Iowa City Turns to Pac-Man to Save Local Economy

OTTUMWA, Iowa—In hard times, cities often look for an edge to generate buzz and draw new businesses. Ottumwa—a fading manufacturing town far from the high-tech glitz of Silicon Valley—wants to be the Cooperstown of video games.

After declaring itself home to the International Video Game Hall of Fame last year, Ottumwa this weekend is inducting its first class of honorees during a four-day festival at the local convention center. Big Bang 2010 features legendary Donkey Kong players, a Pac-Man birthday party and bands with names like ComputeHER. A proper museum, akin to baseball's site in upstate New York, will follow in the next five years, organizers said.

But the city of 25,000 has had its hopes dashed before, and isn't sure where the money will come from for its planned multimillion-dollar complex.

"We want to be the most complete archive of video-game history," said Dan Canny, vice-president of the Hall of Fame's board. "Maybe we had no business stepping up and doing this, but we're doing it."

Mr. Canny, 36 years old, said the Hall could lift his hometown out of a 30-year funk and help it tap into the $58 billion global gaming industry. Unemployment here was 9.2% in June, compared with 6.6% in the rest of Iowa. The two largest employers are a meat-processing plant and a John Deere factory.

Ottumwa can't claim to be the birthplace of Atari (San Jose, Calif.), the Xbox (Redmond, Wash.) or Nintendo Co. (Kyoto, Japan), but it is was here that a local invented the idea of keeping track of video-game scores in 1982.

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