BusinessCaffeine 1UP Takes Social Gaming to the Next Level

Caffeine 1UP Takes Social Gaming to the Next Level

Caffeine 1UP Takes Social Gaming to the Next Level

All photos by Andre Gagne.

It’s 1958 and a Brookhaven physicist named William Higginbotham is about to make history. Wanting to ease a growing concern over the small nuclear reactor they placed in Long Island, the Brookhaven National Laboratory started hosting annual visitor days. Their intent was probably not to quell the fears of the Atomic Age with boredom but, year in and year out, most of those who shuffled through the lab saw dull, static exhibits that didn’t give much cause for excitement.

Observing this, Higginbotham decided to bring in a little added attraction. Using an oscilloscope, a display similar to the televisions at the time, and an analog computer, he rigged everything up so that a small dot of light bounced randomly around the screen over a thin line. Two people, using control boxes he also made for the strange device, could move the light over the line like a bizarre game of futuristic tennis. In fact, he called it Tennis for Two more commonly known as the first interactive computer game.

The game was a sensation, bolstering up attendance at the lab visitor days with some even asking to play it outside of those yearly gatherings. People would come just to watch others, see how they played the game, share strategies. By the 1980s arcades were popping up all over the place where people with pockets full of quarters would do the same thing on more sophisticated machines. Games like Pacman, Space Invaders and Mortal Kombat would become ingrained into pop culture and time spent in arcades become cherished memories for a generation. By the time Higginbotham died he had seen what his little idea to get people more interested in a science had become but, sadly, never saw a dime let alone a quarter. Not knowing what he had on his hands back then, he hadn't patented his creation.

By the 90s the home console was booming. Atari fell to Nintendo, Nintendo fell to PlayStation which fell to Xbox but the real victims, left gathering dust, were the now silent arcades soon to be cleared of their games to make way for dollar stores and pet shops. In 2001 Americans would spend more on video games than they would going to the  movies and though console gaming had advanced from specks of light to engaging cinematic storytelling, some would argue that much of the social element of the arcade Golden Age had been lost.

1up-5-of-8These days, a lot of the multiplayer experience is lived out online through headsets and microphones. Heather Powell, owner of Ottawa’s newest videogame café, is looking to merge the best of both worlds by creating the arcade experience with consoles and a lot of caffeine.

“There’s something special with sitting next to your buddy or sometimes a complete stranger in person and playing a game,” Powell tells Ottawa Life, eyeing a group of customers playing Mario Kart. They are laughing, offering each other tips and tossing out the occasional taunt that hits with the force of a red turtle shell. “Man, I love gamers!”


Caffeine 1UP (362 Rideau Street) is a combination of Powell’s two passions: games and coffee. She’s been in the café industry for over ten years, a path she started when she was only 19, but the gamer in her goes back to a four year old kid holding the shiny, gold cartridge that was The Legend of Zelda. Over the years she’d scribble down notes on what her café might look like and in between plotting out her career she’d get lost in the fantasy worlds of games such as BioShock. It was through gaming where she’d eventually meet her husband.

1up-1-of-8The love of what she does is evident in every corner of the café. It’s got to be, really, with six gaming stations, 12 systems and enough games to keep you awake for weeks with or without the coffee.

“For almost 3 years I have put 100% of my energy into making my café a reality,” she says. “I'm the sole owner of Caffeine 1UP, so I made sure to be thorough in my research of neighbourhoods, target demographics, even the types of games people may want to play. I picked apart my husband’s brain a lot, bounced ideas off him. A lot of thought went into each of my gaming stations and the library of games, most of which are from my own personal collection.”

1up-2-of-4With the aid of a designer, Powell helped add some personal, geeky touches to the decor. Glancing above the gaming systems you will see them named after popular video game lands –yes, Hyrule is there– and the seating areas around them were placed to ensure more than one or two players get to join in on the fun.

1up-2-of-8Oh, and take a peek into the bathroom for another of the gaming café’s quirky design secrets. Even if you are not a gamer there’s much to enjoy here.

“I wanted to be a full service café first and foremost.  I wanted to use my decade plus experience in the field to its fullest and create the tastiest drinks and source out all my baked goods from local bakeries, including vegan and gluten-free options. I did not want to alienate potential customers not into games but wanted to enjoy a snack at a new local independent cafe in their neighbourhood,” says Powell.

Though she has no idea why Ottawa has seen a lot of these genre/niche culture places open up in recent years, Powell says the more the better.

“Ottawa sometimes gets a bad rep with slogans like ‘the city that forgot fun’ but ?it’s quickly throwing that phrase out the door. I opened my café here as it’s my home and I couldn't imagine opening up anywhere else. It seems like a lot of other geeks feel the same way. It’s such a supportive community. This whole experience has made me love Ottawa on a whole new level.”


After her opening day party –which included a visit from the Mayor–, Powell has seen that community come in and out in various forms. The classic gamers wanting to get their hands on an original Nintendo Entertainment System controller or those who have fond memories of PaRappa the Rapper (meaning this writer, yo’!), were probably a given. What was unexpected to Powell were the amount of seniors who simply stop in for coffee and become engrossed in watching others play the games. With them have come the students, elated families and teens all eager to pick up a control and get immersed in a game. It’s not unlike those who once lined up outside a Long Island laboratory to play Tennis for Two.

Though decades later it’s pretty clear, in places like Caffeine 1UP, social gaming doesn’t need an extra life.


Comments (0)

*Please take note that upon submitting your comment the team at OLM will need to verify it before it shows up below.