A lot of people really hate GameStop. I can understand why. It is the big oil of gaming retail, driven by money and willing to employ oft times distasteful and shady practices to earn it. In a social niche that is often highly dedicated to its hobby of choice, GameStop represents the cold hand pushing product not for a love of the game, but rather for a love of profit. They pay their workers terribly and in turn, often employ people whose dedication to their job is less than optimal. GameStop to many is simply a necessary evil. You go there because it’s often the only convenient way to buy video games.
I go to GameStop because I enjoy it.
I’ll admit there is some guilt in this. I am a guy who does value the independently owned store. I enjoy visiting Earthprime Comics in Burlington. I love finding hidden gems at Yin’s Collectibles. They have a certain aura, a certain personality that comes from being unique. If you walk into any one GameStop and chances are it will look almost identical to the one down the street, in the next state, or on the opposite end of the country. The store itself is more sterile than a doctor’s office mopped with hand sanitizer. But then there are some good people working at my local GameStops.
This often isn’t the case for a lot of gamers who are cursed with teenaged halfwits, or bitter middle-aged guys living with their parents and endowed with an odd superiority complex. In my case, the people who work at the three nearby GameStops are nice and informative. I go in often enough that many know me by name, and if things are slow they’re not at all shy about striking up a conversation. Not about pre-orders, not about trade-ins, just about video games. I like talking about video games, and you can tell they do too. They speak from personal experience, and make recommendations based on their own gaming.
Yes, there is the required corporate line. “Are you interested in pre-order Generic Shooter V?” But beyond that they have been really helpful.
Point in case, I was recently searching for a copy of Knights of the Old Republic for the Xbox. I visited GameStop under the impression that since they still sold PS2 and GameCube games then they might still have some Xbox titles lying around. I was wrong, but the staff person swiftly pointed me in the direction of another store that would. I drove to Hollywood Video down the street and bought their last copy of KOTOR.
My typical expectation of someone at a chain store would be to direct me to another game in their stock as an alternative. This guy instead pointed me toward a store that not only carries used Xbox games but actually has a decent and more affordable selection of titles from other systems ranging from the NES to the PS3. In effect, he risked losing a frequent customer.
Really, when I think about it I sort of feel bad for the career GameStop employee. I can empathize with them. In all likelihood they took this job hoping to be, even in some small way, a part of the gaming industry. That said, with independent stores folding faster than competitive origami, often the only option for a job in retail is GameStop. A place where not only do they have to deal with the annoyances of stupid consumers, but also the over the top rules of the corporate office.
Recently, hoping to capitalize on my positive relationship with the local GameStop folk I went in and asked the manager of my favorite branch if it would be possible to speak with their employees journalistically. I wanted to write something “Stories from GameStop” style piece where I would compile the weirdest things they had experience while on the job. The manager gave me a sad smile and shook their head.
“We’re not allowed to talk about GameStop outside of work. If one of us were to even go to lunch and tell someone we were having a bad day, it could be grounds for firing.”
I’ll be honest. I haven’t called anyone to confirm if that is true, and I won’t reveal this person’s identity because I’d hate to risk their job. Even so, knowing the company’s reputation for somewhat shady practices it’s not something I have trouble believing.
I dislike GameStop. I dislike their focus on pre-orders. I dislike the way they bully their good employees and hire lousy ones. That said, I like the people I know and until someone is brave enough to open up a full blown independently run game store in the greater Burlington area, GameStop will be my destination for video game retail.
And if anyone’s thinking of doing that by the way, why not buy out The Hempest? Honestly, we could use a store specializing in video games much more than we could use one that sells fifty dollar shirts made of pot.