Escaping war zone at the video arcade

In Kabul, Afghanistan, vintage video arcade games provide a much-needed escape from a war zone.

Iason Athanasiadis
A young boy plays a vintage video arcade game in Kabul, Afghanistan, a war zone for decades.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

There is no sign posted outside and no frills inside, aside from two rows of hulking games machines stacked up against peeling walls. In Kabul’s Old City, shoot’em-ups, beat’em-ups, and soccer simulations are providing a much-needed escape through makeshift arcades.

In one, an antique black-and-white television balances on the wall below a life-size poster of a pixilated Japanese warrior. Children and young men compete for space, maniacally twiddling brightly colored controls on machines that are leftovers from another era.

“We come here to play games and relax from street-begging,” said Ubaydollah Sharafian, a 14-year-old street urchin too young to remember the reign of the Taliban, when all forms of visual entertainment were banned.

“These are beautiful machines,” said his friend, who claimed not to know his own name.

Tucked off a side street from the bazaar, the row of video game arcades is advertised by chugging generators pumping in power to an otherwise darkened neighborhood. Electronic music and raw sound effects fill the air.

“The lads come here and stay off the streets,” said Abdulghaffar Sediqi, the proprietor of one store as he watched his young customers playing Mortal Kombat, a 1990s arcade game that placed martial arts warriors against one another. “They’re not filching pockets, they’re not sniffing glue.”

Hundreds of thousands of street-children fill Kabul’s bazaars and traffic intersections. They often provide the only source of income for families in which parents were either killed in Afghanistan’s wars spanning 30 years or were crippled by land mines and drug addiction. For a generation that knew only violence growing up, these aggressive games offer a logical continuation to lives lived in hardscrabble conditions.

“I don’t want this game to finish, I want to keep on playing forever,” one young customer whispered as he stared at the screen.


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