A&C Games ’new, ‘80s-style basement video arcade—dubbed A&C World—gives the Toronto gaming community an extra life.
When The Grid reported last week that Amuse-O-Matic, the “lovably shabby” arcade in Union Station would be closing down, commenter dj PJ lamented: “The last arcade. RIP thanks to the Internet.” Well save your eulogies, dj PJ—though the ‘Matic may have shut its doors and unplugged its Time Crisis console, a new kind of arcade has recently opened near Spadina and Bloor.
About a month and a half ago, A&C Games on Spadina expanded their retro-gaming kingdom into the adjacent basement of an emptied-out dojo. When United Open Karate Martial Arts packed up their gis and multi-coloured belts to move into the nearby JCC, A&C owners Chang and Gar Toy saw an opportunity to create a space where Toronto’s gaming community could hang out and, well, actually play games. Enter A&C World, the Toys’ new arcade and tournament space. “People suggested we call it A&C Dojo,” says Chang, “which could have been good. But I thought ‘World,’ because it has everything.”
A&C World’s set-up is pleasingly spartan, maintaining the coarse wall-to-wall carpeting and full-length mirrors of the former martial-arts studio. But the nature of competition has changed, with local gamers piling in to jam quarters into stacks of old arcade machines (procured from online retailers, or rescued from bowling alleys like Club 300 in the Pacific Mall) or pound the virtual piss out of each other during weekend Super Smash Brothers or Street Fighter tournaments. “We’re trying to make it more social,” says Chang. “We just did a Mario Kart 64 tournament, and that’s a four-player game. I noticed people had more fun with that.”
It’s a big move for A&C, which just 12 years ago was a simple convenience store moving chips, milk, and cigarettes. After expanding into carrying card games like Yu-Gi-Oh! and Magic: The Gathering, Chang and Gar began selling old-school console games, which eventually began to take over the shop. A&C fast became a hub for gamers hunting for an old Chrono Trigger cartridge, or some other long out-of-print title. “We do everything, let’s put it that way,” says Chang. “From the 1970s and up; from pretty much Pong. People come from abroad just because we’re one of the only places that does retro games.”
With tournaments, high-score competitions (whoever preserves their score on the arcade machines for a month wins a gift card to A&C Games) and hand-painted plaques of Mario and Mega Man gracing the wall, A&C marks a new kind of arcade: one as much about the retro experience as newer titles, catering to the cross-generational connoisseurship of the contemporary gamer. So long as the market of kids (and full-grown adults) looking to huck fireballs at their buddies or slip them up with an well-placed spiky tortoise shell continues to exist (and expand), the arcade isn’t going anywhere. Like anything post-“the Internet,” it must simply learn to adapt.