Monday, February 23, 2009

Arcadia Part One: Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade

This is the first entry in a three part piece entitled Arcadia. The second and third installments will cover philosophic readings of Berserk and some personal experiences in arcade hunting, respectively. Part one reviews the movie that inspired these articles.


Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade is a brilliant documentary detailing the glorious rise and ultimate fall of the Golden Age of video games. Comparisons between GC:BtA and King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters will inevitably arise: both documentaries star some of the same people and examine similar themes and ideas. King of Kong, unfortunately, proved highly inaccurate for a documentary (despite telling a great story). Chasing Ghosts does not suffer from the same problem.

The film draws an implicit parallel between the lives of some of the greatest arcade players and the end of the Arcade Era. Some stories are truly sad, even depressing, but the film doesn't just poke fun at them. There is a respect for the subject matter, an understanding that life doesn't work out for everyone, and, hey, these people are still living even after their dreams were crushed.

These players were on top of the world from 1980-1983, when the market started to crash. The most powerful image in the film is a series of arcades flashing, with the date they closed at the bottom. Dozens of arcades closed their doors between 1983 and 1985, and almost overnight the arcade scene was decimated. Some made their living from video games, and were left unemployed. Others were disillusioned and left the gaming world forever. Others dedicated their lives to preserving arcade gaming in history.

Ultimately, Chasing Ghosts is about lost dreams. Arcades were magical places, highly social, unique creations. The world turned its back on them, and some of the players subsequently turned their back on the world. Video games survived, but the arcade is dead; it was intense and brief like the life of a Romantic poet. Surely all things are transient, but arcades were something special, and their death was premature.

5 comments:

Colin, Master of Berzerk said...

Ah. I'm very glad that our many many discussions about this are finally amounting to something. I hope that alot of people read this series of articles. This is important shit dammit. Oh and adam, 6350 on Berzerk. I'll email you the screenshot. beat that, hooker.

samiorigami said...

great article on a great documentary.

saddest story:
fallen hero: old and ugly living with his parents and his 20 pound cat. working 60 hours a week and spending the rest of his waking hours watching other people's videos of their video game conquests...

what a sad documentary...
i agree that somehow the director maintains respect... i dont know how he does it...
two thumbs up to anyone who is considering watching it!

Del_Duio said...

At the time, nothing was better than cashing in a $5 for tokens and spending a couple of hours at the arcade playing the likes of Frogger, Dig Dug, Ms. Pac Man, Galaga, Centipede, Mappy, the list goes on and on. Centiepde & Millipede had the awesome track ball. Pole Position had a friggin' steering wheel & gas / brake pedals (big stuff for a little kid back then.)

The craziest thing I ever saw arcade-wise was when I was a little kid at the YMCA. They had a Pac Man machine in the main room and this teenager was seriously playing the best game of pac man I'd ever seen (and still haven't seen anybody come remotely close to this kid.) He got so far his levels were way, WAY, past cherries and oranges and far into weird shit like keys and coke cans. Unreal.

Dominic said...

arcades as Keats? i like it.

i did love king of kong. i want to get my hands on this; unfortunately, netflix doesn't have it available.

Sweet Time said...

This movie has inspired my friend and I to open our own Comic Shop/ Classic Arcade.