Old Computer Turned Arcade Machine Delights at SXSW

Made of 10,000-plus keyboard keys, the Dell logo wall was a picture-perfect backdrop. Photo: Haley Shapley

Made of 10,000-plus keyboard keys, the Dell logo wall was a picture-perfect backdrop. Photo: Haley Shapley

At the preview night of Fader Fort, one of the premier parties of the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, blue drinks flowed, Chromeo laid down their brand of electrofunk, and even P. Diddy stopped by to say hello, but there was perhaps no bigger star than a 14-year-old computer.

And while it looked exactly like the computer you had a decade and a half ago, it wasn’t just any 14-year-old machine — this former Dell desktop had been transformed into a gametop with around 50 retro games (think Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and lots of Mario Bros.) with the goal of highlighting Dell Reconnect, a partnership between Dell and Goodwill that provides consumers free and convenient computer recycling. The program reaches more than 166 million people throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The benefits of recycling a computer go far beyond the materials saved. Photo: Haley Shapley

The benefits of recycling a computer go far beyond the materials saved. Photo: Haley Shapley

Refurbish to Fabulous

“Consumers are good in the U.S. about donating old goods, and we’ve made it convenient to take back not only household goods, but also electronics,” says Beth Johnson, manager of U.S. recycling programs for Dell. “It starts with Michael Dell — he allowed us the flexibility to go make it convenient.”

The Dell Reconnect program started in Austin 10 years ago, so exhibiting at SXSW is like home. Other displays around Fader Fort included a Dell logo sign made from more than 10,000 keyboard keys, wood pallets recycled into seating for standing-weary festivalgoers, tables and planters fashioned out of a variety of computer parts, and placards toting fun facts about the program — for instance, donating one working computer to Dell Reconnect equates to 6.8 hours of job training for a Goodwill employee.

Though recycling is always top of mind, reuse is even more important. “We want to be able to provide affordable computers to more families in our community,” says Sarah Gilliam, global brand marketing manager for Dell. “Being able to refurbish something that’s two or three years old and load it with the latest software really gives opportunities for [people] to continue to learn and excel.”

A Dell staffer tests her skills at Galaga. Photo: Haley Shapley

A Dell staffer tests her skills at Galaga. Photo: Haley Shapley

An Oldie but a Goodie

What the gametop proved is that old isn’t necessarily bad — there is value in using the resources we already have. Brothers Brent and Jerry Nettles couldn’t get enough of Galaga, a spaceship shooting game that debuted in the early 1980s. When asked if he’d ever keep a 14-year-old computer hanging around his house, Brent responded: “I would if I knew I could use it like this.”

Refurbished by the Computer Works store at the Goodwill Industries of Central Texas, the machine elicited responses from “oh my God, this is so cool” to “my dentist had this game!” to “it’s amazing.” Austinite Joey Kazzaun’s response was a simple “that thing’s older than I am!” (In the computer’s defense, that’s not true.)

When Brent, who works for a Swedish record company, texted a photo to his wife of his brother on the gametop, she texted back: “Bring one of those home.”

With consumers around North America donating the computers they aren’t using anymore and Dell Reconnect employees putting in the effort to refurbish them, that’s actually a possibility.

In Austin and want to check it out yourself? Fader Fort runs until Saturday, March 15. A wristband is required.

Fader Fort continues through March 15. Photo: Haley Shapley

Fader Fort continues through March 15. Photo: Haley Shapley

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Haley Shapley

Haley Shapley is based in Seattle, where recycling is just as cool as Macklemore, walking in the rain without an umbrella, and eating locally sourced food. She writes for a wide range of publications, covering everything from sustainability to fitness to travel. Read more of her work here.