Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Memories of Game Stores Past II

It's easy to forget how faddish roleplaying games were even into the early 80s. Back in those heady days, you could buy RPGs -- and not just D&D -- from a wide variety of stores. One of the places I used to go to was called Games & Gadgets. Ostensibly, it sold video games -- also a faddish item at the time -- so you could buy game cartridges for the Atari 2600, Intellivision, and Colecovision, as well as other electronic games. But they also sold RPGs in great quantities, including miniatures and paints.

I distinctly recall that Games & Gadgets was the only place where I'd ever seen Grenadier Models blister packs. Prior to that, I'd only ever seen the boxed sets of Grenadier minis, so it was quite a revelation to me to stumble across these small packages of 3-6 miniatures in a clear plastic bubble that actually let me see them directly. I bought quite a few of them, including the kobold sets, because you can never have enough kobolds. I also bought a set called "Rakshasas" that contained two weird-looking creatures, one of which was a lizard guy and the other of which looked like a humanoid elephant. It was then that I concluded that rakshasas could look like any sort of animal, not just tigers, and I've long had a hard time adapting to the New Order introduced in 3e on this particular point.

In retrospect, I know now that it was momentary faddishness that allowed tabletop RPGs and video games to co-exist peaceably in the same store without explicitly catering to a "geek culture." That's only natural, I suppose, because there was no self-awareness of such a thing in the early 80s. There were geeky things, to be sure -- being a D&D player may have been faddish then but it still wasn't "cool" -- but buying them wasn't an explicit lifestyle choice. There were no paraphernalia or tchotchkes associated with gaming for sale in Games & Gadgets, just games and accessories used in actually playing them.

RPGs are no longer faddish; it's increasingly hard to find games other than D&D outside of very specialized stores these days. Interestingly, though, the mainstreaming of geekery continued apace and is now bigger than ever. As I've noted previously, this bugs me quite a bit, not merely because I think a lot of this stuff is tacky (though I do), but because the rise of geek culture has coincided with the decline of those aspects of the old culture I so enjoyed. In both gaming and literature, there's a definite trend away from the older styles and influences and that saddens me. There may not be a direct correlation between the two phenomena, but it's interesting to note nonetheless.

Games & Gadgets was eventually renamed The Electronics Boutique and stopped selling RPGs entirely. The rest is history.

18 comments:

  1. Thanks for another thought provoking post.

    I apologize if I'm out of touch, but what exactly do you mean when you refer to the mainstreaming of geekery or the rise of geek culture in general? What are the characteristics of this trend?

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  2. Ironbeard, check out "jinx.com" for a complete course in commodified geek culture.

    Somewhat off topic, but your post reminded me of one of my favorite Intellivision games....Dungeons and Dragons! It was almost impossible to play with that silly controller, and you had nothing but a bow and arrows to fight with, but I had some good times with it nonetheless.

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  3. The mainstreaming of geekery can be seen in the inroads that things like comic books, anime, Star Trek, Tolkien, Conan, and the similar things have become familiar, at least on a surface level, to most people nowadays. That's not in and of itself a bad thing, but it has resulted in two trends I despise. The first (and worst) is the alteration of the aforementioned things to make them more palatable to a wider audience -- a general softening of their quirks and eccentricities for the mass market. The second is the reduction of anything and everything as fodder for products, be they resin statues, T shirts, or plush toys.

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  4. Ah yes, the Intellivision D&D game. I loved it to death for reasons unknown, but I sucked at it royally, not least of all because, as you said, the controller was silly.

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  5. When I started playing D&D in 1980, there were 3 stores in town that sold D&D. Two of them have long since closed their doors.

    The 3rd one, however, stayed in business, though several years ago it stopped selling RPG stuff (focusing instead on models, rockets, trains, that sort of thing). Even though it no longer sold D&D, it was kind of nice knowing that the store was still there.

    About a month ago it closed it's doors. Now they are all gone. :(

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  6. I really worry about the only remaining RPG store here in Delaware (Days of Knights in Newark, for anyone close enough). Five years ago there were 5 (it's a small state). Two just expired with barely a whimper, one turned to specializing in F&SF books, another in comics.

    DOKs has kept its doors open mostly because it's in a prime locale (large college town) and widened their selection to include the mass-marketed crapola you justly decry. But last week I received an e-mail from them advertising a Black Friday sale, basically begging people to stop by after they finish shopping at Walmart, Target, etc. I suspect their days are numbered, and I will (seriously) weep when I hear the news that they're closing shop. What I wouldn't do for an extra couple hundred thousand dollars to buy them out.

    I've been going there for 22 years. I hope I'm wrong, but if I'm not it will truly mark the end of an era for me personally.

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  7. Speaking of video games and gaming, I re-watched the movie Cloak and Dagger again a few months ago (a childhood favorite of mine, which says a lot about me these days...). It was almost quaint to see the gaming books in the background during the scenes shot in the "game store".

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  8. It was almost quaint to see the gaming books in the background during the scenes shot in the "game store".

    Yep. That was a very common experience in those days. Most "game stores" had a wide variety of games, even if they tended to focus on one in particular. That's very rare to find nowadays in my experience and I am envious of anyone who lives near such a store.

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  9. I really worry about the only remaining RPG store here in Delaware (Days of Knights in Newark, for anyone close enough).

    During my once or twice a year visits back to South Jersey, I've never made it down to DoKs: I'll have to see if I can swing that this year, having heard great things about them for years. Thanks!

    Allan.

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  10. During my once or twice a year visits back to South Jersey, I've never made it down to DoKs: I'll have to see if I can swing that this year, having heard great things about them for years. Thanks!

    NP. It's well worth the trip. They have a large selection of board games, as well as the usual current RPG stuff. Though it's not on the visible shelves (or on their website), they have an absolutely HUGE storehouse of out-of-print AD&D in their basement which they don't actively sell. The manager/owner has been putting away a couple of copies of every product published since they opened their doors in 1982. He calls it the "store collection". I doubt he even knows what's in there, but every time I've asked for something they've come up with it. Tell them "Dover Dave" sent you :), if you do stop in.

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  11. I remember there being several hobby shops in the Twin Cities that sold D&D. Most have closed. Others have re-opened in their places. I think the resurgence is due in part to the history of RPGing in Minnesota and Wisconsin and Dave and Gary's connections/friends in the area. Though, I still miss the gaming store in Dinkytown on the U of M campus.

    To some extent D&D hasn't gone completely back to hobby shops. The books and minis are sold at Barnes and Noble and Borders book shops. Beyond Walmart or Target--you can't get more mainstream than that!

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  12. "RPGs are no longer faddish; it's increasingly hard to find games other than D&D outside of very specialized stores these days."

    It depends on what you call a "specialized store." Yes, it is MUCH harder to walk into a store in your local town and find anything other than D&D, Whitewolf, and possibly a few others. But between Amazon.com and Ebay, it's much easier to track down some obscure game today than it was back in the good old days, when you had to look through the used bins at the store. Of course looking through the used bins at the store is a blast, but if you're looking for something in particular, I'd say it's easier to find it now using the internet.

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  13. I remember there being several hobby shops in the Twin Cities that sold D&D. Most have closed.

    Hey if you live in the Twin Cities, at least you have The Source Comics and Games. Still the most incredible gaming store I've ever been to.

    But there are so few stores even remotely like it. When I was a kid, there was a game store in my local mall. It was right next to the arcade and was a joyous hallmark of my youth. Having to watch the game store move then close and now coming home and seeing the arcade decline is almost painful, and is one of the few things make me feel cranky and older.

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  14. Oh man, I think I still have the elephant from that Rakshasa pack. The one with the head that has to be attatched?

    My earliest experiences in gaming was 1979-1986 hanging out at a Santa Monica game shop. It was mostly negative experiences, as the other hangers-on were mostly much older, grimy dudes who were very self-righteous and sarcastic. I get the creeps these days just thinking about them. Or maybe that was just gamers in general back then?

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  15. Hey if you live in the Twin Cities, at least you have The Source Comics and Games. Still the most incredible gaming store I've ever been to.

    The Source is great and I go there often. But they're part of that second generation I was talking about (they opened in the mid 90s).

    I remember Jolly's in Sun Ray used to sell games along with models and trains. Eventually they dropped the RPGs, reorganized, moved, and closed.

    I'm fascinated by James comments on Gadgets and Games. I never realized that was the proto-Electronics Boutique. We had several in the malls by us and I think I bought some of my first PC games there. How odd to think that they sold paper and pencil RPGs in another life!

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  16. Ah - Minneapolis gaming stores. That brings back some memories. I remember going to Little Tin Soldier (both locations on Lake Avenue and another one closer to St. Paul) and its successor, Phoenix games. I also remember the small game shop in Dinkytown - they used to have gaming nights on Fridays I believe. Even won honorable mention in a miniature painting contest for a dwarf figure of mine, circa 1990 when I was going to school down there (and living in Sanford Hall)!

    In my hometown of Duluth, we primarily had Carr’s Hobbies. I vaguely remember their old location (back in the late 70’s early 80’s across the street from where they have been for many years now) as having floor to ceiling model kits, and seeing older D&D and Metagaming stuff. There was also C&B Stamps and Hobbies that sold, in addition to coins and stamps, a lot of D&D stuff. Seems to me that is where I got my Holmes Boxed set and hardback 1E AD&D books. There was also some other used bookstore downtown where I picked up both the OD&D “collector’s edition” box and Tractics. They had a bunch, as I recall - wished I’d bought them all!!! (parenthetically I also deeply, deeply regret not picking up a bunch of the early Cthulhu/Melnibonean mythos Deities & Demigods books when KayBee hobbies had them marked down to something like $3.99 apiece… AAARRRRRGGGGGGGG!!!!!) There is also a comic book store that sold/sells gaming materials, but I can’t think of their name off hand.

    On a family trip in 1981 we stopped in Coeur d’ Lane (sp?) Idaho, and there was a little shop called “The Hobbit Hole” (or something very like that) located in a basement shop. Neat little place.

    Here in Los Angeles the only places left (for all practical purposes) are Brookhurst Hobbies, which is a few miles from Disneyland, and The Last Grenadier in Burbank. There used to be an excellent store called Paul Freiler’s, but that chain went out of business about 10 years ago, and their location was taken over by a &*@#^% mattress store. I still seethe every time I go by… Interestingly, though, that was not their original location. Their first shop was apparently (and this is before I moved out here) at The Olde Towne Mall, which was a neat little themepark/mall with sort of an Old West theme. My wife remembers the mall (though not the hobby store - not really her “bag”) and says it was a really fun place to go. Wish I’d been able to see it!

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  17. Oh man, I think I still have the elephant from that Rakshasa pack. The one with the head that has to be attatched?

    That's the one!

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  18. I'm fascinated by James comments on Gadgets and Games. I never realized that was the proto-Electronics Boutique.

    There's a chance I'm wrong on this. All I know for certain is that my mall's Games & Gadgets became Electronics Boutique, which in turn became EBGames. When the change happened, the store just altered its signage, but the staff and even stock stayed the same. It's possible that the connection between the two is more tenuous than I believe it to be. Since I can't find any good references online to confirm or deny my theory, I can't say with 100% certainty.

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