairs them. It said so very clearly right in the article. What he's got here doesn't amount to a gross amount of money spent by any American standard, even for a hobby, and especially over a span of nine years. A bias is one thing, but if you want to be respectable, it has to at least be founded.

Knightrous70
Knightrous70

Psst, the Roman Catholic church is Christian...

sam022
sam022

@Couch Pig ACTUALLY he has another well paying job that has to do with computers. He does not "pump" anyone for money. 

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