Film Review: The Lost Arcade

By Jasmin Justo

“The Lost Arcade” is a documentary directed by Kurt Vincent and Irene Chin. The documentary captures the impact of arcade culture in New York City between the 1980’s to modern day. The film begins with a brief introduction about the golden age of arcade gaming in 1980-1990. Times Square and Chinatown Fair was one of the iconic places were teenagers and adults alike would go and play the latest video games such as Street Fighter and Pacman. There was a fierce competition between the two places to get the newest arcade game releases. However, when Nintendo released its first home gaming system, the arcade industry dropped drastically leading to the migration of players to the sole arcade open, Chinatown Fair. Chinatown Fair was mostly visited by tourists for the dancing, tic-toe playing chickens. However when the Times Square arcade center shutdown, local teens would flock to the Chinatown Fair and with a new manager, the arcade stayed in business surviving the turf wars of the neighborhood and rising rents.

The documentary follows three main protagonists whose lives centered around the arcade. Victor “Spooky” Fontanez escaped the abuse of his foster family in his early teen years and found shelter in the Times Square arcade center. At the center, he was a given a job to help maintain the place and formed a new family with the gamer community. When the Times Square arcade shutdown, he migrated to Chinatown Fair and got a job. This is when he met Henry Cen, a local Chinatown teen. Henry wasn’t always fascinated with games, but he was fascinated with the machines and got a job at Chinatown Fair, learning to assemble and fix the machines. He even learned how to transition video game console games to the arcade format. The new manager who took over the arcade business didn’t know about arcades very much, but through a strange dream he had, he decided to take ownership as an business venture. As he learned about the business, Henry became his right hand man, maintaining the machines and became a father figure for “Spooky” and the gamer community.

However, with the increasing costs of rent and maintenance, the arcade shutdown in February 2012. The documentary not only the captures the history of the arcade gaming culture, but also captures the spirit of the arcade gamer experience featuring the stories of other gamers who flock to the place to participate in tournaments, hang out with friends, and for the overall the positive ambience. However, when the Chinatown Fair reopened under new management, most of the original gamers expressed looks of disappointment with the new “family-friendly” children games that replaced the original racing, fighting and dance game machines. The original employees Henry Cen and “Spooky”, decided to open up their own arcade to recapture the past ambience. Next Level was founded by the two as an arcade center in Brooklyn. It is still in operation and hosts weekly competitions and tournaments for the gamer community with game consoles and trading card games. Plus, it even has some of the original arcade machines and games such as the classic Street Fighter series and Dance-Dance-Revolution.

For updates on the documentary screenings visit the website: www.arcademovie.com

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