The polish of modern gaming has nearly killed off the arcade era, but at what cost? The Lost Arcade, a documentary about Chinatown Fair, New York City's last true arcade, captures the camaraderie, grit and sex that was all part of that culture. "There was a melting pot of a community that congregated there," says director Kurt Vincent, "where all walks of life came together and shared one common interest: video games."
A big part of the film's charm is the grime of New York City, and the "CF," as locals called it, looks like every seedy thing you ever imagined about the Big Apple. It was founded at an unknown date, but came to prominence in the '70s with coin-op games like Space Invaders, Ms. Pac-Man, Defender and Asteroids. It was around that time it was purchased by Pakistani immigrant Sam Palmer, who said the arcade "came to him in a dream."
The story is told via its two protagonists, local Chinatown resident Henry Cen and Akuma Hokura, a foster home runaway who found some peace by gaming. The core of the film is about the culture, relationships and vibe of the place, which attracted prostitutes and drug dealers as well as gamers. "That's what this movie is really asking," says Vincent. "How did this arcade manage to break down all social barriers that usually prevent seemingly disparate people from connecting with one another?"
When it closed in 2011, Chinatown Fair was the one of the last true arcades in New York. (It reopened under new management in 2012.) Its bittersweet fate is offset a bit by a section on the resurgence of "barcade gaming," a trend Engadget's Jessica Conditt reported on last year.
The film played to decent reviews, and should appeal to fans of gaming history as well lovers of old-school New York culture. It's now available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, VHX, Vimeo and Vudu $10, or $3 as a rental. To get the links, check here.