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Film / Arcade

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Arcade is a 1993 sci-fi/horror film directed by Albert Pyun.

Alex is a troubled teenage girl, whose mother committed suicide. She and her friends visit a local arcade and decide to try out a new VR game called Arcade, produced by a gaming company called Vertigo/Tronic. Difford, the company's CEO, is giving out free home console versions of the game to promote it. The game turns out to be visually impressive (for 1993) but Nintendo Hard.

Alex's boyfriend tries out the game and appears to vanish. Everyone assumes he went home, but no one can find him afterwards. She soon realizes that the game is trapping losing players in its virtual reality. This appears to also happen with the console version, which is somehow connected to the main game. Alex and Nick, the only friends who are not yet trapped, visit Vertigo/Tronic and meet the game's programmer. The guy explains that the game is Powered by a Forsaken Child due to Executive Meddling, and this is somehow imbuing the game with supernatural properties. He provides the teens a walkthrough for the game, which Alex tattoos on her arm (for some reason, the tattoos are visible in the VR game).

They resolve to enter the game and try to reach the end in order to beat it and free their friends. Nick confesses his love for Alex, but she makes it clear the feeling isn't mutual and continues trying to free her boyfriend. In the game, Nick ends up losing, but Alex continues on, seeing her friends being used as NPCs. She uses the walkthrough to successfully navigate the virtual world, while the game tries to stop her with images of her dead mother. Alex manages to beat the game and free her friends.

The original ending is more hopeful, while the revised ending implies that Alex has also freed the soul of the above-mentioned forsaken child to roam the earth and do evil.

Tropes found in the film:

  • Abusive Parents: The little boy, whose brain cells were used in the game's programming, had been killed by his abusive mother.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Before they go into the game, Nick confesses his feelings for Alex, hoping that she'll call off the foolish plan, only for her to tell him to do what she asks. In the end, she is shown walking away with her boyfriend, seemingly forgetting about Nick.
  • B-Movie: The '90s version.
  • Brand X: Apparently, the coolest name Vertigo/Tronic could come up with for a brand-new arcade game is... Arcade.
  • Cheat Code: While there are no actual cheat codes, the programmer does provide a full game map to Alex and Nick. Alex then writes the clues on her arm. Somehow, she is able to see the writing even in VR (this is helped by the fact that the game doesn't render her body in the game world, it actually transports her there).
  • Dwindling Party: Alex's friends keep getting taken by the game one by one.
  • invoked Executive Meddling: The Vertigo/Tronic execs are the ones who insisted on using brain cells of an abused child in creating the game. They also try to cover up any disappearances.
  • The Game Come to Life: Arcade is slowly starting to affect the real world. In the revised ending, Alex sees an image of a little boy on the street, speaking with the game's voice before vanishing into thin air.
  • Knights and Knaves: Alex is presented with this puzzle in the game, with two of her trapped friends being used as the guards. Naturally, she figures out the right question to ask.
  • It's All My Fault: Alex's trauma stems from her mother's suicide, as she believes she should've done something to prevent it from happening. The movie opens with Alex outright telling a school counselor that it's her fault her mom died.
  • Missing Mom: Alex's mother committed suicide.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The video arcade, where the new game is being promoed, is called "Dante's Inferno". Not ominous at all.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The revised ending. Alex has won the game and freed her friends, but she has also freed the little boy from the game, allowing him to roam free and do evil things with his supernatural powers.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: During the game, Arcade tries to convince Alex of this by drawing parallels between his own abusive mother and Alex's mother, who committed suicide (thus abandoning her). This appears to be less an attempt to convince Alex to join him and more the game trying to shake and confuse her.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The programmer reveals that, due to (In-Universe) Executive Meddling, the game's realism is due to the creators using a few thousand brain cells of a boy killed by his abusive mother in the game design. Unfortunately, this seems to have resulted in the boy's soul inhabiting the game and using it to seek vengeance upon the world.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The revised ending implies that the evil boy is no longer trapped in the game and is free to roam the world.
  • Stylistic Suck: By the standards of modern CGI, the virtual reality of the game looks cheesy.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: The game does this to Alex as the film's final words, with "bitch" being spoken in an inhuman voice.
  • Win to Exit: This is the only way to leave the game without being trapped in it. It's also the way to free anyone else who is trapped.