Review: “The Lost Arcade”

The arcades of New York City hold a special memory for those who remember that era. Before the rise of online gaming, the arcades were the place where gamers tested their skills against each other. Although online gaming has its positives in terms of keeping score of total statistics and building a community of players, it is not quite the same as the arcades of the era preceding it. Before the home consoles outpaced the arcade hardware, that was the place to be seen doing the nicest combo strings, and drawing exclamations of “ooohhh!!!” from the crowd after a particularly tough win. The Lost Arcade is a reminder of that, and more.

The Lost Arcade tells the story of the last old school arcade in New York City, Chinatown Fair. This, in contrast to the family entertainment centers that seemed to spring up everywhere in the 2000’s. This film by Kurt Vincent and Irene Chin tells the story of this legendary arcade in Manhattan, where people came from all around the city to play. Entire gaming communities sprung up around this place, as was true of any dedicated arcade in those days. In the film, they interview many of the key people, including the owner of the arcade. They also interview the people that frequented CTF, who added to the scene.

Alamo Drafthouse

As a gamer, this film was a trip down memory lane. I have been to Chinatown Fair.. a few times(to be modest), and recall what that place was like. This documentary did a good job on capturing the feeling of those days. We are talking about an arcade that closed in 2011, that did end up reopening a year after under new management. However, as is the case with many things, it just was not the same. The impact of this reality was brought home in the documentary, and we see just how different things are. While it is understandable that the arcade purists feel a certain way about their era, what has been apparent is that the old business model of the arcades just is not viable economically. Those are the realities of gaming in an online console connected and mobile gaming era.

I also want to mention that I was fortunate enough to catch this particular documentary at the Alamo Drafthouse in Downtown Brooklyn. Considering the focus of this venue, it was the ideal place to show such a film. It’s a really nice, new theater, and I liked the retro movie theme that was apparent. Irene Chin was at the theater, taking questions about The Lost Arcade and what motivated its creation. Although the era is gone, and not likely to return, it is worth noting. For teenagers and young adults, there was nothing like putting your quarters up and calling out “I Got Next!” to the line of people in front of you. A place where many sorts of outcasts gathered, it was a place where you could just be. In this writer’s opinion, you have to love video games to really get The Lost Arcade. From the footage of matches shown, to the soundtrack, it was all done quite well. If you want to remember what it was like in those arcade hopping days before Evo was even a thing, then The Lost Arcade is for you.


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