Filed under: Features | Tags: Bitmob, Street Fighter Alpha 3, The Highest Arcade in the World
Almost ten years ago to the day I was crammed in the back of a Jeep with 3 friends, slowly climbing the impossibly steep roads that snake their way up the Himalayas. Our destination was Darjeeling, India, the “Queen of the Hill Stations.”
We had initially planned Darjeeling to be a stop-off on the way to Tibet, but when 1600 Maoists laid siege to a Tibeten police post, we were advised against unnecessary travel. We didn’t argue.
Darjeeling had its own attractions though. Our lodgings looked out on the vast expanse of lush tea bushes stretching down along the hillslopes. You could just about make out the figures of tea-pickers in the fields, old ladies with baskets draped over one arm, quickly making their way along the steep, leafy rows. The town itself is so high that when we opened the balcony doors, clouds poured into our room. Mount Everest loomed in the distance. It was stunning.
Despite this, it isn’t the views that are my enduring memory of Darjeeling, but something a little more unique. For among the little shops and restaurants sat high in the Indian sky is a small room, little more than a shack really; the highest arcade in the world.
When I say “arcade” what I really mean is a collection of old televisions wired up to PlayStations, arranged across a battered formica tabletop. Covering the entire back wall was a massive cabinet stuffed to bursting with pirated PSOne games, complete with poorly photocopied boxart. For just a few rupees the young boy that ran the arcade would grab the game of your choice, pop it into a PlayStation and keep you topped up with cups of Darjeeling’s finest. After days of travelling, catching snippets of sleep on noisy, dusty trains, this was exactly what we needed.
We spent all day sat in there, making our way though every two player game we could find. Racing games both familiar and unfamiliar (Kill Kartoon Karts anyone?) and a fair few sports titles were devoured before we eventually settled down for a marathon session of Street Fighter Alpha 3.
The arcade boy – silent during the couple of hours we had already spent in his makeshift gaming temple – suddenly became more animated. Each win was greeted with a beaming smile and applause, a well executed Super Combo drew loud cheers. He didn’t understand English, but he understood Street Fighter. We had miniature audience.
I played to our one-boy crowd, winning round after round in as stylish and obnoxious a manner as I could, lifting my arms in victory with each win, high-fiving the arcade boy after each flashy combo. We laughed at my friend’s expense as he cursed loudly, disgusted by my arrogance. After a couple of hours of this he became bored of loosing and the gloating that accompanied it, nodded at the boy and handed him the controller.
What followed was a thorough schooling in the art of fighters. Arcade boy battered me, I lost round after round, each loss punctuated by the cheers and high-fives of the boy and my friend. His Sagat was unstoppable. Every tactic, every trick, everything I had, arcade boy had an answer to. With a smile as wide as his face he even mimicked my arms-raised victory dance. My friend loved every second of it.
In the Jeep on the way back down the mountain, I reflected on my time in Darjeeling. The views and the monasteries, the orchids and the sunsets; they were beautiful, inspiring. But it was the boy’s shrine to gaming that stuck most strongly in my mind. The cloud-wrapped videogame shack. The highest arcade in the world.
(For the begining of ‘The Search for Arcade Boy’, click here)
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