The Last of Manhattan’s Original Video Arcades | Modern Society of USA

The Last of Manhattan’s Original Video Arcades

The Last of Manhattan’s Original Video Arcades

Video arcades — those recreational arenas of illuminated screens and 8-bit soundtracks — have been fading from the cultural landscape since the end of the Donkey Kong ’80s. The advent of home video game consoles, hand-held gaming devices and smartphones has all but rendered them relics of a Gen X childhood.

Yet somehow, Chinatown Fair Family Fun Center lives on. The cramped downtown institution is among the last of the city’s old-school arcades, often filled with gamers too young to remember Street Fighter IV a decade ago, let alone Missile Command in the Reagan years.

“Chinatown Fair should have closed years ago, along with all the other arcades in the city, due to rising rent and the shift to online gaming,” said Kurt Vincent, who directed “The Lost Arcade,” a 2016 documentary about the arcade’s enduring legacy in the city. “But it’s still there on Mott Street after all these years because young people need a place to come together.”

With revenues dwindling, however, Mr. Palmer was forced to retire in 2011. Chinatown Fair seemed doomed. It lay shuttered for more than a year.

Instead, a new owner, Lonnie Sobel, took over with a mission to bring out the “family fun” part of the arcade’s full name, luring the birthday party crowd with carnival classics like air hockey, Super Shot basketball and Down the Clown, along with driving games from Japan and the latest shooter games. “To bring in the families, there has to be more than fighting arcade games,” Mr. Sobel said in Mr. Vincent’s film.

Of course, any gamer would say that their chosen pastime is inherently social. But too many people in too little space is a time-honored New York formula. It is what forces us to connect. Which may be one of the reasons that this arcade lives on.

“When you’re playing a video game standing next to a person, you are connected through this physical object,” Mr. Vincent said. “There’s more respect, more sportsmanship, than if you’re playing online. You learn from one another, you get heated and angry. It’s just so much more visceral.”

And, like most forms of entertainment, it’s an escape.

“Would you rather hang out in a small apartment, with your parents in the other room and your mom in the kitchen, or go to the arcade, get some bubble tea, and hang out all night?” Mr. Vincent said. “That’s why Chinatown Fair is still here.”

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