Digital Adventures: Computer Games in Cuba

By Kabir Vega Castellanos

Private video game locale in Alamar.

HAVANA TIMES – I’m a big fan of video games. But only the ones where there’s strategy involved. I’m not interested in that car racing stuff and I hate games with a military theme.

I played my first game when I was two, that’s what my mother says. The mouse was huge in my tiny hands but my eyes were glued to the screen.

At four, I took over the remote control from a teenager who was playing on an Atari. That was because he was losing. I tried to give him some tips but he ignored me because of my age. But he came to value my advice later and let me help him up his game.

My current computer isn’t one of the best and for the moment I have no hope of setting up a network. So my friends checked out all the places we could find to satisfy our desire to play on LAN.

The first was the Palacio de Computacion (Computer Palace) located opposite the Parque de la Fraternidad in Centro Havana. Since we live out in Alamar we had to get up at four in the morning to make sure we could get on a computer. We’d get to Havana at six and have to wait two hours for the place to open!

While we were waiting outside we’d look through the big windows and see the machines on the ground floor, with flat screen monitors, and low yielding. At eight o’clock they’d finally let us into the basement where there are five rooms with computers that don’t have flat screen monitors and still worse in terms of yield.

The game they had was from 2003,  but even that worked so slow that sometimes we had  to take it off and run something even older.
Anyway, I had this friend who didn’t have a computer who always ended up talking us into going to the same place until our vacation ended and the special offer they were giving also came to an end.

The following year we went back but everything had changed and the friend who got us roped in, had left the country. In the computer “Palace” the machines were worse than before and they had uninstalled the network. And that’s without going into how badly they treated us.

After we’d lost all hope, someone we knew from the Palace told us he was going to a private locale somewhere in Centro Habana.

We got a group together and went to try our luck. The place is in a real dump of a neighborhood where you have to negotiate some pretty hairy streets, all filthy, with the houses completely gutted. You imagined you were going to get attacked on every street corner.

The game room consisted of a single narrow room with six machines on one side and four on the other. The only advantage was the place was just for playing DotA, which was just the game we wanted. And the price they were asking was reasonable: one CUC each for the whole night (about ten hours).

But it was hard to enjoy the game. What with everyone shouting and bawling and hurling insults at each other in a narrow, enclosed space. Added to which the air conditioning broke down on two occasions and the heat was unbearable. To give you an idea of the atmosphere, the players had names like “Poison,” and “Abuser”.

To top it all, we found out that the price was so low because the losing team had to stop and let someone else play.

We gave up again in the end. Then we heard of a game room here, right here in Alamar.

Ten machines with flat screen monitors, each with about 30 games on it. No overcrowding and no noise. The lady who serves the customers is very friendly. And losing teams don’t have to quit.

There’s only one “but”. It costs 15 pesos an hour (US 0.75), 150 pesos if you want to play all night long!