Trey Baker’s plain white, wooden house on Hargrave Street doesn’t stand out from the neighboring houses, but on one Saturday each month, Baker switches on more than 20 TVs and video game systems in the name of charity. The inconspicuous residence transforms into an electronic symphony of the beeps and boops of dozens of classic video games.
Baker is the founder and man in charge of Hargrave Arcade, a homegrown music venue, theater and video game extravaganza that opened its doors for operation in May. Once a month, somewhere between 40 and 90 video game enthusiasts, philanthropists and people who simply enjoy good times pay $10 for the all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink video game bash. All the proceeds go to a charity of Baker’s choosing.
The arcade, which Baker operates with the help of his cohorts Bonnie Baxter, Clint Merrel and a small group of volunteers, is stocked with classic and newer consoles like NES, Nintendo 64, Nintendo GameCube, SEGA Genesis, PlayStation One and Two and Xbox systems. They decided to go with video game systems as opposed to traditional arcade machines because the systems are cheaper to buy, maintain and free to play.
Another perk Hargrave has over traditional arcades is that there are countless games for each one. Baker keeps classic games like “ExciteBike,” “PitFall,” “Centipede,” “Missile Command” and many more on hand. He has also constructed a dual sit-down Star Wars Podracer console that’s a big hit.
And for those that aren’t die-hard video game fans, there’s plenty of other fun to be had. The Hargrave Arcade also features live music, movies projected on an old billboard-turned-movie-theater-screen, all-you-can-eat vegan friendly food — including the recently discontinued (because they’re unhealthy) deep-fried, double-stuffed Oreos — and beer
from a keg.
“It’s fun. It’s so much fun,” Baker said. “I mean, people put this much effort into just throwing house parties. The hardest part was just getting it all set up when we were first starting, but now it’s pretty easy. Now that we have everything — the concept — we can put together these events now with less effort than what people will put into a regular house party. And we’re able to give a good chunk of change to a good cause.”
That concept, which is centered around the idea that philanthropy doesn’t have to be boring or painful, stems from Baker’s appreciation for action that benefits others; something he picked up from comic book superheroes and the Beatles.
“Star Wars, Batman; you know, the fight against evil,” Baker said. “Just doing something that benefits humanity. Or the world, even — not just humanity — we do stuff for animals as well. There’s a little thing inside of me reserved for superheroes. It just never went away. John Lennon also really inspired me. Yoko and him would use their art to come up with creative ways to support causes. He’s a huge influence.”
Baker envisions a day when there can be more than one Hargrave Arcade. Ideally, there would be enough so that a different arcade could host a benefit every Saturday, allowing for a steady weekend flow of philanthropic opportunities without burdening any one house-arcade with hosting duties each week. He’s in the process of creating a manual that explains how to cheaply set up and operate an in-home arcade using tricks — such as where to find inexpensive televisions and how to reuse materials (like billboard movie-theater screens) to save money — that he has discovered while running Hargrave.
Baker said he chooses each month’s cause according to how much good it does. Sometimes the organizations come to the arcade, but usually he finds out about them through the Internet and email lists. The causes he picks are often local, but not always. The only real criteria is that the group is authentic, effective and transparent with the money they’re given. The money this month is going to a group called The Adventure Project, a non-profit organization that is fighting poverty in Africa by providing farmers with low-cost irrigation pumps to increase the volume of their crops. Past causes include Texas 4000, the Inside Books Project and Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. Baker said that the arcade is pulling in an average of $500 for each charity. The most money ever raised during an event was $808.67 for Health Alliance for Austin Musicians in January.
“I definitely look for the causes that are really authentic,” Baker said. “It’s not easy for me to ask people to donate to things where I can’t vouch for how the money is used. For The Adventure Project, I definitely felt a connection with them when I found out about their organization. They’re really inspired to help wherever they can.”
Jenny Parrott, who sings and plays the guitar, the mandolin and the fiddle in the band, is a regular at the arcade, whether she’s playing music (Loves It! is the arcade’s go-to musical group), deep-frying Oreos or playing “Buck Hunter,” her preferred video game. She said that Baker’s vision is an inspiration to her and that, in addition to everything else, it’s a lot of fun for a small sum of money.
“The arcade is definitely one of the most innovative and cool things that any of my friends have ever done,” said Parrott, who, as a Health Alliance for Austin Musicians beneficiary, helped bring that cause to Baker’s attention. “I’m really proud to know Trey, and I think he’s come up with a really cool system for being able to contribute to the community. It’s just very well-organized. People are getting a lot for their money and having a good time. I think what’s unique about his philosophy is that he thinks charity doesn’t need to be boring or a pain in the ass — charity should be fun.”
Printed on 07/11/2011: Game Over Donate Again?