In an era when home gaming and online play dominate, the arcade is definitely suffering. Among them is Arcade Infinity, or AI, one of the premiere arcades in Southern California that specializes in importing the most update games and keeping them in tip-top shape. Originally slated to close for good this past Saturday, AI hosted a final farewell party. Due to several generous parties, however, AI was saved and the farewell became a celebration instead.
Despite the arcade staying open, the event was one of the largest that AI has seen in a while. Upon arriving at 4PM, which was several hours after the arcade had opened and quite a bit before closing, I was treated to quite a surprise already. Any time before the evening was usually the designated “dead time,” with few customers around and the staff usually cleaning up. On Saturday, however, the arcade was packed with narrow paths, outlined by standing gamers to walk through, few games were vacant, and crowds of people were on the balcony outside the arcade, reminiscing about old times.
Outside, aside from talking, people also enjoyed the day in other ways. There was a barbeque running, with part of the proceeds being donated to AI, people playing mahjong on the side, and electronic music blaring on a speaker. While the arcade was definitely the main attraction, the party became a social event and celebration of the people that came to and supported AI throughout the years, rather than just the games that were available for play.
The same day, AI also had the newly released Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition installed and available for just one token per play. This is in contrast to the nearby Round 1, a franchise of a Japanese arcade, which charges four tokens per play. It was odd to see AI be able to charge so little for a game so new until I found out that the arcade board was generously donated by an anonymous party. That is how much love there is for AI. And the fact that AI is charging so little shows how much love they can give back to the gaming community.
As the clock hit midnight, crowds gathered around owner Ken Tao and longtime AI supporter Eddie Lehecka as they popped open two bottles of champagne in support of AI’s last ten years. Walking away from the event, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that it would have been such a shame to lose this place. As great and cheap as home gaming and online play are, there’s nothing quite like going out to an arcade, meeting new friends, and seeing a challenger sit right across from you. There’s no guarantee how much longer AI, or any arcade will stay in business for. It’s best for us to support and enjoy these businesses while they’re still around.