As video games continue to evolve into a more and more integral part of our daily lives, and each successive generation of developers and players adds to that unfolding history, there's an ever growing body of peripheral media to record it all and to put video game's cultural and technological impact into context. There're the usual books, websites, magazine articles, etc., but over the last few years there's also been a sharp increase in feature length documentaries on the subject, such as the 2007 offbeat hit The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and last year's Indie Game: The Movie to name but a few. There are enough films now for it to be considered a genre unto itself, like rock docs, and there's always room for one more, in part because video games are such a complex and fascinating medium, and in part because their fans tend to be a bit obsessive.
Obsession is the motivating factor in the new The Space Invaders: In Search of Lost Time, which finds a new spin on retelling some familiar gaming history by profiling the avid fans who collect vintage arcade games, filling their garages and basements with the coin-operated behemoths that once populated every mall and pizza parlor across this great nation. The film, directed by Jeff Von Ward, does a thorough job of outlining how arcades became a ubiquitous cultural phenomenon in the late 70s and early 80s, generating an absurd amount of revenue before the industry collapsed, thanks mostly to technological advancements like the rise of the home console, but in many ways it's less about video games and more about the unending zeal of any kind of serious collector. It's an expensive hobby, and one that requires a lot of room (hence the punny title), but not so different than collecting coins or comic books.
It's that human angle which really puts the film across, the emotion that's evident in the way the interviewees (predictably almost exclusively male) fondly recall their misspent youths and eagerly describe the intricate details of how they painstakingly bring battered machines, and the neon 1980s feel of the arcade, back to life. From a technical standpoint, the film's small budget at times shows through and it can lean a little too hard on borrowed and archival footage, even if much of it is rather interesting. The real stars here are the shrines built to a bygone era, and, late in the film, having spent considerable amounts of money and countless hours constructing them, the subjects ponder the ultimate fate of their collections, wondering if future generations will care enough to preserve them, to keep them functional and, just as importantly, fun. Thanks in part to films like this, they likely have little to worry about.