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.