Let's Visit A Sad Arcade
August 24, 2011
They say that the American arcade is dead, but I don't want to believe them. Spending a few tokens at the Barrel Of Fun arcade at my old hometown mall was a staple of my childhood, and sometimes I like to attempt to recapture that old feeling. Several weekends ago I decided to make the grand pilgrimage to a brand new Dave & Buster's that opened up in Orlando, FL, but didn't consider that the place is located right in the middle of the largest tourist stretch in the region. The parking lot was packed to capacity and I wasn't able to go inside. But that's fine, for earlier in the day I had the privilege of visiting the other arcade in the area: Fantasy Arcade in Festival Bay Mall. Festival Bay is dying a slow, protracted death (an overwhelming majority of the retail spaces were empty), and while the arcade still lingers on, it's a pitiful sight to see and reflects the state of the average modern independently run video game business. C'mon, everybody, let's visit a sad arcade!
At first glance this doesn't seem to be so bad a place. It's loaded with arcade games, after all. Take a closer look, however, and you'll find that few of the machines are working and the ones that are up and running are suffering from the ravages of age: faded cabinets, burned-in screens, broken controls, and other problems.
Here's a look at the back wall of the room, but the machines are not actually up against that wall. We'll see why in a moment. Mortal Kombat is working, but its screen has faded to a dim shade of purple. Dance Dance Revolution is offline, as is the game next to it and half of the two-player cabinet beside that. It's not much of a fantasy, really.
Dead games honor no tokens. Mortal Kombat II? Dead. Smashing Drive? Dead. Street Fighter Alpha 3 is just off in the corner though and it is working fine with no issues from what I could tell. So this place has that going for it, which is nice. Other highlights: a half-dead Virtual On machine, a dim but working Street Fighter III unit (original release), several varieties of X-Men games in various states of performance, and a Batman Forever cabinet that is in working order (not that you'd want to play it). I feel bad speaking ill of this place. Obviously it's fallen on hard times and the owner(s) is/are doing the best that can be done to keep the sinking ship above water. It must be a labor of love. If you're ever in the area, consider stopping by and spending a few coins on one of the working games. It's easy to point and laugh, but this is someone's livelihood here. I have no idea whom though. There was nobody running the place when I stopped by.
Behind the back row of games you'll find this graveyard of long-dead cabinets that have been scavenged and harvested for spare parts in order to keep the other games working for as long as possible. They've been here for a while considering all of the dust layered on each one that I could see. It's depressing to see them like this, really. It's like stumbling on an electronic mass grave.