GameStop Musings: Part I

Pulling my iPod from my pocket I check the time. Fifteen minutes to kill before I have to pick Mandi up from work. Setting the weathered MP3 player back in my pocket I continue browsing. The Williston store isn’t my favorite local GameStop. It’s not a bad store as far as GameStop’s go; I just haven’t established much of a rapport with it. Back in ollege I had frequented the South Burlington GameStop and been something of a big spender. The money that other students spent on beer went to video games. Where I entered college with a library of maybe a few dozen games that I had played nearly to oblivion, I left with more than a hundred of which I had completed maybe half. I frequented the store so often that the employees knew me by name and could generally count on me as a reliable buyer during those times when no one else was spending.

With the end of college though came responsibilities. Student loans needed to be paid and finding a job was hard. In time rent was added to that, followed by electri and heat bills. Health insurance would serve as the cherry atop a sundae of expense that left little spare cash for whimsical spending sprees down used game avenue. Moreover, when Mandi and I moved into our own apartment we switched GameStops. The South Burlington store, once only a short drive away from my mother-in-law’s basement was now out of the way. Not by much mind you, but the Williston store was only a twenty minute drive from our new residence. In the least, it made for a convenient place to kill time waiting for her to finish up at work.

Thumbing through a basket of used Xbox games I find myself frowning again at the possibility that I’d wasted money on a 360. I bought it originally to play the Mass Effect games. Two days after unboxing my Xbox, Mass Effect 2 was announced for the PS3. It stung. I try to convince myself that it was still worth it, that at least I can still play Mass Effect 1 whereas all PS3 players get is an interactive motion comic but truth be told I don’t like Mass Effect 1 all that much. It’s a good game but weighed down by the fact its sequel is much more refined. As much as I can enjoy the story, the clunky gameplay just makes me wish I was playing the sequel. Having experienced the game and already knowing the nuances of the story, a brief motion comic where I can just pick how I want things to be appeals to me far more than actually playing the first game through again.

“Blasphemy!” Mandi would cry, but then she loves Mass Effect. She’s played both games through a half dozen times and has requested that we put off having a child so she can enjoy Mass Effect 3 unencumbered when it comes out. Andraste, how I love that woman.

Speaking of children, there are two wandering about the store. Kids tend to make me cringe in GameStop, either because they’re spoiled brats “parented” by ineffective morons, or because the poor saps haven’t learned that movie tie-ins are a bad investment. As one small boy hands his mother a copy of “Where the Wild Things Are” for the PS3 I almost tear my hair out resisting the urge to speak up and tell his mother not to waste her money.

The only thing that stops me is the knowledge that the kid might wind up enjoying it. Children have different standards of quality. I know I did when I was younger, hence my playing Mobile Suit Gundam: Journey to Jaburo about a dozen times. It was a mediocre action game at best, but it was just enough back then to be playing as a giant robot from one of my favorite TV shows. And I was about fourteen then! This kid is maybe six at most and maybe playing with those fuzzy monsters will be his own personal catharsis.

The other boy moving about the store is older, maybe ten or eleven. He hangs close to the Xbox section his father, a graying man that looks to be in his thirties, following close behind.

“Sweet!” The boy says, hand shooting out like viper. He pulls a game from the shelf exclaiming “Halo!”

His father just shakes his head, “Nice try. You know the rules.”

His faces bends in despondence. “But Dad it’s Halo!”

“It’s rated Mature and you’re anything but that.” An amused smile crosses his face. The boy pushes out a disgruntled, spittle laced breath. His father proceeds to point out a few alternatives.

The exchange surprises me. A frequent customer of game stores I’ve seen countless parents buy their children inappropriate games. I remember one occasion where the clerk explained very clearly to a mother why Call of Duty: Black Ops might not be the best title for her nine year old son. She nodded all the way through face contorted with concern and then bought it for him any ways.

“The things they sell to kids.” She muttered, handing the black and white GameStop bag to her child. It still makes me angry to remember it.

Now, I’m no alarmist. I know from firsthand experience that violent media does not breed violence. By age six I knew every line of Terminator 2 (best action film ever) by heart. I saw Starship Troopers in theaters at ten, and at fifteen (give or take a year) I had beaten Manhunt several times. All in all, I grew up to be a fairly harmless individual.

My parents might have let me partake in all sorts of imaginary violence, but it was made clear to me that there was a separation between the game and reality. Moreover, they didn’t cry foul when they realized they’d let me play what was essentially an interactive slasher film.

Now I may not choose to do the same with my children some day. Possessing more firsthand knowledge of games I’ll probably take more of a guiding role in my offspring’s purchases. But I still prefer my parent’s attitude to the people who are given every opportunity to know what their kids are up to, but then act like the gaming industry is a snake in the grass when they aren’t paying attention.

The boy and his father make their way to cash register with a sports game. The boy was still clearly disappointed about being denied Halo, but I had a feeling he would get over it. The pair departs, leaving me alone in the store.

“You looking for anything in particular, man?” The clerk asks, staring at me with a look that just screams “buy something or get out”.

“No, I’m good thanks.” I reply. Checking the time, I decide to go. Not a moment too soon it would seem. I head toward the exit, a gust of cool air hitting me as I vacate the heated innards of the store. There’s little snow on the ground, but the budding spring is still tempered by the frigid season gone by. I glance back into the store, the clerk is staring bored at the floor. I might have to start driving the extra fifteen minutes to South Burlington again.

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