Behind the controller: a new spot for gamers

Anyone who visits West Chester can enjoy the wide array of bars, restaurants and a small number of shops. When anyone does go out into town for a night of recreation, however,  they may find themselves stuck with only a few options. There is the Uptown! Theatre, a ping-pong parlor and a pool parlor but almost nothing else. They are all fun places to visit to see a show, hit a ping-pong ball back and forth or shoot some pool, but what if none of those options interest someone? What if they want something different? Luckily, now there is.

On S. High St. in West Chester, a new entertainment venue has been open for a few months now. It caters to the video game community but also to anyone else looking for a place to have fun themselves or with friends: Level 13.

I had the opportunity to visit Level 13 on Wednesday morning to speak with the proprietor of the new entertainment venue, Kevin Mash, who also owns West Chester Computer Doctor, located on the opposite side of the street from Level 13.

Q: When did the idea for Level 13 come about? Why a gaming center?

A: “We’re going back about six or seven months. This all culminated due to the convergence of a couple different happenstances, one being I was given the book “Ready Player One” by one of the employees over at my other business, West Chester Computer Doctors. I read the book in a matter of a day or two because it was so intriguing and captivating for me as someone who grew up in the 80s. The book was based on a lot of video gaming lore … and it was something that just gripped me and I didn’t put it down until I was finished. 

After putting the book down, my wife and I … we go out in town quite often … and in the practice of going out in town … always noticing there’s a large amount of middle school, high school, college people milling about with a lot of places to get ice cream or grab dinner … but without many options for things to do. There’s not that many recreational activities in town. So having this cloudy idea … after putting that book down with the concept of video gaming and arcades, walking around town and seeing a multitude of people in the age demographic that would go to such a place, I started talking about the idea of opening up an arcade in West Chester. It doesn’t really work nowadays unless you have a liquor license; there are several establishments around the country that are bar/restaurant situations with recreational-style activities for people to do. Given that didn’t seem a realistic possibility, I evolved an idea [I had] instead of an arcade bringing about a gaming center much as you can see here. Our staff absolutely loves gaming and the gaming industry … we are to take our interested gamers, give them a place to come, give them people to talk to, people to work with, people to learn from, people to share these experiences with and then to add to it these gamers are coming in with their friends. Taking an anti-social experience of playing that game in their house, bringing it outside the house, sitting it down with a group of friends … playing that same game in a social environment. It’s been absolutely magical here. 

Q.  Why West Chester and not Pittsburgh or Philadelphia?

A.  There are three reasons for why West Chester and not the bigger cities. The first reason being that I live in West Chester … so having this in my backyard, I can pretty much walk across the street. Reason number two is I have another business right across the street. I own West Chester Computer Doctors and an IT consulting group, we’ve been here for 13 years. The third reason really has to do with what West Chester’s all about: the demographics of what we have in this community, as well as the different components of the town. The town center being a meeting place, it’s an opportunity for people to get together in the town center area. We have a high school within walking distance, we have a university with over 15,000 students within walking distance and it is the county seat. There’s a lot of reasons why this town is an opportunity where this business could grow.

Q. What makes Level 13 unique as an entertainment venue?

Level 13’s uniqueness stems from the attitude of ownership, the attitude of my staff, the atmosphere we are trying to create here as well as the guests we have coming in and gaming with us. There are other gaming venues in the area, but what I’m really proud about here is the level of professionality with the staff members that I have, not only their ability to get into the games and use the equipment, but also to figure out what games they, the visitors, would want to play. We’re making sure you want to come back. 

Q.  What would you say to those who see video games as a novelty or something just for kids?

It’s interesting because I have a couple of those kinds of people as my family. I can understand how someone would consider such activities a waste of time in some situations. What I can appreciate however, having grown up in the 1980s and 90s and now in the 2000s, seeing that when a movie is released, they have a release date and they have box office sales and you can see how well the movie has been received by the movie-going community. Much the same happens in the gaming industry. 

I would ask these people to look at their own activities from an outsider’s perspective. For those people, playing tennis might be their recreational activity of choice and that’s great. For somebody that doesn’t enjoy tennis, it might be the same kind of other side perspective that they have on video games. Just because you don’t do it and don’t get it personally doesn’t mean it doesn’t impact or effect other people in a positive way. It’s very easy to pigeonhole gamers as being a slightly anti-social group because they like to play video games for hours on end, but I would like those naysayers to come here on one of our tournament nights or one of our open play days and just witness the energy, excitement and comradery they have for each other. 

With the opening of Level 13 not just for gamers, but for everyone looking for fun, it seems that West Chester has something new to offer.   

Kelly Baker is a fourth-year student majoring in English writing with minors in journalism and film criticism. KB819687@wcupa.edu

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