There is always this nostalgic feeling I get when I run into a broken down machine some where as I walk around NYC. I either walk pass a factor and find a wrecked arcade machine and this time it was an old Pac-man machine. I do not have fond memories, but my greatest one was on Pitkin Ave. and Dumont I believe shopping with my mother in the mid 90’s right by a newstand some owner had the first Street Fighter arcade mission. That is right even news stand owners had their own arcade machine. I just missed the atmosphere of actually going out to a local sandwich shop or pizza place with your friends to battle it out with many other people. I used to save so many quarters especially ones my mom never used when doing laundry just to set up for the weekend. This was the real way to social network and talk crap with the guys at the arcade while waiting our turn on the machines. I have to admit during this time it was a huge sausage fest with the ratio of females was very low. I recently just had a Birthday and I look back as I saw this machine and was just thinking, “Damn those were some good times, but what happened?” Was it really the money issues, did consoles really kill arcades or was it something else?
A while ago I brought a book called “High Scores! The Illustrated History of Electronic Games”. It touched base on the rise, fall and rise again of the video game industry. There were so many memories I had as I went through this book and seeing my era of the late 80’s going into the 90’s. The era of fighting games in the arcade was my down fall in the form of the street fighter series. In this era arcades were still affordable and even though the massive arguments we had with our parents about going to the arcade to play games because we had consoles at home, still had a big audience. I had my fair share of wins when Marvel vs. Capcom came out, because it was a whole new ball game from there. I digress because I am moving away from my point. I will admit that it was not always friendly with certain gamers, especially with fighting games that brought on a lot of tension when some people lost. That was the atmosphere which was very lively was how we truly interacted as gamers. There was nothing like sitting down and hashing out strategies to take down opponents or discussing what is your best moves in a way to share your skills with one another. Besides it really got us gamers out of the house more and made us social creatures, contrary to what society believed.
So what did bring down the arcades? There is one main fact that consoles got popular and the arcades got more expensive. I do believe there was more too it to bring its downfall and frankly being a New Yorker Chinatown Arcade was the last great place to do your thing, even if it was a bit funky, but that’s what Febreeze was for! This was the list of places to hang before consoles went online!
- Lazer Park
- Chinatown Arcade
- Broadway City Arcade
- Chuck E Cheese
The first time Barcode opened up it was a mixture of a night club with arcade machines…very expensive arcade machines that only 18 and up could get into, but there was a kid portion on the top floor. I honestly knew this place was going to have problems when you have a bouncer and liquor involved with an arcade. That same factor happened with Broadway City Arcade which was a lot more promising than Barcode. There is a funny story when I went to Barcode to play this Ferrari simulator game that cost five dollars to play and it had four screens to give you a nice view from front to the sides of your vehicle. Now another player was waiting for me to finish up, but I was on a winning streak and the rules state if you come in first you get a free race. I am going to let you in on something, I just spent five dollars on an arcade machine and you think I am going to lose anytime soon? You must be bugging, but after my tenth race I passed the torch because the wipeout simulator was finally free for me to play. At this point and time I went to the arcades to play more of the simulations and light games that were not being ported to the consoles, but damn did it eat up my check and too many drunk idiots started to form.
The downfall of an era? The first incident was at Barcode where a bouncer was stabbed and then a shooting happened at Broadway City Arcade a few weeks later. I at first thought that closed down the places, but come to find out from my friend Serafin Santiago Jr. who stated that the property cost was too damn high in Times Square. Lazer Park followed soon after and the only places to hit up was Chinatown fair and some Sandwich shops like Pennsylvania Ave in Brooklyn that surprised me with Initial D racing game. The fighting games were still in arcades and for the most part were still the best way to battle many people, until they finally made it online.
There was a last great hope with Chinatown fair and the urban scene hitting up this mixture of vintage games as well as updated ones. It was still affordable versus other places and it was a great chill spot that stayed open till late. It felt like the 90’s all over again. It felt nostalgic and right at the time, even with the DDR gamers and their super funk, but they used air freshener to be nice! Then you have places like Dave & Busters with a high end security detail and family friendly games; meh it is good for the tourist.
In the end I never thought that Arcades would ever go, but at least there are still some good places to enjoy a nice social structure without online gaming with tournaments or hanging with friends at gaming parties. I still hear to this day from some, “Why go to an arcade when you have a game system at home?” I could say the same on people that go to clubs when they have music and liquor at home. It is all about the atmosphere and the enjoyment of face to face competition. I commend those that try to keep to the old ways of social gaming; it is something not even the online community can provide. Stay frosty gamers!