Fun and games
Billy Chaser and Jay Hunter travel all over Texas and beyond from their homes in Dallas-Fort Worth, searching for electronic artifacts housed in plastic — and people can't get enough of their quests. Chaser and Hunter host The Game Chasers, a comedy/reality YouTube show that has grown so popular, it now has a shot at the big screen.
“It’s like American Pickers, but for video games,” Chaser says of the show, which has almost 125,000 subscribers.
A typical episode finds the wise-cracking duo, clad in jeans and T-shirts, hitting-up garage sales, flea markets, and thrift stores, digging through boxes of Nintendo games, Sega controllers, and dusty, old Atari systems.
While filming The Game Chasers, they’ve acquired a lot of interesting stuff, including a rare, rental-only Nintendo NES cartridge called "The Flintstones: Surprise at Dinosaur Peak" for just $5 (it’s worth about $1,000). And they sometimes find tubs of games they need for their collections for pennies on the dollar from sellers who are just happy to get rid of the stuff.
But it’s not all fun and games.
“Since we keep it 100 percent real, sometimes we go out and find nothing,” says Chaser, who usually rides shotgun while Hunter drives from location to location, accompanied by a cameraman who looks like he stepped out of a Cheech and Chong movie.
“The pressure to produce something like this is a challenge because we can’t control if a flea market is going to have vendors that carry games,” he says. “A show like American Pickers has producers and other people who scout locations for them, but with The Games Chasers, it’s just us, and we have no control over what we’re going to find.”
Even when pickings are slim, the jokes keep flying. Chaser, who lives in Fort Worth, and Hunter, who calls Arlington home, have a camaraderie and sense of one-upmanship that is endearing to their many fans. With their back-and-forth banter, it’s obvious the two have been friends for many years.
“We met at Blockbuster Video in 1999,” Chaser says. “We worked together at a store in Grand Prairie. We liked movies, but we were more into gaming. We’d work our shift then go to each other’s homes and play video games.”
Chaser quit Blockbuster after less than a year, but he kept in touch with his former co-worker. They would watch TV, collect and play video games, and just hang out. One evening, Chaser hit upon an idea that would change their lives forever.
“We were watching an episode of American Pickers, and they went to this place that had a bunch of junk, but in the corner they had a Vectrex [a relatively scarce tabletop video game system with its own monitor] just sitting there,” he says. “They never mentioned it, they never touched on it, they never talked about it, and I’m sitting there like, ‘Dude, there’s a Vectrex in there, why aren’t you picking that up? C’mon, man!’ It drove me crazy, so I’m like, ‘Dude, let’s just do this with video games.’”
Hunter was immediately receptive to Chaser’s idea, and The Game Chasers filmed their first episode in 2011.
The show is now in its eighth season, but they have bigger plans for the near future. They are translating their show to the big screen in the form of a motion picture, funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign that, at last check, had almost 1,000 backers and had reached about 90 percent of its goal. There's a script and a creative team hard at work on it.
The film, which they hope will be released next year, will have the Game Chasers’ trademark irreverence, but Chaser says they will “movie it up” to make it something much different.
“Think of it as a fictionalized retelling of The Game Chasers in a prequel kind of way,” Chaser says. “It’s kind of how the Game Chasers came to be, but scripted and fictional. It will be a road trip comedy, but with heart and soul. It’s basically Jay and I tracking down the original Nintendo NES console that we played as kids and how we use that to reconnect with our youth.”
Chaser assures fans that the film will have a much bigger budget than the YouTube show.
“It won’t be just us taking the camera out and shooting the movie ourselves,” he says. “We’re hiring a professional film crew, a cinematographer, and a visual effects artist who works on The Walking Dead and The Orville. We’ve also got our eyes on a Hollywood actor.”
In addition to filming The Game Chasers YouTube series and working on their movie, Chaser and Hunter host an annual video game trade show at the Arlington Convention Center called Retropalooza, now in its sixth year.
Gamers will have to wait until October for Retropalooza, but for the first time they are putting on a smaller version called the Retropalooza Swap Meet, where attendees can buy, sell, and trade old video games and toys. It will take place from 10 am to 5 pm March 30 at the Elzie Odom Athletic Center, 1601 NE Green Oaks Blvd. in Arlington. The entry fee is $5, with kids 12 and under getting in free.
Chaser and Hunter themselves will be at the Retropalooza Swap Meet, and they’ll be happy to answer questions, sign autographs, and pose for pictures.