Inside, the Family Fun Arcade is dark, even on a sunny day. In the back, there’s a counter where you can get change, buy a can of soda for 75 cents and grab a bag of Doritos or a cellophane-covered brownie. The place is noisy, always noisy, not with the flashy whining arpeggios of slot machines or the squeals and songs common to a Chuck E. Cheese but the booms, beeps, blasts and hai-ya’s particular to Street Fighter.
Despite the name, Family Fun is not the typical kiddie-enticing arcade. There are no redemption games here — no Skee-Ball machines spitting out tickets to trade for plastic trinkets, no claws feebly grasping at plush toys. An air hockey table stands near the door, but everything else is joysticks, buttons and video.
Yet as modest as it appears, this Granada Hills arcade, called FFA for short, is legendary in certain circles, a “Street Fighter” mecca known far and wide. “We would get guys from Canada, Japan, Australia, because of the level of competition here,” says owner Ralph Sehnhert. “These guys are like chess masters. They know every nuance of the game, to how many frames per second and what move counteracts what. Their strategy is absolutely amazing. They live and breathe it.”
“What we used to have going for us was that we were the unique experience you couldn’t get at home,” Sehnert says. “Now, you can sit in your pajamas, play against some guy in Amsterdam or Yugoslavia with a seamless connection, and you don’t have to keep going into your pocket to put quarters in.”
That’s another stumbling block to coin-op economics: the quarter. While prices of virtually everything have risen since Family Fun first opened, it’s hard to jack up the per-play price of a game, Sehnert says.
In the arcade’s early days, mechanical games like faux-rifle-equipped shooting galleries and pinball — newly legalized in Los Angeles — dominated. Air hockey had just been invented, as had the first video game, “Pong.” In the early 1980s, “Pac-Man” fever spiked, then cooled. “Dragon’s Lair,” the laserdisc game, was supposed to revive the sagging industry. It didn’t.