Who IS Building Stuff That’s as Good as Dave and Buster’s?

The last blog post, I whined a little and then I recognized an interesting design challenge: What can we in the Serious Play community build that’s as engaging as Dave and Buster’s– but maybe does something more positive for people than a say… a kid-friendly casino?

I used my “goals/resources/restrictions” design process for sussing out the Better n’ D+B design parameters: 


  • numbers- we want to get lots of people in here
  • it needs to be economically viable or grant-supported.
  • We want something the regular Joe with a family or friends can go to on a rainy Sunday that is fun and group-oriented. We’re *not* just reaching out to museum-goers here


  • It will have to be consistent so people can just walk in anytime.
  • It will have to be fully accessible to all age groups.
  • The day I went, it was raining so outdoor stuff is out. 
  • The customers I saw looked tired… they need something that doesn’t involve too much effort so laser tag, trampoline gyms and mystery hunts are probably out.
  • It has to be fairly low price- under $15 per person, which is what I suspect people were paying at Dave and Buster’s


  • We *can* charge people an entrance fee if we want.
  • This can be a for-profit or non-profit project so we could look for all sorts of different types of funding.

So now the question is: Who’s building something within these design parameters that can give Dave and Buster’s a run for its money? The first answer came from the awesome Georgina Goodlander, formerly of the Luce Foundation and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, and the brains behind GHOST OF A CHANCE one of the first ARG’s ever run at a museum. 

Georgina is working now with the Idaho Falls Arts council. Who has built Solution Example #1: the mighty ARTITORIUM!!! 

The space is an open art and digital creation space in Idaho Falls. Show up any day between 10 and 6PM Tuesday through Saturday to make found object sculptures, build things on a giant magnet wall, create digital music and animation, play with a green screen and a “virtual gallery” and all sorts of good stuff!! The images of the space look like they’re reaching out to our potential “Dave and Buster’s” audience: middle-school aged kids with friends, families with kids of all ages. The technology resources give a “wow” factor: who doesn’t want to play with a green screen? While the creation part quietly nudges kids and parents to be creators as well as consumers!

This is great in so so many ways. First of all, I’m really excited that this is in Idaho Falls. You would expect something like this in New York or Chicago but the fact that a culturally edifying Dave and Buster’s alternative is thriving in Idaho Falls means smaller cities can also commit to providing quality arts and culture activities for their citizens. 

Full disclosure: I haven’t been here before, I’ve only read about it. I think the only drawback with this kind of program might that it has the potential to overwhelm people who don’t consider themselves to be techie, smart or creative. That’s the odd barrier to entry for these kinds of setups- usually it attracts a fairly confident audience who believes that they can figure out how to use these tools. (Even if it’s not necessary to have any tech experience and docents walk you through every step, it’s the perception that’s the barrier.) 

One way to make things more welcoming- and I apologize if the Artitorium is already doing this- would be to have a curated “consumer” area where people can play games and watch movies that others have made while being encouraged to make their own. Similar to what the Smithsonian Museum of American Art did with their successful INDIE ARCADE.

It would be good to have some really pro-looking content that’s curated but fun and low-stress for people to play with. Some of them could be GAMES FOR CHANGE or maybe cutting-edge technology like VR, sound-based or location-based games. It might even be fun to include board games or analog games like the ones that are played at the COME OUT AND PLAY festival. (hoot patooter anyone??) This could provide an easy entry for tired parents who look at a creation station with a certain amount of dread. Remember the ever-present thought of: “I don’t want to look dumb in front of my kids.”

I’ve heard that they’re on the move to build video game and interactive storytelling options for their visitors. The Artitorium already offers classes and party packages, a performance space and a calendar of events. In short- everything Dave and Buster’s has minus the beer. (I know that’s a major omission, but you have to have some restrictions.)

So HUZZAAAAH for Idaho Falls!! Next post, I’ll take a look at 2 other organizations that are meeting this design challenge successfully. Until then, have fun!

(No really… have some fun. It’s important.) 


One response to “Who IS Building Stuff That’s as Good as Dave and Buster’s?”

  1. Georgina Avatar

    Thanks so much for writing about us! You are correct that the overwhelming focus on technology can be a barrier to participation. However, we only see it as a problem for adults! Kids have no problem racing in and playing, and happily, we see many kids showing their parents how to use the various stations. I love all your ideas for additions, too. One thing we are worried about, particularly in a small town like Idaho Falls, is that the content may stagnate. I want to make sure we are adding a new feature every year or so to keep the locals engaged, so will definitely be referring back to your list of suggestions. Yay for interactive art! 🙂

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