What do you get if you cross Banksy’s Dismaland with a Victorian penny arcade? Behold the genius that is Novelty Automation, a brilliant collection of homemade satirical arcade games that are waiting for you to drop a token in.
London Thing 220* of 1000: Play the arcade games at Novelty Automation.
I’m a 90s kid. If I counted the number of hours I’ve spent playing video games in dingy, nearly abandoned malls or in friends’ dingy, abandoned-by-the-parents basements, I’d probably level up into a full-blown nerd.
My knowledge of games stopped at Paintball Mode in Goldeneye on Nintendo 64, and even though I refuse to figure out how to drive a car in Grand Theft Auto Whatever Number We’re On Now, I’m perfectly happy to drift back into the simpler times of a snort-out-loud-funny vintage seaside arcade à la San Francisco’s fantastic Musée Mécanique.
What am I getting myself into?
Discovering Novelty Automation, a small space in Holborn stuffed with homemade arcade games, felt as joyous as beating Bowser. The games are the work of Tim Hunkin, an engineer turned artist turned Channel Four TV presenter, and they are so delightfully fun, quirky and tongue-in-cheek that you’ll be childishly racing around the room with a handful of tokens like you’re at the mall arcade again.
Novelty Automation perfectly combines vintage Victorian seaside charm with the trials and tribulations of the modern day, like doing your damnedest to get the house in the divorce: ‘Race to separate, then see the results’!
Or finding out how easy it is to build your own personal nuclear reactor (beautifully illustrated by Kim Jong Un on the brochure).
Or taking your turn to pap the celebrities with a flying drone to send pictures to your magazine editor before deadline.
And of course no arcade is complete without a photo booth.
My personal favourite machine, called Money Laundering, reminded me of my year in the City. A silvery lake of 5p coins lies in wait at the bottom of two skyscrapers, and you have to deposit it in the City of London without the financial regulators spotting you.
And just when you thought this couldn’t get any better, Novelty Automation is now serving beer and wine at the arcade at its late night openings on the first Thursday of every month, so it’s worth waiting until then to visit.
Before you go, send them an email for a free token, and when you’re there, grab a bucket for £20 and play them all. Everyone’s a winner.
Anything to do nearby when I’m done?
The world is your oyster, and you don’t even need your Oyster card. A short walk to the west, and you’ll have all of the splendours of Covent Garden at your finger tips. Venture there or east into the City, and I’m sure there’s a place to grab a cocktail or six.
Play: Novelty Automation, 1a Princeton St, London, WC1R 4AX. Tube Holborn.
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