Directed by: Kurt Vincent
A mark of a good documentary is if it can draw you into the story and keep you engaged. This does that but also manages to do it while also turning out to be about something different than you would have thought. While it was promoted focussing on the video game aspect and used the media of that sector most effectively, it turns out to be about community and belonging and nostalgia hitting the hard wall of real life where it turns out you can’t just live on memories.
I really enjoyed the opening about one of the main protagonists saying how he dreamt he was going to the Chinatown Fair arcade in his dream and he swore that it was like doing it in real life.
While filming inside the arcade the director sees someone else taking photos for posterity and then the story expands to follow this person’s story.
The history of the arcade including the chickens is covered and some of the previous owners are talked to. The history of arcade games is well covered elsewhere so it was not really necessary to show it here mainly just to skip over it.
Some of the people involved in the arcade had difficult lives and nowhere else to go. The owner of the arcade ended up offering them jobs to work there as they were there every day, one of the sweetest lines of the documentary was “my best friend was a 65 year old Pakistani man” and it does show the relationship between the two. A lot of small businesses are run by people who do it for other reasons than money or they would not still be there.
When the arcade finally closes the people going there are upset about losing their community, but one person opens their own space and manages to bring back some of the people. They also find out for themselves how hard it is to run such a place and that nostalgia can’t pay the bills.
The arcade is bought by a new owner who makes it over, changing it as often happens and alienating a lot of the former players. This often happens but there are signs that it is building its own community and one of the customers says it is better than before. I do not know if it is still running though.
I really enjoyed this documentary as I remember going to the arcades myself in the late 80s and early 90s and even when two different places in my small town had arcade machines (one placed closed them down as they did not like teenagers hanging around and swearing, what!?) The one thing not in this film that I remember is one player saying “What am I….” *PERFECT* (machine response to no-damage round). The person in question also said their parents threatened to buy an arcade machine just so they would stay home.
I used to be in a bowling league and there were always heaps of arcade machines there also.
It does seem to be different in the documentary as the owners have to buy their machines rather than renting them. The Street Fighter IV machine was a custom build as it was not released in the arcades in the USA. One of the arcades featured in the documentary largely used consoles as it was cheaper. I remember a video store charging by the hour in the 90s. I spent a long time there.
I would recommend this documentary even if you are not that into games as the audience seemed quite mixed and the stories are interesting to enough that you would enjoy them.