'Caine's Arcade': sweet film starring pint-size entrepreneur goes viral

'Caine's Arcade,' a short film about the innocent determination of a Los Angeles boy who made an entire arcade out of cardboard boxes, has become an Internet sensation.

Courtesy of cainesarcade.com
Caine Monroy stands in front of his cardboard arcade in East Los Angeles.

Can innocence save the world? If the online video “Caine’s Arcade” is any indication, the 1 million-plus folks who have viewed this gone-viral sensation in the past two days are ready to say yes.

For anyone who has not yet received a link from a gobsmacked fan or stumbled upon it as it climbs “most viewed “charts all over the Internet, we’re talking about the 11-minute film short about 9-year-old Caine Monroy, an East Los Angeles dreamer with a summerful of time on his hands and his father’s used car parts shop to play in.

He spent his warm weather vacation days constructing a vast warren of video arcade games – all from the discarded cardboard boxes lying around his dad’s shop.

In the old analog days, the story would have wrapped there, with the memory of a lazy daydream flowing into a happy haze as he went on to school and other more grownup efforts. But this time, “the god of new media intervened, dropping down into this little boy’s life and turning his dreams into gold,” says Paul Levinson, author of "New New Media.”

Independent filmmaker Nirvan Mullick recounts what happened, on the website devoted to this DIY video.

“I walked into Smart Parts Auto looking for a used door handle for my ’96 Corolla. What I found was an elaborate handmade cardboard arcade manned by a young boy who asked if I would like to play. I asked Caine how it worked and he told me that for $1 I could get two turns, or for $2, I could get a Fun Pass with 500 turns. I got the Fun Pass.”

Mr. Mullick also got the tale of a lifetime. He quickly realized the heartstrings value of this young entrepreneur’s creation. First, he devised a plan to fulfill Caine’s immediate dream of actually having some customers to play the various games he'd invented, from soccer to basketball and the classic claw booth – complete with a “machine” that would push out prize tickets and a display for the various prizes. The hoop is made from a plastic Shakey’s Pizza prize; the claw is an “S” hook dangling from a string. Oh, and the “machine” that spits out tickets is powered by Caine, who crawls in behind the facade to push the tickets through the slot.

Turns out, Mullick was Caine’s first customer. So, he sent out a social media appeal via Facebook and Reddit to create a flash mob of folks who would come to play the games. It all went down on a Sunday afternoon – the arcade is open only on weekends – and a crowd lined up to play the games.

Mullick filmed it, scored it with winsome original tunes, and now this three-day-old story is making Internet history. Mullick also set up a button for website viewers to donate to a fund for Caine’s college education. In the first day, the fund took in more than $60,000. As of Thursday, it's at $117,000 and counting.

Lest anyone fear that Caine has had his innocence somehow tinged, his first response to the money coming in to help him was to calculate how many Fun Passes he would have had to sell to get there. Local news outlets have stopped by to cover his story, and, as he told NPR, he is “proud.”

So now back to the part about saving the world. Of course, “this is just a lovely ray of sunshine,” says Professor Levison, with a laugh.

But there is another story buried inside the narrative. The reason Caine had the large, physical space in which to construct his impressive arcade is that his dad’s business has moved almost entirely online. This is why Caine had few visitors to his game palace.

But this serendipity shines a light on what media theorist Marshall McLuhan observed as the natural cycle of technology, says Levinson. Cultures create buildings to house activities, but when the activities change, the structures get left behind, he says. Much as artists in New York City took over abandoned warehouse space in the SoHo area decades ago and turned it into a lively shopping and arts locale, Caine’s story is a tale about our future.

“The Internet is replacing so many bricks-and-mortar operations,” he says, “so it will be up to the dreamers and artists to help re-imagine the uses of the buildings and warehouses this shift is leaving behind.”

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