When people first hear about Oasis Online Arcade, which on March 11th celebrated one month since it opened on Main Street in Hackettstown, many ask about the name.
“When you google the name Oasis, you get a lot of [tropical] spots, palm trees and spas,” admits co-owner Brian McFadden.
So he added ‘arcade’ to the name, but then people thought it meant pinball machines and skee ball.
The phrase “gaming cafe” came the closest to what he had in mind: a location for people to come with their friends and play video games in a shared, comfortable space. Yet he worried that the word “cafe” would lead people to expect coffee and croissants.
So, he and his co-owner Peggy Ryals settled on the full name “Oasis Online Arcade.” Walk into the building and you’ll find yourself in a black and electric blue gaming paradise. The top floor holds six PlayStation 5s, six Xbox Series X and ten top-of-the-line gaming computers stocked with popular online multiplayer games like Valorant, Genshin Impact and League of Legends.
The lower level contains two zones. On the left half of the room, decorated in squares of Mario Land red, you’ll find a series of Nintendo Switch consoles anchored to the wall. On the right side, oddly familiar wooden wall planks surround a series of startlingly antiquated TVs, the only models still compatible with older game consoles. Nostalgic fans of PaperBoy and Street Fighter can get their fix here, in the aptly named “Grandma’s Basement.”
As for the “oasis” part of the name, it’s a reference to the film adaptation of Ernest Cline’s novel “Ready Player One.” In the book and movie, the Oasis is a massive online virtual reality world where people take on the identities of their super-powered avatars.
This is exactly the kind of sanctuary that McFadden wanted his new business to provide.
“The Oasis was the place where people want to go to be somebody else, play video games and meet up with your friends,” he says. “Yeah, that’s what I wanted. The name fit.”
Patrons of the Oasis pay $8 an hour for video game time on any machine they choose, with lower prices for larger time packages. McFadden and Ryals see the price as more than fair in the current environment of inflation and ever-higher movie ticket prices.
Moreover, they’re hoping to fill what they see as a gap in the available entertainment options for their town.
“There’s no place of entertainment in Hackettstown,” McFadden says, pointing out that the town used to have three pool halls and now has none. “So I do hear a lot of like, this is what we need. This is what people need in the town.”
McFadden and Ryals opened the Oasis on February 11th. From what they’ve seen after a month in business, their instincts about the need for more entertainment options have proven correct.
“We have our regulars that come in already,” McFadden says. “They come in at least every other day. They sit down for an hour. Sometimes they’re here for three hours.”
Opening the Oasis is literally the dream of a lifetime for McFadden. A gamer since age 10, he originally came up with the idea when he was 19 years old. Years and three kids later, the business concept now calls to McFadden and Ryals for another reason: the chance to impact the next generation.
“For me, this is not just about somebody just coming in and playing,” Ryals says. “This is about boosting kids’ confidence level, get them to have friends, you know, interact with people. Because, listen, we have three boys and they’re to themselves, and they don’t really hang out with a lot of people. They really don’t. And I think a lot of kids lose that.”
For now, McFadden and Ryals are focusing on growing their fledgling business. Their building has plenty of space that McFadden hopes to fill with VR stations, golf simulators, and arcade-style racing games as the Oasis expands. They want to plan theme nights, form partnerships with nearby schools and universities and host tournaments and competitions, though McFadden emphasizes that he doesn’t always want to fill the place with people interested strictly in competitive gaming.
He and Ryals want the Oasis to cater to the span of clientele who’ve walked through their doors so far, including mothers with their sons, daughters with their dads, couples on dates and college buddies looking to escape their dorm rooms.
“Let’s try to get people to come together to do fun things together,” Ryals says. “And it doesn’t have to be your friend that you’ve talked to on Xbox. It could be a total stranger that comes in here. And that’s what we are constantly wanting, you know– a fun place for everybody.”
Chip O'Chang, Contributing Writer
Chip O'Chang is an educator, fiction writer, and lifelong resident of New Jersey. He has also written for My Life Publications and NJ Indy. He lives in the NJ Skylands with his partner, two cats, and and a bearded dragon.