Jonathan Silverman, 11, gazed forlornly at the video game screen as the computerized image of the knight from Dragon's Lair plunged into a flaming pit.
"Darn!" the Silver Spring boy snapped, as he jockeyed the joy stick to save the knight.
"He's a fanatic," said his father, Mark Silverman. "He can dump $10 or $20 into these games without question."
Today, however, children played for free to help demonstrate the 268 video games auctioned at a massive liquidation sale held at the 200-year-old Savage Mill, a former textile plant that now serves as a community center and artist's haven in this Howard County town.
The games were once used by Washington-area Chuck E. Cheese pizza parlors to lure children and their parents into the restaurants. During the past three years, the video game craze has cooled faster than a pepperoni pizza and that helped force Family Entertainment Centers Inc., owner of 14 restaurants in Virginia and Maryland, into bankruptcy proceedings.
For the Silvermans and about 90 other bidders, however, the chain's misfortune provided an opportunity to pick up the electronic game machines at bargain prices.
"Anything junior wants junior gets," said Kimberly Anderson, 25, a bidder from Columbia, who wanted a game for her home but failed to submit a winning bid.
"I want to give one to my kids for Christmas," said Phillip Vellines, 30, another bidder who managed a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Marlow Heights. He managed to pick up a Donkey Kong game for $275 -- well under its list price of $1,500.
To video game dealers, who wanted to buy some of the machines at bargain prices today, the number of young, affluent bidders in the crowd was depressing.
"If it was just operators in here, these prices would be a lot different," said Bill Humphries of Covington, Va., who drove 200 miles for the opportunity to buy some machines.
Indeed, bidding jumped out to a fast start. A popular Atari Millipede game sold for $575, a bargain compared to its $1,500 price when new. As the sales continued, prices began to slide. Dragon's Lair, a game based on laser technology, sold for $800, a fraction, said auctioneer Gene Adams, of its $4,500 list price. Less popular models sold for $50 to $175, but bidding soared on such favorites as Donkey Kong and Midway's Galaga, which sold for $275 to $475. Ms. Pac-Man machines easily outsold all other Pac-Man versions by more than $200.
Three years ago, dealers said they could make $200 a week off popular machines, but today they are lucky to make $40. "A lot of these machines really won't bring in what they're selling for," said Bill Rush, 27, a dealer. "They're better off in someone's basement."