At first glance Arcade Infinity seemed nothing more than a noisy and dimly-lit hole in the wall room full of obscure Japanese arcade machines. In truth, Arcade Infinity at Diamond Plaza in Rowland Heights was the heart and core of the gaming community in Southern California for more than a decade.
Saturday February 26 was the last day the arcade would open its doors before closing permanently. A large crowd filled the small space leaving hardly any room to maneuver down its narrow aisles. Many came to play their final tokens and to say goodbye. A mixture of economic hardship and leasing contract difficulties led to the arcade's unfortunate demise. This is a hard hit for many of its loyal customers. It is a place that has been referred to as legendary, not only by local arcade aficionados, but fans across the country.
“It's one of the last arcades around,” said Ben Hino, who drove all the way from San Diego to visit the arcade one final time.
He commented, “It promoted people to be social in a physical sense, unlike if you are playing on your home console. You're playing across electronic lines. You don't get to meet friends.”
Aaron Blean, Jet and Andy Piepho are great examples of what kind of social outlet Arcade Infinity had provided its patrons. The three have been hanging out at Arcade Infinity for the little over the ten years that it has been open.
Jet said, “Just coming here and getting to meet and greet with all the skilled players, it makes you grow as a person and as a player. The place has its own charm and the environment is so intimate that you just can't help but get to know other people.”
Blean pointed out the huge crowd present that night, how they're playing on machines that will be gone the next day, and how all these people were a “collective of over ten years of people's lives coming to this place. Almost like a high school reunion.”
He added, “It's not just about the games, it's about making friends.”
Despite the sad sentiments that night, everyone was highly appreciative of the arcade and especially of its owner Ken Tao.
“No matter how difficult it was to get a game Ken would always try and secure it for the players. Pretty much that is what we're going to lose here,” said Piepho. “He kept the community alive with the games you couldn't play anywhere else. There will never be another arcade like it.”
Arcade Infinity provided games such as Guitar Freaks and Dance Dance Revolution before they were available to the mainstream public. For many this arcade was the one place to play unique music games that were not available at other places, like Pop'n Music by Konami. Many of the other machines, such as Gundam 00 and the Azumanga Daioh bubble puzzle game, came straight from Japan and were still in their original Japanese language.
The most prominent crowd that filled the small space was the Street Fighter community that fought head to head on Street Fighter IV and on the newest release of
Capcom Vs. Marvel 3Marvel vs. Capcom 3. I have spent a lot of time in this arcade and watched hardcore gamers hold tournaments or challenge each other tirelessly for hours. The fighting game community had grown and prospered mainly because Arcade Infinity provided them with a home. It is a home that many, many people will miss.
“It's kind of a testament to 'You don't know what you got until it's gone,'” said Eddie Lehecka, a regular at the arcade. Lehecka told me that he moved to Southern California from Ohio largely because of Arcade Infinity. “I don't think anyone really understands the scale and scope of AI closing in terms of what it will mean to the video game and arcade industries as a whole.”
Anna Huang has worked at the arcade since July 2010, but was a customer and a player long before that. She had more upbeat final words. “Long live AI, dude,” Huang said with a smile. “Even though it's shutting down, everyone will still remember. It was one of the best.”
Jet echoed Huang's sentiments. “These are the last words I'm going to say: never forget!”
Follow Dianne Garcia on Twitter @punkagogo.