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Piers, Pikachu, and Pinballs: A Guide to SF Arcades

By Xpress Mag Staff

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  • Girls testing their strength at Musée Mécanique Fisherman's Wharf on Friday, May 2.
  • Skee Ball lanes at Players Sports Grill at Pier 39 photographed on Friday, May 2.
  • Boys playing a Terminator arcade game at Musée Mécanique at Fisherman's Wharf on Friday, May 2.
  • Batman driving game at the Players Sport Arcade in Pier 39, photographed on Friday, May 2.
  • The different arcade games at Players Sports Grill at Pier 29, Friday May 2.

Written by Justice Boles
Photos by  Jenny Sokolova

You walk into the bottom of Cesar Chavez. You’re hungry, the smell of Ike’s and Nizario’s wafts through the room, but that’s not the hunger. The real hunger you feel is the hunger… FOR GAMES! There’s a selection of a few arcade cabinets down there, some Dance Dance Revolution, some Marvel vs. Capcom. Things you’ve seen a million times. You have spent enough time down there, and the air has grown stale. They offer brief respite from your smart phone, the games it contains and the very app store bolstering your false satiation, like how chewing gum tricks the brain into thinking it is eating. You need something more thrilling, something more physical. You need cold metal pinballing around. You need joysticks and button mashing. You need… an arcade.

 

Unfortunately, there aren’t too many of those left in the city.

Fortunately, I’ve got a list of places for you to check out.

 

Museé Méchanic

Located on Pier 45, Museé Méchanic is like the Island of Misfit Toys, but instead of toys, it is old entertainment machines. Arcade machines young and old inhabit this arena, mostly old though. Like, almost a century old. Like older than television. Older than radio. It even houses Laughing Sal and other historic remnants of San Francisco’s Playland at the Beach. Inside, the air is absent of any real ambient music, it’s mostly the sounds of a turn-of-the-century fair bouncing off the walls, like a carousel past its prime. Don’t let that deter you, it is a haven for arcade hipsters.  Wanna play games before pixels were cool? There’s things to do in there that don’t even involve electricity. Museé Méchanic has it all, from nudey nickelodeons to self-playing pianos to old school atari games no one has ever heard of. From marionettes to Metal Slug, Museé Méchanic is the place to be.

 

Highlight: Vapor TRX. It is an old Atari game. It is a racing game that seems like an F-Zero rip-off, but flying a racing plane/jet/hovercar through ice canyons and futuristic cities with the ability to shoot missiles at the racer in front of you makes it so much better. I’ve never found another one like it.

 

Players Sports Grill & Arcade

Players Sports Grill and Arcade. Need a place to watch sports, see Alcatraz out the window and play in an arcade? Players is the place for you. Located on Pier 39, this place has all the classics. It’s Chuck-E-Cheese for parents that don’t hate themselves. It’s got shooters like like Area 51 and Terminator Salvation, as well as go to standards like Whac-A-Mole and air hockey. In addition, it has what any good kid-friendly arcade has, a ticket exchange booth. That is right, Players offers tons of really shoddy toys for way more ticket-to-dollars than they are worth You are not having a good time unless its 25 tickets for a Tootsie Roll and 5000 for a basketball, but hey, that’s part of the experience..

 

Highlight: Batman. It’s a racing game where you get to drive a Batmobile. Not THE Batmobile, A Batmobile. As in one of Batman’s numerous whips he’s driven through Gotham City throughout the years. From that old Batman ‘66 convertible to that new Dark Knight Rises hovercraft thing. Become… The Batman. Or at least drive his car.

Buckshot Bar & Gameroom

Buckshot, located on Geary and 3rd Ave. stands out above the rest for being a legitimate bar. Players is nice, but that’s just Dave and Busters-lite. Buckshot is a Bar and Gameroom. The games are pretty lacking though. It is classified as an arcade on Yelp, but that’s a pretty loose definition. There is a billiards table and shuffleboard. They have a Tron game as well as a pretty standard deer hunter game with the shotgun plugged into the arcade cabinet. However, they do have booze, so you can get smashed while you play skeeball. They’ve also got a little virtual gambling machine in the corner, so you can get smashed while you play video poker.

 

Highlight: Gauntlet. Not Gauntlet Legends. Not Gauntlet Dark Legacy. Just straight up Gauntlet. That’s pretty cool. Get smashed while you play Gauntlet.

Playland at Japantown

Located in the Japantown mall west, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a Japantown arcade. It’s small and cramped. All the games have Japanese kanji written on and in them. Maybe half the machines involve winning some sort of plush toy, like a Domo or a My Little Pony. There’s a giant Pikachu adorned with flowers in the window. Seriously, it’s a really big Pikachu, the sign said no one over the age of 7 allowed into the Pikachu, so it’s at least larger than the average 7-year-old. Other than that, it’s a nice respite from the loud clunks and beeps of the more American arcades. There are games to win Japanese treats and candies like Hello Panda and Hi Chew. It’s a novel little Arcade that’s simply fun to check out. I got a can of Dragonball Z Cola (Krillin was on my can, sadly. No one cool like Gohan or Vegeta) for the low low price of 4 dollars (or 408 yen) in there, I can’t think of anything more novel.

 

Highlight: Umm… I don’t know. There was one game where you’re like a sushi maker or something, and another one where you beat these really big drums. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on in there. I don’t speak Japanese. That Pikachu was pretty sweet though.

Free Gold Watch

Free Gold Watch is located a block up from Haight Street, right across from Kezar Stadium. Free Gold Watch started out as a printing shop, screen printing and t-shirt making, but has since implemented 2 dozen or so pinball machines. They have come under some fire for it lately, city ordinances and what not, but let it be said the employees will remind you it’s a printing shop with pinball machines, not the other way around. But oh man do they pinball. It’s quite a sight to behold, as well as the sound of a dozen different pinballs rocketing against bumpers and bells. They’ve got pinball machines of every variety and from the furthest reaches of your imagination. Terminator, X-men, Mario, Jurassic Park, Playboy, ACDC, they’ve got them all. It’s all you could want or need in a pinball palace.

 

Highlight: There’s a Street Fighter II arcade machine in there. The arcade cabinet that crafted champions and birthed tournaments. Granted, it’s a Champion Edition, but that’s probably as close to pure Street Fighter II you’re going to find. Quarter-circle that stick and mash some buttons. Fire off a Hadouken and you can almost feel a moment in gaming history. It’s excellent.

Breathe: Holistic Health

By Xpress Mag Staff

Junior Monzenat Herrera and other students of Elementary Tai Chi execute Step Back and Repulse Monkey, practiced in the for known as Chuan.

Junior Monzenat Herrera and other students of Elementary Tai Chi execute Step Back and Repulse Monkey, practiced in the for known as Chuan.

 

Written by Ben Tasner Photos by Lorisa Salvatin

Students rest their arms and legs as they lie on the floor of a darkened dance studio. The room is an ocean, and their bodies, like softly breaking waves, unfurl in the moonlight of the half-cracked door. The instructor, like a captain speaking to the ocean, encourages her students to relax.

Vivian Chavez, a professor of health education at SF State, leads her students through relaxation exercises intended to improve body and breath awareness. Lying on the floor, students place their hands on their collarbone, chest, diaphragm, and lower abdomen to observe their bodies as they breathe.

Practicing breath awareness is one of many ways that students can easily maintain and improve their own health. The life of a college student is stressful, which makes simple self-care health techniques invaluable when time and resources are limited.

Many college students are leaving their families for the first time to enter an environment filled with academic and social pressures. Most students juggle jobs, classes, and relationships while battling exams, aspiring for good grades, and holding on to hope that career opportunities await them.

A 2010 study of two-hundred-thousand full-time college freshmen at four-year universities, conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA found that the emotional health of college freshmen has dropped to the lowest level in twenty-five years.

“Students are stressed because they have so many thoughts,” says Jun Wang, professor of holistic health studies at SF State. “They have fears about the future, interpersonal relationships, graduation, and lack of time. When you feel like you need to do things in a compressed amount of time and when you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you get stressed.”

Over-stressed students are likely to experience depression, anxiety, various physical ailments and a myriad of other health problems. Sometimes it seems best to turn to a medical authority for help and medication, but what if you could improve your health and decrease your stress on your own? Wang says it only takes five or ten minutes to recover from the stress of the day.

But it is. Many simple self-care practices exist with roots in ancient eastern and western practices that have proven beneficial for thousands of years. All of the methods focus on body, mind, and awareness of breath. Some may emphasize one aspect more than another, but to truly increase health and decrease stress it is essential to integrate all three. Too often do we turn to a doctor for a pill or hop on the treadmill- eyes glued to the television, ignoring the connection between body, mind, and breath. Take ten minutes to try one of the holistic self-care practices outlined below and see if you notice a difference in your health.

 

Body: Many physical (somatic) practices are available for students to quickly relax their bodies. Physical relaxation is the first step and perhaps the most direct way to quickly decrease stress.

Wang, who teaches Chinese perspectives in holistic health, Chinese herbs and nutrition, and Chinese body-mind energetics, focuses on the development of qi (pronounced ‘chi’) as a tool to improve and maintain health. Qi can be translated as ‘vital energy’, similar to prana and cit in Hindu religion, mana in Hawaiian culture, lung in Tibetan Buddhism, and ruah in Hebrew culture. Or if you subscribe to the Star Wars philosophy it is like “The Force.”

“If you have strong qi you have a strong defensive system,” says Wang. “You can still be balanced while enduring physical or emotional stress.”

To cultivate qi you need to start by relaxing the body.

“Our mind is like water in a cup,” says Wang, analogizing the human body with a cup. “First you need to stabilize the cup.”

The effects of student life lead to an irregular lifestyle. Many students do not eat properly or sleep adequately and these habits lead to stress, which often manifests physically. Relaxation is a quick and easy way to combat the toll that stress takes on the body.

People commonly stand, sit, and even fall asleep with their shoulders

elevated. It is known as the red light reflex, or startle response, which

many people live with unknowingly. In this condition, a person’s body is hunched, their shoulders are elevated and muscles tensed in response to anxiety and fear.

Erik Peper, a professor of holistic health and director of the Institute for Holistic Health Studies at SF State, attributes this condition to an adaptation made when humans once lived in physical danger and protecting the neck was vital. But in today’s society, danger rarely presents itself in the same manner and the red light reflex has become a liability.

Progressive Relaxation is an easy self-care practice to decrease muscle tension and increase body awareness, hopefully reducing habits like the red light reflex that lead to body stress.

Start by focusing your attention on the muscles in your toes. Tense them vigorously for a few seconds and then release. You should notice a greater level of relaxation in your toes. Slowly work your way up your body, tensing each muscle group individually: your calves, quads, gluteus, abdomen, hands, forearms, upper arms, shoulders, and even all the muscles in your face. Make sure to breathe regularly throughout the exercise.

This exercise draws on what Richard Harvey, a professor of health education at SF State, calls the principle of opposites. He says that you have to first experience the extreme end of an issue to gain perspective on a healthy baseline.

Yoga is a physically focused practice (with mind and and breath components) that many people employ to increase health. With its origins in ancient Indian philosophy, yoga is a mind-body practice that incorporates breathing techniques. The number of Americans practicing yoga increased thirty percent between 2008 and 2012, with more than twenty million Americans currently practicing according to a study by Yoga Journal.

“Yoga is important because it stretches the tendons,” says Wang. “This allows your qi to flow more smoothly.”

Robert Gonzalez, a health education major, says yoga centers him.

“Yoga practice helps with stress, so I do not feel as nervous or stressed as before.”

Tai chi and Qi Gong are two more practices that can increase energy and decrease stress. Tai chi, which began in China as a martial art, is commonly used for health benefits. Qi gong is less aerobic than tai chi, but both exercises involve deliberate movements of the body to stimulate qi. They help develop concentration, presence, and balance yin and yang energies. In Chinese medicine, all illness, whether it is physical or emotional, is attributed to an imbalance of yin and yang energies.

Yin can be equated to the physical nature of existence, and yang the transformative. On a grand scale, earth is the yin and the sun is the yang. Food (yin) becomes energy (yang). According to Chinese medicine, everything we experience is due to an interaction between yin and yang.

By developing qi and balancing yin and yang, tai chi and qi gong are two physical exercises that relax the body and quiet the mind.

“It is very important for you to relax your body,” says Wang. “When your posture is correct then you can relax your mind and cultivate qi.”

It is important to foster physical relaxation, especially for students who spend countless hours sitting in class and in front of computers. Even if you do not embrace any of the practices mentioned above, you should apply some sort of physical practice to your daily routine.

Stretching and massage are other useful tools to relax the body. The holistic health network on campus hosts a massage hour that meets regularly each week. Led by certified massage therapists, students give ten to twenty minute massages free of charge to anyone that stops by.

 

Mind: Many of the mentally focused practices that students can adopt to improve health and decrease stress revolve around various forms of meditation. Meditation is a modest practice that can be accomplished sitting, lying, standing, or walking. A student does not need to become an expert in meditation to experience the benefits. By simply practicing meditation, a person is accomplishing the task.

Meditation can be a closed-focused experience, like focusing on the flame of a candle, or more open-focused, like observing thoughts and judgments.

Meditation techniques like mantra meditation, mindfulness meditation, Zen Buddhist meditation, and others derived from religions and spiritual practices. Many people use them today to increase health without religious association.

Previous research has found that meditation can reduce depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. More recently, a 2011 study published in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, found that meditation also increases gray matter concentration in the left hippocampus of the brain. The left hippocampus is involved in learning, memory, and emotional control.

Chris Hambelton, a holistic health student at SF State, says that mindfulness meditation has helped him observe when his mind is judging.

“I notice when my thoughts are beating on me for no reason,” he says. “(Meditation) helps you learn to be a better friend for yourself.”

He’s referring to the all-too-common act of self-judgment. Too often people degrade themselves with judgments they would never cast on another person, and the negative self-talk has serious health repercussions. Dwelling on past mistakes and fearing the future is unhealthy. Depression is a result of focus on the past, and anxiety is a focus on the future. Meditation helps draw the practitioner back to the moment. Learning to observe the present and decrease thoughts about the past or future has enormous health benefits.

Wang says she experiences stress just like her students. She practices meditation every morning and experiences wonderful benefits. It helps her still her thoughts.

“I can maintain a calm way to deal with an insane world,” she says.

Components of meditation include imagery and visualization. By imagining what you want and visualizing it as a reality you will increase optimism and experience a direct physiological benefit.

Imagery and visualization can be practiced as part of meditation, or as individual exercises. Many professional and Olympic athletes use visualization prior to performance to increase results. Researcher Angie LeVan says that the brain acts similarly during visualization as it does during the actual physical act, which means that the brain is training during visualization.

Breath

Perhaps most integral in self-care is breath because it is a doorway between the conscious and the unconscious. Breath is something we can intentionally control and it is also a natural which cause a person to hold their breath unconsciously. Shallow breathing limits the body’s ability to carry oxygen to cells, and in turn can make a person feel short of breath and anxious.

When a child is acting out of control they are told to count to ten, a strategy that draws on the principles of deep breathing.

“When you count to ten, usually by five, your mind and reactivity has changed due to awareness of breath,” says Chavez.

Sabreen Khalil, a psychology major at SF State, uses breathing techniques before an exam. “It helps me bring my stress level down so that I can focus on my test because it really cools your body down and brings you back to the present.”

Whitley Lucas, a health education major at SF State, has applied deep breathing to her daily routine. “To actually breathe and relax your mind is so powerful because it can help reduce stress that may be bothering you,” says Lucas. “In my down time during the day I do stretches and breathing techniques to get my mind and body together.”

In addition to his research on the red light reflex, Peper is interested in the physiology of breathing. In his book “Make Health Happen,” he wrote that extended computer use and long hours of poor posture exacerbate poor breathing habits. He helps students train their bodies to relax so that they can perform better on exams.

He says that people who habitually engage in shallow chest breathing may experience panic and symptoms associated with hyperventilation. He recommends students to breathe with their diaphragm to decrease tension, increase oxygen flow, and improve their test scores.

To test your breathing habits, start by placing a hand on your chest and your abdomen. Peper says that a deep breath should begin with a full expansion of the diaphragm, followed by expansion of the lungs and chest. Peper and Chavez encourage students to practice deep breathing by finding a quiet place and counting each breath. Chavez says that counting brings awareness to breath and limits distracting thoughts.

When she has trouble sleeping, Chavez counts her breaths up to ten and then back down. She is usually asleep before she gets back to one.

In the darkened dance studio she wants students to take what they need from the breathing exercise. Occasionally someone falls asleep during the practice, which is fine with her.

“Every direction that I give you is an invitation only,” says Chavez quietly, embracing the darkness. “If you want to do something different, do it. This is your class.”

Sometimes what is needed most is sleep. It is a perfect combination of body, mind and breath relaxation.

Note: Many other self-care practices exist that can quickly increase a student’s health. Stop by the Holistic Health Learning Center, in HHS 329, and check out the unique library of resources.

The Beginning and End as Far as Rap Goes*

By Xpress Mag Staff

Shako brings up one of his projects onto the computers of BAVC.

Shako brings up one of his projects onto the computers of BAVC.

Written by Katie Mullen Photos by Lorisa Salvatin

To define hip-hop as a musical genre and culture is to make sense of an oxymoron. The true essence of hip-hop resides on the continuum between intention and interpretation. Hip-hop reflects, and always will reflect, the people that surround it.

Drastic differences between what hip-hop started out as, what it is now, and where it is headed, make it even more difficult to define. To genuinely attempt to understand hip-hop culture, it is necessary to explore all three phases.

The story goes that in 1973, DJ Kool Herc and his sister threw a back-to-school party that featured the sound of hip-hop and it exploded as a culture. The sound gained popularity so artists began to take songs with percussive breaks and isolate those portions; this became a distinct hip-hop sound.

For a while, hip-hop remained beats and beats only. Then, rappers would write rhymes over them and perform at house parties or battles.

Hip-hop rapping is a way of communicating African-American oral tradition. Therefore, this form of expression was dubbed “black culture”. Hip-hop is a culture because it is more than just a musical style. It extends to breaking, emceeing, graffiti art, deejaying, beatboxing, street fashion, street language, and street knowledge. In other words, its a way of life, not just a way of making music.

In this society, calling hip-hop ‘black culture’ gets a little tricky. There are many that agree with the statement whole-heartedly and there are also many that disagree with it.

DJ and hip-hop activist, Davey D. says, “using the word ‘culture’ is a slippery slope. How expressions are used in hip-hop makes it black culture. But in this day and age, what is culture? People come in and out of culture all the time.”

Hip-hop had a political and social force propelling it forward; it was not something that was whimsically created that could feature any subject. It was an open forum that was thought- provoking and meaningful for those listening.

Adissa, the so-called bishop of hip-hop, wrote an article for daveyd.com that says,  “For anyone to even try to insinuate that hip-hop is not of a complete and unique African or African-American tradition is an insult to everyone who truly loves the art.” He goes on to clarify that all races enjoy the music today but that in the beginning, it was exclusively the black community.

SF State student Sheni Olora, better known as Shako Shake, feels differently about labeling hip-hop as black culture. “Even though hip-hop was created by black people, I don’t feel it’s just black culture. So many artists and producers of other races have contributed to the progression of the genre through different styles of flow,” says Olora.

He continues to explain, “Hip-hop is a global culture and has spread so far from its origination in America. The hip-hop culture has evolved too largely across the world for it to be bounded by one race.”

SF State student and bboy, Joey Kao puts records on the turntable in his room on Feb. 27.

SF State student and bboy, Joey Kao puts records on the turntable in his room on Feb. 27.

So what is hip-hop today, and what will hip-hop be in the future? The most crucial thing to think about is interpretation. An artist’s intention is completely separate from how an audience takes it in and what emotions are evoked within them. With a corporate centered society at hand, hip-hop has gone through a multitude of changes. It is much more restricted than it use to be. In the beginning stages of hip-hop, at its grass-root origins, the music was a shared commodity.

If you heard a beat you liked, you would write lyrics to go with it and you would perform it. In the same sense, if you liked a phrase from a rap, you were free to use it in your work with a different beat. This is what Davey D. refers to as open source. Today, this does not happen because of copyright laws and music labels trying to own and monopolize pieces of work.

Corporations have changed the original intentions of hip-hop not meaning to be owned. It is not supposed to be limited and it is not supposed to be defined. Hip-hop is universal, the coming together of the human race, no matter their racial background.

The open source way of creating hip-hop music is black culture. It is the black community that believed in the culture and lifestyle of the music banning together and being resourceful in order to create something new and worthwhile.

As hip-hop progresses, there will always be battles between creating something real and creating something that will sell. Do artists remain true to themselves or do they brand themselves to gain popularity?

The future of hip-hop is promising. The sound is changing while still remaining true to its roots. Traditional hip-hop has an easy to follow beat that governs the genre. The beat consists of a few notes repeated; creating a rhythm that becomes almost hypnotic. But in recent years, specifically the past five years, it has evolved.

Artists such as Jay Z and Kanye West have been two very key players in changing the hip-hop game. They have both explored and tinkered with the music, attempting to nail down exactly how far they can push the envelope and still have their work accepted by the hip-hop community. Kanye is known for his beats which are catchy and draw in the audience. While on the other hand, Jay Z is more of a lyrical master.

“Today, even in sampled old-school hip hop music, the use of the heavy 808 drum sound, snappy snares, and fast stop-action percussion has dramatically changed the sound of hip hop,” says Olora. “I feel in the earlier 2000’s producers like Timbaland used more natural sounds such as real pianos, live-recorded drums, sampled MPC drums, beatboxing, and analog synthesizers. With today’s hip hop producers having the capability of fully computer-based music production, I personally feel today’s music has more emphasis on its processing; the amount of technical effects used to enhance its sounds.

As hip-hop progresses, you can expect more artists to continue playing with the percussion breaks in their songs, adding layers of new technology, and to also incorporate other genres. For example, hip-hop artists have begun mixing jazz and soul sounds with their breaks.

The genre is one that will never stop evolving. It reflects the people who support it, the people that believe in it. So in reality, the music and the culture are not changing, the human race is changing and the music is victim to our unpredictability.

Hip-hop culture is not developing in a vacuum; the concept of the genre is not linear and explainable. It is an uncharted territory and a genre that is itching to be expanded and explored.

*Headline is a lyric from the rapper Nas’ song “Nas is Like.”

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