June 4, 2013

4th floor

Take a good look at the image on the left. Can you imagine that this sad… sad… sad looking place in its heydays, was once the most happening spot in Penang? Well, it’s the infamous KOMTAR 4th floor arcade section, used to be the center of the universe for us kids about 20 odd years ago. I remember every moment of it, especially the excitement that precipitated when I was running up the stairs from the 3rd floor upon hearing the din of synthesized arcade noise. Coins in my hands, adrenaline pumping, the retch of musty and warm electric air… and then the memories of getting arrested by the police, the memories of me and my friends playing truant, there was even once I saw my friend getting mugged by a bunch of thugs there – arcade meant everything to me and was a big part of my childhood. I remember I once wished for a machine that has all my favorite arcade games in it, and guess what? I finally had that dream come true about a few years back, when I managed to install a MAME32 emulator into my PC with all my favorite ROMS in it (still have those games today). But sadly, it just isn’t the same as it was back then. The games, without the slot machine and the need to pay for it, just wouldn’t bring back the same feel… the magical feel…

You see, kids back in the 80’s and 90’s didn’t get to watch a lot of TVs. Console games were rare in this part of the world (that was the NES/SNES/Gameboy era), and piracy was basically non-existent. Games were sold in cartridges, and CDs hadn’t been made popular yet. Not everyone could afford a console gaming machine, so we kids turned to arcade and got mad about it. For a mere 20 cents a pop, we got to play for 1 credit, that usually gave us 2 replays. Back then, you could find an arcade center at almost every corner of a street. But everything converges at KOMTAR, the only mall (then) in Penang and the mother of all arcade centers (it was actually a section of the mall, with shit tonnes of arcade centers). The arcade section had virtually every popular game ever existed. My favorites? Double Dragon! Wonder Boy! Street Fighters! Twin Cobra! Raiden! Fuck yeah (exclamation, not a game title)!

But towards the end of 90’s, the arcade madness started to die down gradually with the advent of personal computers and gaming consoles. Before long, the next gen of kids moved on to other stuff like PC’s, playstations, sucking dicks – KOMTAR 4th floor began to lose its arcade tenants as the businesses started to fold from extreme unpopularity. Now, the arcade section is basically a deserted piece of wasted space and what used to be the most happening spot 20 years ago is now an empty corridor with roller shutters adorning its sides. If the 4th floor arcade is likened to be a character, it can be best represented by Lola in the lyrics of that Copacobana song:

Still in the dress she used to wear, faded feathers in her hair
She sits there so refined, and drinks herself half-blind
She lost her youth and she lost her Tony
Now she’s lost her mind!

I took this picture last weekend when my wife and I happened to be there after running some chores at a government department (that is still located at KOMTAR). When we were leaving the place, something drew me back to this corridor (in a non-creepy kind of way) and that had me rekindle the fondest moment of me growing up in my hometown Penang. And what has Penang turned into? A bustling metropolis full of assholes. It was so much better back then… with the arcades and shit.

michaelooi  | flashbacks  | 

The commenting function has been disabled.