Before there was Next Level Arcade or NLBC, New York City’s fighting game community was harbored in the city’s arcades. Even as American arcades dwindled and Street Fighter II cabinets disappeared from stores, Manhattan’s Chinatown Fair remained a hub for the city’s gamers, and a landmark for the East Coast’s most impressive fighting game talent. In their film The Lost Arcade director Kurt Vincent and writer Irene Chin explore the elements that helped Chinatown Fair foster its unique community and the competitive spirit that led to the creation of Next Level.
Frequently referred to as “New York City’s last great arcade,” Chinatown Fair’s history predates video games altogether: it first opened in 1944, and eventually became a video arcade during the ’70s. The Lost Arcade focuses on how the arcade became an essential crossroads for New York City’s gamers under the ownership of Pakistani immigrant Sam Palmer, who purchased the business in 1982.
“I wanted to create a film that would capture the spirit that hit me the first time I walked through those doors,” Vincent said in a statement about the film. “There was a melting pot of a community that congregated there, where all walks of life came together and shared one common interest: video games. It was a microcosm of what New York was all about.”
Palmer began investing in fighting games at the advice of Henry Cen, his employee and business partner. In a time before “FGC” was a common term, Chinatown Fair gave many their first exposure to high-level fighting game play. The Lost Arcade captures the arcade’s weekend crowds for Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike — late night tournaments would keep the arcade open past 2:00 AM.
The arcade served as a proving ground for a generation of New York City fighting game players: Justin Wong, Chris G, Sanford Kelly and Arturo Sanchez were just some of the faces among the fierce competition. Cen even made sure console titles like Super Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 made their way to the arcade.
The Lost Arcade captures Chinatown Fair’s fall and rebirth, as rising costs pushed Palmer out of business in 2011. Cen opened Next Level shortly thereafter as a refuge for the city’s fighting game players. The film shows the Brooklyn venue flourish from an empty canvas to a vibrant competitive space while a new owner eventually re-opened Chinatown Fair, without fighting games, a year later. The Lost Arcade contrasts the rise of Next Level with the community’s attempts to adjust to a very different Chinatown Fair.
Through the eyes of Palmer, Cen and Akuma Hotaru, a Next Level and Chinatown Fair employee, The Lost Arcade relates of how the spirit of community can transform the simplest of spaces into something more.
“It had its own language, its own quirks, these vibes that attracted like-minded kids to a place that may have been a safe haven even from their own home,” Vincent said of the arcade. “You talk to these patrons, and they just want to share their stories and history of the Chinatown Fair to keep it alive. They’re detailing accounts of meeting a best friend, getting into fights, a first kiss and meeting the love of their life.”
The Lost Arcade is available on most digital platforms including iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Steam, Vimeo, VHX, Vudu, Microsoft and Sony video services, Comcast Infinity and Direct TV. For more information visit arcademovie.com
Source: Kurt Vincent