Arcade Cultures and Arcade Heritage
Alan Meades hit the arcade culture jackpot when two vandalised Street Fighter 2 cabinets in the corner of the Dreamland site in Margate turned out to be not mere historic curios, but the only known instances of the ‘Ken Sei Mogura’ game in the world.
Alan Meades has spent the best part of fifteen years studying videogames, their cultural significance and their communities. Most recently, while earning his PhD in ethnography he spent time alongside videogame glitching, modding and hacking groups, and now spends his time studying players, writing about his findings and teaching the complexities of digital cultures.
Whilst working with The Dreamland Trust Alan was made aware that the Dreamland site still housed some arcade cabinets – mostly in seriously vandalised states. Due to his interest in arcade and videogame culture he approached The Dreamland Trust to offer to do an ‘arcade audit’, to make sense of what vids or cabinets still existed. Jan Leandro and The Dreamland Trust recognised the importance of conservation and he was given access to the site.
Of particular interest were two identical Street Fighter 2 cabinets that sat in a corner.
"Unlike the traditional SF2 game that used buttons this version invited the player to hit enemies with padded hammers as they popped out of holes - a ‘whack-a-mole’ game type. While I have a vague memory of playing one of these games at an arcade in Margate in the late 1990s I’d not seen any other references to this SF2 game online or on any of the arcade machine collecting forums that I visit. It was apparent that there was something unusual about this game."
Watch Alan play (and beat!) the game in this YouTube video.
Through undertaking significant research and collaborating with the developers of MAME (the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator software) it became apparent that the two smashed-up cabinets were not only historic curios, but were the only known instances of the ‘Ken Sei Mogura’ game in the world. This is why the game had not been documented - it had vanished from the historic record, and it was assumed that all examples had long since failed and been disposed of.
It transpires that there is an international network of arcade cabinet collectors and conservationists who have audited the majority of amusement arcades around the world (certainly all in Europe, North America, and Japan), in order to locate and audit machines. Although 'Ken Sei Mogura' had been released in Japan by Capcom, one of the largest videogame developers, in limited numbers in the mid 1990s all known versions had been destroyed. It was effectively a lost cabinet – the only evidence of its existence being a few YouTube videos and a trade advert.
While these cabinets are of negligible commercial value, culturally they are highly important – it is also interesting to mull over the idea that a game produced by one of the largest videogame manufacturers in the world less than twenty years ago can be effectively lost, with no known examples.
Although the front of the cabinets had been smashed, the circuit boards that drive the game had not been touched. Naturally, on discovering this, the circuit-boards were carefully removed and sent for immediate testing and archival. The boards and code needed careful deciphering by the MAME team in order to create a computer file that records and preserves the operation of the game.
This has now been completed and the game exists as a playable digital equivalent (just search for it online!) As you can see from the video above the original cabinet hardware has now been repaired and can be reinstated into the Dreamland site.