Depending on your age, you might have fond memories of putting endless coins into Street Fighter or Time Crisis arcade machines, usually on some boring seaside family holiday. Or maybe you’re young enough that the idea of actually having to go to a physical location to play videogames against other people seems insane, instead of just logging into Xbox Live.
Videogame arcades have all but disappeared from malls and high streets in the West these days, as modern games consoles can offer everything a high end coin-op cabinet can, and online play gives you and endless stream of new opponents without leaving your house. But something they can’t replicate is the experience of hanging out, in person with other humans. A new documentary called The Lost Arcade captures the undefinable magic of these dusty old meeting points. It tells the story of ‘Chinatown Fair’, one of the last remaining arcade in New York’s Chinatown, as it faces closure. Chinatown Fair had become a mythical location, a hangout and safe space for a diverse young crowd, attracting both god-level Street Fighter and Dance Dance Revolution players, and kids trying to escape the world. The film serves as both a social history of NY and a chronicle of the human stories of its owners and patrons, including runaway kids who ended sleeping and eventually working at the arcade, and its eccentric elderly owner who became a surrogate parent to some of them (and also knew nothing about videogames). It’s also a great looking documentary — old footage of New York always looks cool, but this captures the neon of the cabinets like a Michael Mann film, accompanied by an appropriate electro score.
We spoke to director Kurt Vincent and producer Irene Chin chat about making the film, the growing acceptance of games in the mainstream, and how Chinatown Fair is holding out today.