It’s Friday night and the room is about half filled with wide-eyed kids in their late teens or early twenties ready to virtually fight each other.
“It will get a little busier around 11 p.m. or Midnight,” Dae Lee said before he caught himself. “Or it may just stay dead. Last week we closed at Midnight because it was just dead.”
Lee works at the Family Fun Arcade at on Balboa Boulevard just north of Devonshire Street in Granada Hills. He closes on the arcade’s busiest nights, Thursday through Saturday. But those nights have been a little less busy lately. Family Fun Arcade will be closing its doors forever on December 31 after 38 years of business, according to its twitter account.
The arcade has been a staple in the San Fernando Valley, opening in 1973 as a family attraction where parents would bring their kids to play Pong or pinball. But as important as Family Fun Arcade is to the Valley, it is even more important to the fighting game community.
Family Fun Arcade’s image began to change in 1991 when Street Fighter II came out. A few fighting games had come out before Street Fighter II, but nothing made a greater impact. Gamers would travel to an arcade that had Street Fighter II and Family Fun Arcade was one of the few Southern California arcades that had it.
But Daniel Villa, 22, does not think the arcade’s name has lost any meaning. He has been a regular at Family Fun Arcade since 2008 and says it is where he met some of his closest friends.
“Like the name says, everyone here became a family,” Villa said. “This place has been like a reality show for me.”
Villa explains that all of the good and bad things that have happened to him in his social life have revolved around Family Fun Arcade. From stupid arguments over games, to fighting over the “one girl” that comes the arcade, to hanging out in the parking lot in front of the arcade after closing.
“The neighbors hate us,” Villa said. “That’s why they’re making him close it.”
The “him” Villa is referring to is Ralph Senhert, owner of Family Fun Arcade. Villa says the surrounding businesses do not like the arcade because it is too loud and open too late.
“They’re trying to raise his lease 30 percent and want him to close at 10 p.m. every night,” Villa said.
Senhert is a legend in the fighting game community. He was an innovator in linking fighting game consoles and also got the newest arcade games first.
“In 2008 Street Fighter IV came out and this was the first place in the United States that got the game,” said Ray Ruballos, a professional gamer who goes by the name Knives. “It could be one in the morning and there would be a line of people waiting to play.”
After Street Fighter IV became available on home consoles, less gamers started coming to Family Fun Arcade, Ruballos said.
The official reason Senhert gives for closing is “health and financial considerations” according to the arcade’s website. Lee says that Senhert has done all he can to keep Family Fun Arcade open and has “neglected other things for (the) arcade.”
Senhert is the owner of three arcades around the L.A. area: Super Arcade in Walnut, Japan Arcade in Little Tokyo and Family Fun Arcade. Soon he is only going to own Super Arcade, as Japan Arcade is closing at the end of the year along with Family Fun.
“I never see him rest,” Lee said of Senhert. “After surgery he went straight back to work and was working so hard that his stitches busted.”
Those surgeries have compiled for Senhert and so have the bills, which is why he’s closing the Family Fun Arcade, which has not been as profitable recently, Lee said.
The rise in online gaming has given gamers a different venue to compete with each other and they don’t even have to leave their couches. This convenience takes away from the social aspects of gaming that the arcades bring to gamers, Villa said.
Villa says that Super Arcade will now be the closest “real” arcade left standing. While Walnut is a bit of a trip for him, Villa is still going to head out there any chance he gets.
To help with Senhert’s rising medical bills, Family Fun Arcade is hosting a 24-hour stream-a-thon on Dec. 15. The benefit will stream live matches between some big names in the fighting game community. The stream will solicit donations from individuals as well as advertisers, according to arcaderelief.com.
Additional reporting by Danielle Hale.