Get ready, set, go and embrace a blast from the past at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, one of the world’s largest conventions celebrating classic video and arcade games. This vibrant weekend-long gathering at the Oregon Convention Center is jam-packed with a diverse presentation of events like panels, historical exhibits, and tournaments that invite attendees — from the adults who played the games as kids to the kids of today — to delight in the artistry and significance of video games in popular culture. Hunt for the next special addition to your classic video game collection in the exhibition hall, get lost in thought within the enormous free-play “retrocade” featuring hundreds of gaming options, and make new friends.
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History of The Portland Retro Gaming Expo
Over three days in October, old-school video game enthusiasts and newbies alike gather at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo (PRGE) annually to play, buy, and trade games and rare consoles; snag behind-the-scenes peeks at complete NES collections; take deep dives into the history of gaming with the makers who created them; and even meet childhood heroes like Tim Kitzrow, the voice actor behind NBA Jam and NFL Blitz. Some attendees take their experience to the next level, dressing up in their best Daisy and Donkey Kong digs or entering competitive gaming tournaments to win prizes. The fandom and festivities have continued to grow, so much so that PRGE has added another stage and 60,000 additional square feet (5,574 sq m) of vendor space in the exhibitor hall for 2023, making it one of the largest retro gaming expos in the world.
But before it was PRGE, event organizers say their seeds of inspiration date back to the late ’90s in Seattle. The first iteration of the Portland Retro Gaming Expo as we know it today was eventually hosted in 2006 as the Northwest Classic Games Enthusiasts Portland. Launched as a parallel event to the Seattle Northwest Classic Games Enthusiasts expo, the initial program, held in a hotel conference room in Vancouver, Washington, drew an all-ages crowd of 200 gamers eager to connect, compete in contests like an NES championship, and shop wares from indie video game vendors.
Known as the “Portland Retro Gaming Expo” since 2008, the beloved ever-growing volunteer-run event returns yearly in October and takes annual residence at one of the largest event venues in the Pacific Northwest, the Oregon Convention Center.
The Expo Experience at the Oregon Convention Center
Located in the heart of the Lloyd district, the centrally located Oregon Convention Center spans several blocks and is within walking distance of numerous hotels, restaurants and public transportation routes. Once you’ve arrived, you can follow the stream of cosplayers and streetwear-garbed gaming enthusiasts to the Admissions Booth to pick up your entry pass. Online ticket sales typically close by opening day, but badges are available for purchase at the door the day of at a markup. After you’ve secured your badge and a program with the day’s festivities, you’re ready!
Lay of the Land
If you prefer story mode, take a moment with the program to plot out your must-see panels, events and vendors. For those who like to wander open-world style, an educational excursion at the Video Game History Museum is the best way to ground yourself in the colorful, historical contribution of video games. Nearby, the rotating exhibits dazzle; past features included Sega Saturn gameplay, learning about the Last Blockbuster in Bend, Oregon, and more.
The Arcade Floor
Take a deep breath and brace yourself for the sensory surge found on the arcade floor. Follow the melodic mashing of buttons and 8-bit beats spun by the local, self-proclaimed “professional nerd,” DJ Switch. Bright lights lead you to the Retrocade, a 30,000-square-foot (2,787 sq m) mecca of more than 100 full-size arcade cabinets, pinball machines and countless options for retro video game consoles like the Nintendo NES, Sega Saturn, Atari 2600 and pioneering PCs like the Commodore 64. The floor is split into categorical zones, where you might find a nostalgic team of Mario Kart racers, a nifty duel at the 3D pong machine or a feverish match at the 10-player cabinet, Killer Queen. Best of all, the coin-operated games are set to free play! Check out the current list of Retrocade offerings and plan your play. In addition to Retrocade DJs, the expo offers a lineup of performances showcasing musicians at the intersections of instrumentation and video game
The Exhibitor Hall
Make the short trek to the neighboring Exhibitor Hall, which features more than 300 local and international vendors selling vintage games, fan art, comic books, cables, retro toys, dead stock and more. Meander down the massive rows and crowds, and don’t hesitate to stop for a chat and demo, especially at booths run by indie game makers like the local Portland Indie Game Squad and wildly popular “homebrew” developers, AtariAge, which make new games playable on out-of-production Atari consoles. Treasure hunters should familiarize themselves with the bundle deals on offer and come prepared with a “want list.”
Feeling peckish? Head to the end of the arcade and vendor halls for food and beverage options when sustenance calls.
Activities and Events
It wouldn’t be a gaming expo without some healthy competition! Steal the show with a handmade look at the annual cosplay contest and enter to win prizes for best in show. There’s even a kids’ category for youth cosplayers.
Energetic panels, Q&As, signings and live podcast recordings abound throughout the expo. Previous panelists, special guests and speakers include gaming historians and authors; famous YouTube personalities like PeanutButter Gamer and Metal Jesus Rocks; graphic designers like Pamela Smith; and even multi-generational gamers showing deep, shared appreciation for the art of retro video games. While seating is ample, lines form early for famous speakers, so check the schedule, get there early, and bring your favorite game, poster, or T-shirt for signings.
Saturday evening features one of the expo’s most popular events: the PRGE Live Game Collectibles Auction. This high-energy showdown sells unique and rare items like vintage plushies, console prototypes, signed arcade posters, and employee-only merch. Make your bid for any of the three mystery boxes auctioned off to a bevy of paddle raises, with all proceeds benefitting PRGE. Can’t make it to the expo? Stream and bid during the live auction!
Last but not least, don’t miss the Classic Tetris World Championship, held at PRGE since 2011 and concludes the expo along with several other tournaments hosted by PRGE
Portland offers a wide range of arcades, from family-friendly game rooms to dive bars and adults-only bar arcades.
Pair your board game night with a crafty cocktail or find a new favorite tabletop game at these Portland board game bars and stores.
People in Portland like to dress up all year! Find vintage duds, professional makeup and fabulous wigs at these favorite Portland costume shops.
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