Once upon a time, on 8 Mott St, New York, NY 10038 there was an arcade. It wasn’t just any arcade, dimly lit and full of various sounds, but it was a haven for the gaming community of New York City. Chinatown Fair Arcade was a special place for many gamers who sought a place to enjoy their games while building relationships and friendly rivalries.
Funny story, I myself went there and didn’t even know it was a big deal! If you didn’t know, I was born in Brooklyn, NYC, and when I would go to visit my grandmother (I live in Miami, FL) in Manhattan, I loved taking the train to China Town.
So before the internet was so easy to access and information readily available as today, I found that there was an arcade in China Town that I had never heard of called Chinatown Fair. I thought it was some kind of festival or something, since the word “fair” to me meant…a fair!
Once I arrived, I was in Heaven. All the gamers, new fighting games, DDR (Dance Dance Revolution), and more. I tried my skills with Street Fighter 3: Third Strike playing as Elena and got schooled by an Asian player. The same thing happened with DDR, as I was pretty good back then playing on Hard (around 6-7 feet difficulty) but still got rocked by another guy who played like it was no big deal.
Round 1, Fight!
Browsing through Amazon Prime Video, I found this interesting documentary on that same arcade, Chinatown Fair. While folding laundry, I watched it and was intrigued as to the power of community this place brought to gamers.
The documentary is about the start and eventual end of this arcade and contains interviews from the owner, an employee who opened his own arcade to keep the original’s memory alive, and players who spent a lot of time there.
In the 1980s, Sam Palmer opened the Chinatown Fair Arcade, a place of entertainment in a rather run-down and obscure corner of Chinatown. This is what made the place attractive though because it was literally one of those “holes in the wall” that you wouldn’t expect much from, but in the end, it was a fun place to go.
It captured memories, emotions, but most of all, the community that was built around certain the fighting game genre of video games, which still exists today and grows every year. For those not aware of the popularity of fighting games like Street Fighter, Tekken, Super Smash Bros., Soul Calibur, and others then visit the EVO Competition.
The interviews were what I was focusing the most on because I felt a connection to them. I lived some of my childhood in arcades with friends back in the day, so I know that it can bring together people.
What it reminded me of is how people crave that desire for community, even with video games. For some people, they are just a past time, but for some, it’s an important social gathering.
One thing that made me a little sad though was how the fans of the arcade were so heartbroken that it was gone. Many people are lonely, or just don’t have that strong network of friends/family so when that connection is cut, it hits them hard. It reminded me to pray for gamers, especially those struggling with loneliness.
The Lost Arcade jumped around quite a bit, from showing the history of the arcade to interviews, what happened to the place after it closed, and then other entertainment spots that came after.
It was a little slow in the later parts, as it was just showing how the new arcade Next Level came up and what was happening there. Then it just sort of ends and that’s it.
If you enjoy arcades, especially in their glory days, you will find this documentary interesting. For those that are looking for more than that, there isn’t much to offer.
I would have liked to see the docu tie together everything better, but I can say that I did enjoy the trip down memory lane and seeing good ol’ NYC as I remember it when I was younger.
You can stream The Lost Arcade on Amazon Prime.