The Student Newspaper of Highline College


The Waterland Arcade glowing vibrantly in Des Moines.

Waterland Arcade: The inconspicuous heart of seaside Des Moines

Brandon Cortes-Yepez Staff Reporter Mar 07, 2024

Just off the coast of Des Moines’ Marine View lives a seemingly small arcade. Only an “ARCADE” sign illuminates the exterior at night, but the inside holds another dimension of lights, action, and nostalgia.

This arcade near the sea, aptly named Waterland Arcade, opens after noon almost every day to its local community. Many families and children stop by to play and switch between the wide variety of games. And with any variety, there’s always something for anyone.

Unlike a traditional coin arcade, Waterland Arcade is a free-play arcade with only a simple entry fee. Pay the fee, and every machine is fair game. Pinball and retro games are at the forefront, but the arcade also has plenty more games like air hockey, skeeball, and newer ones too.

Marathoning the games feels like traveling back in time and into the peak of arcade gaming. Visitors can start at the early ’70s with a mini Space Invaders cabinet, navigate the ’80s with Q*bert and Burgertime, then fight through the ’90s with The Simpsons and Terminator 2.

The arcade also has a fair selection of newer games and renditions of arcade classics. Just at the entrance is 2016’s Galaga Assault, followed by 2017’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade and Nidhogg 2, as well as 2018 and 2021 rhythm games jubeat festo and Chunithm Paradise Lost.

After dark, however, the arcade becomes a hotspot for the most dedicated of members. Every week – and often multiple times a week – the arcade hosts DJ sets and tournaments for its night audience. With the same entry price, visitors pay instead to experience the local scene perform.

“It’s like a club night, and Waterland is the club,” said Monty Hathaway, a Waterland Arcade staffer. Hathaway is the leader of the arcade’s DJ nights, as well as a DJ himself under the alias DJ ECM (Emerald City Monty). “We realized the potential of the arcade really early on for bringing in musicians.”

While the DJ nights weren’t present from the start, Hathaway adds that, “Music was an inspiration from day zero.” The arcade’s atmosphere is perfect for club nights with its speakers and neon strip lights. The ease and size of DJ setups also give more space for visitors and DJ rotations.

Speaking of which, Waterland Arcade hosts a monthly DJ night dubbed Attack The Block, featuring sets from DJ ECM and other performers. “I’ve been DJ’ing for 20 years and know a lot of people in the community, so we invite them in to perform,” Hathaway comments.

Waterland Arcade staff designs the event posters themselves and splits the promotion with performers. “Everyone brings their friends out to see their friends perform, and Waterland gets regular visitors to attend too,” Hathaway adds. Staff and performers sign and frame a copy of a poster during the event.

The heart of Des Moines is a literal title, as Waterland receives groups of visitors from schools and camps. “We’re included in some summer camp events, some groups of youth, and local schools,” says arcade owner Jason Bliss. “It’s a destination for people, for sure.”

The arcade also hosts private parties for such groups to reserve the arcade for a short duration. Reservation purposes can include summer camps and classes, as well as birthday parties at the arcade. Decorations can be set up 15 minutes in advance before the arcade closes to the public.

Waterland Arcade is a short distance west of Highline’s campus, making for quick and easy access for students looking for entertainment. The 165 bus to Burien TC takes one directly down the street until the S 223rd St. stop. The 165 bus stop across the street to Green River/Kent also takes visitors back to campus via the same route.

“If you wanna come in here when it’s busy, I would come Friday or Saturday,” Hathaway recommends. Otherwise, the machines are free and fair game on most other school season afternoons.