PowerUp Gaming Lounge brings communal video gaming to Casper (Photos and Story)

Josh Norcross, 23, plays the virtual reality game Rec Room at PowerUp Gaming Lounge on Friday, Jan. 1, in Casper. Norcross is one of Tuna’s House’s day habilitation clients for developmentally disadvantaged adults who regularly visit the lounge. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

Chad Jones has been playing video games most of his life.

“Since I was a kid, it was the main thing that brought us together,” recalls Jones.

“We had a close group of friends and we’d go to each other’s houses and play video games. In high school I’d play all the sports and I played video games. In college I played football and I played video games.”

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And when he joined the Army…yup, video games. “I had a little TV inside of my locker trying not to get caught playing games like Fable and Elder Scrolls Oblivion instead of Madden and Mortal Kombat.”

It was after Jones met Jessie Pepin when his gaming and life experiences would congeal into a new business opportunity.

Jones and Pepin opened PowerUp Gaming Lounge last October in a former medical supply building on CY Avenue.

The gaming lounge features 12 gaming PCs, two Xbox Ones, two PS4s including one with VR (virtual reality), a Nintendo Switch, and an HTC Vive on a PC inside a dedicated VR room.

Pricing is flexible with options for hourly or monthly.

The idea for a communal-type gaming lounge came about after Jones worked with disadvantaged youth.

“The one thing I noticed is the one thing they needed was simply having stuff to do,” said Jones. “They didn’t have a comfortable and safe environment for them to be kids, and the one thing in the 21st-century that allows that is video games.”

“It’s an incentive,” said Pepin. “We hear parents say ‘if you wanna come back you have to do your chores.'”

Pepin says parents have successfully used the lounge to help encourage better behavior from special needs children. “They want to be here and play with their friends,” said Pepin.

Jones says online gaming helps children learn team building and social skills. One of the most popular online games is Fortnite.

“They get to play (online) with a hundred other kids and sit there and communicate with them,” Jones said. “There’s a of teamwork and communication. It’s anything but isolated these days.”

Pepin says the venue has become popular with kids after school whose parents are working.

“Instead of going home and being alone for that time, they can come here and make friends,” said Pepin.

Pepin said she and Jones were surprised at how children often police themselves in gaming culture, agreeing on times and turns for certain game consoles.

“We actually thought they were going to fight over certain things,” said Pepin. “Really, they kind of skip us and go to each other. We were expecting kind of aggressive fighting, but it’s not that way.”

“They want to play and play together, they want to have fun,” said Pepin.

A regular customer every Thursday are clients with Tuna’s House, a day habilitation center for developmentally disabled people.

“We take everyone out into the community and work on social skills,” said Whitnee Day, day habilitation worker with Tuna’s House. “One of the things they really enjoy doing is coming and playing the games. Some of them have never even used a computer before.”

Pepin and Jones envision eventually adding more study tables and communal areas, and eventually expanding to the basement of the building.

“We have kids coming here after school and doing their homework before playing video games,” said Pepin.

They hope to increase the number of gaming competitions, including partnering with the Wyoming State Games.

Pepin and Jones believe the gaming lounge is building an important niche in Casper.

“If you give people a comfortable environment with some really cool people, then magic happens,” said Jones.

PowerUp Gaming Lounge is located at 829 CY Ave. and open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 10 p.m. Their phone number is (307) 337-1620.