I am spoiled.
I was born in the largest city in the United States (2nd largest in North America – damn you Mexico City). When Japanese people ask me where I’m from, expecting to hear “America” or “Canada,” I cut to the chase and say “I’m from New York.”
Whoever you are, dear reader, you have already heard of New York. It is a popular tourist destination with millions of annual visitors coming from hundreds of countries around the world. You’ve likely been there at least once or it is near the top of your list of Places to Go. Hell, with 8 million residents there’s a decent chance you’re there right now. Regardless, I’m going to make the case for visiting New York as a gamer tourist.
As a gamer, you’ve almost certainly visited at least one New York simulacrum in your digital lifetime. Liberty City in the Grand Theft Auto series is clearly modeled after The Big Apple, closely mimicking the geography of Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs. There’s even a giant statue standing watch in the harbor, although I’m afraid the real Statue of Liberty doesn’t have a heart beating on the inside.
Aside from that homage, there are plenty of games that cut to the chase and simply put you in a city called “New York.” Prototype, Spider-Man, Ghostbusters, the upcoming Crysis 2 and many others offer players a glimpse of my hometown with varying degrees of authenticity. At the very least, people who know their way around the city should see many familiar sights in these games (and vice versa).
Should you take it upon yourself to see the real thing, don’t spend money going up into tall buildings just so you can stare down from above; it’s usually expensive with long lines to boot. At those heights, you might as well be looking at Google Maps. Instead, see the city up close and visit as many neighborhoods as you can. If you want a broader perspective, think vertically, not horizontally: leave Manhattan and view its famous skyline from Brooklyn or New Jersey. Trust me, the view will make you contemplate your own existence when you imagine the millions of lives operating inside at all that concrete and glass before your eyes.
Gamers should make it a point to visit the Chinatown Fair Arcade on Mott St, an enduring relic of gaming’s past. It’s a dark, cramped single room full of warm bodies and machine noise, just the way a video arcade should be. Expect to find some old favorites near the door and larger, flashier machines on the inside. In this way, it’s very much the opposite of how crowd-seeking arcades normally operate. On a related note, there’s a number of import video game stores on nearby Elizabeth St, though fair warning: prices will be high and the staff will be less than friendly.
If you’ve ever played a fantasy game in your life (RPG, RTS, etc.), you’ll want to drop by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and see the Arms & Armor exhibit featuring authentic swords, plate mail, crossbows and the like. It’s one thing to read about “loot” on screen and quite another to see the real thing on display. The rest of the museum is certainly worth a look, of course, but given its size you’ll want to pick and choose where you spend your time.
Wherever you fall on the “games as art” spectrum, a trip to the Modern Museum of Art will convince you that you are right. With artwork that ranges from traditional paintings and sculpture to less conventional mediums (for example, a video monitor showing close-ups of body parts), you’ll either be reassured that the art world is vast enough to include everything under the sun or you’ll chuckle at the notion of video games and Jackson Pollock being mentioned in the same sentence.
A few blocks south of the MoMA is the Nintendo World Store in Rockefeller Center. Even if you don’t feel like buying anything, it’s worth a peek to see the exhibits on the second floor. An assortment of Nintendo hardware is on display from the distant past as well as recent releases. My favorite is the half-melted, burned-out Game Boy that survived an explosion in the Gulf War. It still works!
Do you like baseball? Of course you do. If you’re in New York between March and November, why not ride the subway to Yankee Stadium in The Bronx? It’s easily the most famous stadium in the Major Leagues (by virtue of the tenants being the most successful in the sport’s history (defending champs FTW)) and has been rendered many times over in modern baseball sims. Do take care not to ride the wrong subway though, as there is another ballclub in New York known as the “Mets.” Nothing good will happen if you go to their stadium.
While in New York, you will be become hungry. The good news is that anything you could possibly want to eat is available somewhere in the Five Boroughs at all hours of the day or night. One word of warning: despite what video games have told you, if you kick over a trash can and find a hamburger or a roast turkey on the ground, eating will not make you feel better. In fact, the opposite is much more likely.
Admit it: you’re already looking up airfare to New York in another window on your computer. Just remember, The City That Never Sleeps has hundreds of entertainment, culture and fine dining destinations that are unrelated to video games. You should probably see one of them while you’re in town. Tell ‘em Dan Feit sent you.