On the evening of November 9, having barely been awake to see the day, I took the subway to Sunset Park. My objective was to meet a friend at the arcade Next Level.
In size, Next Level resembles a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant. It does indeed serve food — free fried chicken and shrimp were provided that night, and candy, soda, and energy drinks were available at a reasonable markup — but the sustenance it provides is mostly of a different nature. Much of Next Level’s space was devoted to brilliant banks of monitors hooked up to video-game consoles, and much of the remaining space was occupied by men in their 20s avidly facing them. It cost us $10 each to enter.
I had bonded with Leon, a graphic designer, musician, and Twitter magnate, over our shared viewership of online broadcasts of the Street Fighter tournaments held every Wednesday night at Next Level. It was his first time attending the venue in person and his first time entering the tournament. I wasn’t playing, but I wanted to see how he’d do, in part because I had taken to wondering more about video games lately — the nature of their appeal, their central logic, perhaps what they might illuminate about what had happened the night before. Like so many others, I played video games, often to excess, and had done so eagerly since childhood, to the point where the games we played became, necessarily, reflections of our being.