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Escaping war zone at the video arcade

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Iason Athanasiadis

(Read caption) A young boy plays a vintage video arcade game in Kabul, Afghanistan, a war zone for decades.

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• 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.”

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