One of the best conventions for gaming history took place last weekend.
I’ve been wanting to go the Midwest Gaming Classic for years. The convention takes place every year in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s one of the largest gaming conventions in the country and also one with a heavy retro game focus. This was also my first time going to Milwaukee. I live in Chicago so it’s not that bad of a drive. It took about an hour and a half to get there. My plan was to check out the convention on Sunday, April 2.
I drove into Milwaukee early Saturday afternoon and stayed overnight at a hotel near the downtown area. I wanted to check out parts of the city while I was also there for the convention. Last Saturday I went to an art gallery at the Grohmann Museum. The art collection there is incredible and pretty unique. It’s basically a large exhibit about the history of working people and different professions over the last 400 years. It’s funny seeing that like 90% of all those jobs have been eliminated today or done more efficiently by machines and computers. I wonder what some dude in the 18th century would think about our society now. He would probably just collapse to the floor and die on the spot.
I ate a calzone for the first time from Foltz at the Milwaukee Public Market, which is a really cool and busy place with different food and dessert shops all inside this one building. All I could think about was the Seinfeld episode where George Constanza is getting calzones for his boss at the New York Yankees, George Steinbrenner. “Costanza is in the building! And he’s not in this office! He’s got the Calzone! Costanza! I’ll get you!” I sort of cheated because instead of a traditional calzone with marinara sauce, I got a BBQ chicken pizza one. It did feel like I had just drank an entire bottle of BBQ sauce afterwards. It was worth it though.
Parking across the city seemed to be all free as the meters weren’t requiring payment, unlike Chicago where they charge you like 25 bucks just to have your car pull into the parking lot for an hour. Even the parking I got near the convention building was only $6 for the whole day on Sunday. The only problem was the garage didn’t have an elevator or even an open stairwell so I had to walk all the way down like five floors on the ramps that are supposed to be for the cars just to reach the street.
I got to the convention just after it opened around 10 a.m. Getting in was pretty easy since I had already purchased tickets online. The convention took place at the Wisconsin Center (400 W. Wisconsin Avenue) between March 31-April 2. There was a long line of people trying to buy tickets. Sunday is advertised as more of a family day for the show and the doors close earlier at 5 p.m.
The convention building had like three floors and a big escalator sending people up and down between them. They had so many playable games in one of the halls. It was so cool. The room was massive. There were rows of tables set up with mostly old CRTVs and every game console imaginable from the late ’70s to present day. Each set up also had a little historical card next to them explaining what the console was and some of the more popular games for it. They even had some Japanese consoles I had never heard of before. It was also cool to see a little tribute area to Ralph Baer, who doesn’t seem to get enough credit for his contributions to video games.
There was also a row of old computers from the ’80s as well, which I had never seen in person before. This was seriously awesome to see and play on too. I feel like as time goes on that part of video game history becomes more forgotten about too because that was some really hardcore stuff to play on back then when gaming wasn’t as mainstream. It’s probably pretty expensive to find those now too, especially the games. There were so many people there too, probably like thousands all over the different rooms at the show. I loved the historical aspect and focus of Midwest Gaming Classic. It was cool seeing all the kids checking out these old games, which I bet is kind of shocking to them. A lot of these consoles are either hard to find, too expensive or difficult to connect on a modern television. It’s great that there’s a place for people to experience them still. I’m assuming most people don’t have the old tube TVs anymore so it makes older consoles harder to play these days.
The convention also had a huge selection of new and old pinball machines. The modern pinball machines are basically semi-video games now, like The Godfather that had a bunch of stuff that appears on screen for you to select from and levels to choose. Stern Pinball had an area set up with their games and several machines for the new Foo Fighters. There weren’t a lot of arcade machines though but still enough to get some games in. I love pinball games and this has to be one of the biggest collections in one place that I’ve seen.
I’m not into board games, table top games or trading card games but there was a big focus on those hobbies at Midwest Gaming Classic too. Later on as I walked around the convention halls, I overheard some kid who was with his family say, “Board games are boring. Get it? Do you get the joke?” They did have big rooms set up for each hobby that a lot of people were playing in, especially board games and stuff like Magic the Gathering.
They had some of the cast from the original Mortal Kombat games at tables inside the vendor hall. I definitely geeked out when I saw the actors for Kano and Shang Tsung. I still remember playing the original Mortal Kombat arcade machine for the first time as a young kid in the early ’90s and also all the hours of playing the game on consoles against friends. I should have gotten their autograph but when I went back later they were already gone. I was able to meet YouTuber John Riggs, who does a lot of great retro gaming videos and content. He had a table set up in the vendor hall. I was able to act like a dork and shake his hand. It was cool meeting him. I haven’t met anyone in gaming really so that was pretty cool he was there.
The vendor hall was ginormous. There were so many games for sale and different vendors on the show floor. Pretty much any game for any system you could want, someone probably had it here. It was nuts. The only thing I knew I hoped to get was an official Super Nintendo power adaptor. I recently bought a Super Nintendo console bundle with a bunch of games off Facebook Marketplace but I didn’t realize until I got back home that it didn’t come with a power adaptor. The deal was way too good to pass up so I wasn’t mad about that. I noticed there has been a shift in what’s popular and being collected. When I was in high school like 15-20 years ago, there was a lot of collecting for Atari and NES. I remember online and even on the early days of YouTube that’s what people were going after. Then it shifted to the 16-bit consoles of SNES and Sega Genesis, but more so now to the Nintendo 64 and then into PlayStation 2 and GameCube. The stuff for GameCube has really gone up in price.
It was so cool seeing all the boxed Super Nintendo games. The SNES was my first game console I owned and is probably my second favorite behind the PS2. There were tons of games I had never heard of before. Most of those were pretty expensive too. There were so many games that cost in the hundreds of dollars, some even going up to $700-800. I guess it’s partly because of the complete in box factor. I wasn’t expecting a lot of the games to be going for that much money.
Unfortunately it seems like the game collecting market now has pretty much priced out most people. I don’t know the exact reason but it probably has to do a lot with nostalgia for the ’90s and early 2000s along with the skyrocketing prices during the Covid pandemic. At this show I saw so many expensive games. Even games for the Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis I was casually interested in checking out to actually play the game that would be considered not that collectable, the price for those loose cartridges were still $30-40. If a game doesn’t have a price on it, the vendor or some other person will just take out their phone and probably look on eBay and quote you from there. Some of the vendors also only accept cash as payment. I don’t know why anyone would be walking around with hundreds or potentially thousands of dollars on cash on them to get these games. This isn’t the fault of the convention or Midwest Gaming Classic but where game collecting and retro gaming is unfortunately at right now. Even boxes and cases for games are going for $60-70 and up. It’s crazy. For a box. With no game. I guess people are buying these games though otherwise there wouldn’t be so many vendors and people shopping at them during Midwest Gaming Classic.
Unless you’re collecting PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 era to current day releases, you’re pretty much out of luck on a lot of games. A lot of the games from that era and current stuff on PS4 and Xbox One were reasonably priced and pretty cheap at Midwest Gaming Classic. I think for the average gaming fan or someone looking to get into the hobby from a collecting standpoint or to experience older games you can’t easily play on modern consoles, they’re basically screwed. With that kind of money for a few games you could just buy a PlayStation 5 or build a nice gaming PC. A lot of the prices aren’t accessible at all. I think it’s only going to get worse as these games become harder to find. It’s still awesome to see so many old, rare and collectible games all in one place though. It’s funny seeing games that are now incredibly valuable and pricey that I used to see all the time at stores like Best Buy or KMart and cheap used copies at EB Games and GameCrazy.
I ended up spending around $104 in total on nine games and lucked out on a Super Nintendo power adaptor. Next year I want to go and really map out some specific games I want for my collection. It’s kind of overwhelming seeing everything there and having so many choices of games to buy.
It feels like you really do need to go the whole weekend to experience everything at Midwest Gaming Classic. I definitely want to go again next year for the whole weekend! It was an awesome experience being there. If you’re able to do it, definitely make the trip one of these years to go to the convention yourself.
Watch my video recap of my time at Midwest Gaming Classic this year and my game haul:
(Note: In some of the footage there’s distortion and weird scanlines on the TVs during some of the gameplay. That’s just from the recordings for some reason. In person all the TVs looked great and the games did too with no technical issues.)