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Three Lessons From Caine's Arcade 

In early 2012 a short film by Nirvan Mullick called Caine’s Arcade swept across the internet, bringing even the most hardened, cynical person to the verge of tears. The star of the film was nine year old Caine Monroy, who for a variety of reasons needed to spend his summer at his father’s used auto parts store in East Los Angeles.

What would feel like a prison sentence to many kids, Caine saw as an opportunity. One day, he had the idea to fashion a kind of impromptu arcade from the empty cardboard boxes in his father’s warehouse. His fabrications were extremely intricate, featuring ticket dispensers, complex rules, and working panels and parts. Caine sold tickets to his arcade at $1 for four turns, but also dispensed what he called his “Fun Pass”, which would award the purchaser with 500 turns for only $2. There was only one problem: no customers. While many people came and went from the auto parts store, few people paid attention to Caine’s Arcade.

One day, film maker Nirvan Mullick happened upon the arcade and decided to give it a whirl. He was so enamored with Caine’s effort that he decided to create a short film about it complete with a social experiment to try to get dozens of people to show up and play Caine’s games. The experiment quickly escalated well beyond Mullick’s expectations, and on the designated day hundreds of people showed up as patrons of Caine’s Arcade. Subsequently, a fund was established that has garnered over $150,000 designated to fund Caine’s future academic pursuits. Not bad for a summer’s worth of work. 

OK – I’ll admit it. I nearly cried multiple times while watching this film. I’m a sucker for the beauty of pure, passionate pursuit. I’m especially prone to leap for joy when I see someone unexpectedly rewarded for their effort. I love a good underdog story.

All of that said, I think that this short film is much more than just a feel-good story. I pulled at least three solid, valuable lessons from this film:

1. Boredom is more of a statement about the person than the situation. “Hey Caine…want to come spend the summer with me in the back of my barely-trafficked auto parts store?” For most kids this would be the summer vacation equivalent of the kiss of death. There was no gaming system. No swimming pool. No television. A perfect excuse for “I’m booooooorrrred.”
But NO. Caine looked around and saw opportunity. Everywhere. Cardboard boxes, packing tape, gadgets and doo-dads. He chose not to be bored. It’s totally a state of mind.

The lesson: If I am bored with my work it is my problem, not the work’s. It is my responsibility to stay interested and forward-looking. Stop whining. The world doesn’t owe me anything.

2. Keep working while the world ignores you. How long was it before Caine had customer #1? How many entrepreneurs or artists would have given up by then, or stopped working at their craft and improving their skills? Caine approached his arcade with craftsmanship and fervor, and that’s what I aspire to do too.

The lesson: Attention is a secondary luxury to the artist focused on craft. It may come, and it may not, but devotion to craft is the one thing I can control.

3. Your craft will cost you something. Did you notice the prizes in the arcade? Caine’s own toys. His vision for his arcade required (demanded!) that he use all of his resources to make it work, and this meant forfeiting his own stuff for the sake of his vision.

The lesson: Ask frequently and answer honestly “am I really putting all of myself into this?” I need to make sure I’m fully backing that which I’m asking others to believe in. Are you doing so?

These are just a few things I pulled from this gem of a film. What lesson would you add? Please let me know in the comments.
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