Why Are We Called Magic Cabinet?

As a boy in the mid ‘70s, Magic Cabinet’s Founder, Ken Birdwell, spent many summer days at the Southcenter Mall in south Seattle. One day, while wandering around the mall, he came across something he had never seen before. It looked like a big cabinet with a TV replaying the same 30-second clip of two rectangles moving up and down, knocking a ball around. Curious, Ken walked up to try to understand what he was looking at. As he got closer, he saw that below the tv screen there were buttons and a slot jammed full of quarters. He tried every imaginable way to push and prod with his finger, but he couldn’t unclog the coins.

And so, as kids do, Ken fashioned a little do-hickey made of wire and gum to pull out the stuck quarters. Eventually, he freed the coin slot and had a handful of quarters. Ken was finally going to learn what the cabinet could do. With a drop of a coin and press of a button, the cabinet burst with light and sound. Completely immersed, he forgot about the world around him and experienced another reality with endless possibilities.

After an entire day of playing with the cabinet, Ken was excited to share this discovery with his mom. Blurred by the excitement of the video game, Ken never actually learned what the thing was called. When his mom asked what this loud machine was, Ken didn’t know what to say. He had never seen anything like it before, so he called it the magic cabinet.

Day after day he would head back to the Southcenter Mall, unclog the slot, insert a coin, and play the magic cabinet. Eventually, the game would end, he’d finagle out any stuck quarters, and would play again. Before long, kids surrounded the bright lights and electronic beeps wanting to join the fun. So Ken would help others play by freeing the frequently jamming coin slot and starting another game.

That moment stuck with Ken, leading him through a career of creating tools, teams, and ultimately video games, all aimed to help others better explore the real (or imaginary) world. Over the years, whenever he could find a moment, Ken would tinker away at an idea for a different kind of magic cabinet. But instead of pixels and flashing lights, he wanted to create something constructed out of tools and teams to enable others in their own journey of change.

Just as the original magic cabinet sparked Ken’s career of creation, he founded Magic Cabinet to be that same spark for others. So with a little bit of coin, and the help of everyone’s self-made do-hickey–let’s work together to create a just and equitable world.

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