| insert credit | feature | Adventures in SF Wonderland |


Adventures in SF Wonderland
by brandon sheffield

Last summer, I worked at an architectural firm in San Francisco. Once or twice per week I took my lunch hour outside of a Bank of America a few blocks over. It had a nice 5-foot raised planter to sit upon and watch the colorful people pass below. It took me nearly two months to realize that all this time I had been sitting directly across from an arcade.

It was easy to miss – the thing was on the second floor of a run down building, above a bankrupt taco house. There was only a hand-written sign placed in the window to indicate that anything was there at all. No street-level indication of any kind. By the time I noticed this, I had no time to visit the place, work schedule as it was.

Time passed and I forgot about that obscure arcade. But then Tim came to town. He’d had his eyes set on SF since he showed up in California in a stop between his home state of Indiana, and the sparkling whale-free seas of Japan. He’d said that the most common question he’d received abroad was ‘have you ever been to San Francisco?’ In Tim’s own words: “Before I return to Japan, I have to ever been to San Francisco.” So we went.

That old job was right by Chinatown, mind you. This was our ultimate destination for the day. So on the way to Kearny and Grant, I decided that I should finally stop at the arcade across the street from the Bank of America. We ascended the stairs. Crooked, splintered steps, host to numerous stains and bits of carpet fluff left over from happier times. The stairwell was incredibly narrow, too cramped for two persons to walk abreast.

We reached the top, and were greeted by roughly fifteen ancient cigarettes-burned cabinets, monitors fading with age. And not greeted by a middle-aged woman with curly hair playing a very dated poker game. She shot us a look of disdain. We were the only other people in the place, aside from this (I assumed) proprietress.

Making my rounds, I decided to try my hand at Konami’s 2D atrocity; Martial Champion. Holy crap. I lost both rounds in 30 seconds. No way is the goddamned Martial Champion going to best me, I say. I Insert another Credit. I lose in 25 seconds. Yowza. Best not to try again eh?

I headed over to the Raiden Fighters cabinet. Shooters, I’m no slouch there. Tim and I played this one together. He died pretty fast, but then, that’s Tim and traditional shooters for you. But I didn’t even clear the first stage on one Credit. Something was wrong.

Last ditch effort, we took a look at Dungeons And Dragons 2: Shadow Over Mystara. “You get lots of bang for your buck with this one” says Tim. Inclined to agree, we take the controls. Both dead in under two minutes, each having lost all three of our lives.

Then it hit me; the games were too difficult. By now a man had come in, he was speaking frantically with the middle-aged woman to whom he had brought a package. Both of them spoke in soft rushed broken English. These games had been made overly difficult for a reason, and I got the feeling that people weren’t in fact meant to play them. That was certainly not the reason the man had come.

I looked at the burn-in image of the ‘winners don’t use drugs’ logo on the SF alpha 2 monitor. We headed for the door. I hadn’t lost my skills. Something was afoot.

Videogames as a drug front. Lieberman would have had a field day.

brandon sheffield later learned that the place got shut down.