By pickassoreborn 3 Comments
Imagine the scene. Christmas Eve '97. The streets of Wrexham are full of panicked shoppers looking for that late last-minute purchase before they cram themselves into swelling traffic lanes and home to secretly envelop their purchases in brightly-coloured paper. I was tasked with getting hold of an original PlayStation - I had tried the local Woolworths and Argos - no dice. My last hope was to hit Game Wrexham. Sure enough, they had it in stock. I think while I was in the process of purchase, I was hypnotised by a particularly flamboyant flourish of futuristic graphic design on one of the televisions suspended from the ceiling of the store. Wipeout 2097. In those days, downloading a preview video of Wipeout 2097 via the internet was a daunting task. There was no such thing as HD video or super-speedy broadband. If you wanted to see the spectacularly vivid intro to Wipeout 2097, this was one of the few places to see it.
In the UK, Game had always been around. Multiple stores sprung up during the videogame boom of the late 90s - maybe, some might argue, too many stores. Speculate to accumulate though, right? Videogaming can only get more and more popular in the eyes of the suited bigwigs. I also remember that fateful exchange of money and hardware so long ago also warranted me my very own Game Reward Card. Fishing out that unassuming piece of rounded plastic card while at the checkout often felt like you were part of something bigger - a family? Maybe. Those surprise discounts of purchases was not a terrible thing at all. Things could have been sweet forever, but alas - shopping habits change.
The internet soon became a shopping force to be reckoned with. It's a tired stereotype, but one which rings true with many - gamers don't really want to get out and enjoy fresh air and daylight. The hardcore gamer which Game arguably catered for was getting computer-savvy to the point that purchases were supplied via phone lines from the likes of Play.com and Lik-Sang (rest their foreign souls). The sea change was a grim thud on the door of Game's party palace; soon stores became places were only the uninitiated dwelled - parents and people new to the world of videogaming wondering what system and games to get. This is where Game trailblazed - a videogame specialist store offering specialist advice to those in need. Opinions from staff often mattered while those frightened to use these "controller things" could ease into them via demo pods. Those were the days.
For me though, the pre-owned part of Game was the worst thing they could have come up with. The slow transformation into a videogame-themed pawn shop was a tough thing to take in. First-hand sale items soon vanished to be replaced with second-hand deals. Pre-owned peripherals? What kind of grubby future is this where I am offered a Wii nunchuck used by God knows how many food-stained young adult hands? Is this Mad Max? Where am I again? I noticed I would be popping into Game less and less as more and more pre-owned merchanise invaded the store. I would managed to find some kind of first-hand bargain and pay for it accompanied by my "Classic" Game Reward Card. One of the staff admired this 14-year-old piece of history and I was praised for sticking around. It was getting hard though, especially when every purchase was complimented with a tired reminder that "I could trade that in once I had finished with it for another game or money".
I think there's a part of me that might still be living in the past. The very thought that physical media will one day disappear and I will have to access my entertainment via The Cloud is something I try to deny each and every day. I like having something physical in front of me. I love box art. I am one of the few who still appreciates a well-designed manual. If the Online Menace wasn't enough for Game with internet shopping and On Live, the Rise of the Smartphone must have scared the hell out of many. Game should have adapted, yet it almost seemed to be regressing in on itself. The thought that they could have stocked up on mobile handsets and iPads might have occurred to the wiser members of Game's management - given the massive shift in shopping habits, it should have happened.
It didn't. Now 2,100 people are looking for new jobs. I really hope after all the administrative dust settles that the "new company" to come out of all of this is a much more wiser one. I don't think the days of a specialist videogame store are numbered just yet. Shopto.net want my Game Reward Card for a £3 discount, but I feel it's worth a lot more than money. It's a treasured memory.