If you’re a connoisseur of local games (or local donuts!), you may have heard of The Donutron: an arcade cabinet full of Minnesota-made video games that’s tucked into a corner at Glam Doll Donuts. It’s the handiwork of Victor Thompson and Zach Johnson, two game makers and software freelancers who cowork at Glam Doll on Fridays.
“There are a lot of ways that people who make video games get together in town, but the community created this new culture around donuts and Fridays,” Zachary explains.
“Thinking about how we can contribute to this community, the idea of an arcade cabinet got thrown around. Then we went to Fantastic Arcade, and it was full of cabinets this size. I started asking around: where did you get this, how much did it cost, what parts did you use to build it? We got the brass tacks of what it would take to actually make this happen, including an almost IKEA-style kit online.”
“It sounds like a really turnkey solution,” Victor says. “But there’s more work that goes into it than just ordering this kit. The programming, finding the monitor that actually fits in it—there are a lot of bits and pieces. Learning to fabricate physical objects was one of the better things I’ve done in the last few years.”
Zachary and Victor reached out to Glam Doll’s owners and asked if they would ever consider hosting an arcade cabinet on site. Their reply was an immediate and enthusiastic yes.
“So we were like, ‘Well, let’s not call it the Minnesota Arcade Cabinet…let’s call it something silly. It’s going to be in a donut shop—what about the Donutron?'”
It’s full-time home is at Glam Doll, but the Donutron has traveled to several events locally and regionally. Wherever it goes, it has cross-strata appeal. For kids, the cabinet with its big joystick and clicky buttons is a novelty. For grown-up players, it’s the draw of arcade nostalgia.
“I like watching families come up and play,” Victor says. “That happens a lot. We watched a whole family come play Joggernauts. The people who weren’t playing were throwing out suggestions about what the players should do. That is the arcade experience of my youth—going to the arcade and seeing a new game and talking and figuring it out, exploring an unexplored thing. Seeing that is definitely the best part for me: the discovery.”
The Donutron does more than help people get their gaming fix. Specifically, it introduces players to locally made games, and connects them to local developers by displaying their Twitter handles on the title screens. “Our hope is that players look these people up and realize they’re local,” Zachary says.
“But I haven’t seen a ton of that outreach actually in practice. It might be intimidation or lack of awareness. In their heads, maybe, a game maker is someone who lives in California who doesn’t have the time of day for them. Maybe they don’t realize we’re more accessible than that — that we’re right here working and playing next to them.”