Why GameStop Is Important (Even If You Hate It)

At this point GameStop closing seems inevitable. Last month, the store confirmed rumors that buyout talks are happening. Its Elite Pro membership tier ended just the other week. And it seems like the days of physical video games are numbered. Despite the dark times, GameStop remains the face of retail video game sales and it amazes me that some gamers actively want GameStop to fail. These naysayers are lining up with glee to watch the Titanic sink. I’ve never understood this sentiment because, even if you hate the store or don’t shop there, the death of GameStop would be a major hit to the video game community at large.

GameStop Closing: How Expectations Created Irrational Hatred

The core tension I’ve noticed between gamers and GameStop is caused by unrealistic expectations. While it is a retail chain, many gamers are turned off by its lack of heart and soul. I’ll admit that GameStop is a juggernaut and a corporate machine, but its competitors (Amazon, Best Buy, Target, Walmart etc.) are all equally detached from the products they’re selling. At least since GameStop is video game specific, you’re far more likely to encounter workers who like video games just like you. The store might be a business in the most literal, boring sense of the word but the people there are most likely into what they are selling.

And while GameStop corporate will never appreciate prioritize the artistic side of games over the business side, the way a small local shop might, that was never its intended function. It’s a chain. Of course it shot down your idea for a staff picks way back when you worked as assistant manager. And yes, you walk in as a customer and hear GameStop TV playing an ongoing commercial in the background. The uniformity is by design. Your local GameStop won’t have much more personality than a Pizza Hut. Maybe that grosses you out but that’s capitalism.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of gamers have worked at GameStop at some point in their lives. Many former and current employees I’ve encountered still hold on to their bitterness regarding that time period. Whether it is an annoying boss, pressure to reach your pre-order quota, or general red tape, there are a lot of reasons that would make working there suck. But in all honestly most of those reasons can be applied to most jobs you’d see in a mall.

Unless you’re looking to climb the corporate ladder, working retail is generally an unpleasant experience with a few nice discounts thrown in. But because video games are involved, people seem to have skewed expectations. We see this flawed ideology come up in some of the smaller complaints gamers make regarding the company.

For instance, the fact that many still can’t comprehend why GameStop throws out game cases (purely because of space) speaks volumes. While it’s good to think critically about company practices it’s weird to scrutinize GameStop while turning a blind eye to what’s going on in most Amazon warehouses, for example.

GameStop Closing: Video Game Visibility and Accessibility Will Suffer

The most unfortunate part of this vitriol is that it focuses on all the negative aspects of its business-driven, retail side over GameStop’s symbolic presence to the community. I’ll admit that if you don’t live in a major city with easy access to major game shops, you may not notice its role. But it only takes a little empathy to see what this store means for a lot of people.

In Chicago, for instance, most GameStop stores are in shopping plazas tucked between Family Dollars, laundromats, pawn shops, and Chinese restaurants. GameStop turned into a little nerdy oasis for me, a lower-middle-class girl on the Southside. That was important to me as a kid and it remains that way for many.

I could never afford to have a big collection as a kid. Recently, I realized I only owned a dozen games for any given console from my youth so a store with video games and merch stacked from floor to the ceiling was a beautiful thing. I remember perusing the walls, searching for a game that matched the budget I was given by whatever adult brought me there. And even when I didn’t get to take anything home, it was fun just being there. Walking into that game store as a kid was special and exciting.

As an adult, I still feel and see that magic continue on a regular basis, especially when I worked there during the 2016 holiday season. I remember being surprised by how many people were still shopping for Kinect games for their kid or asking for PS3 recommendations. It still remains a focal point for gaming. This stuck out to me even more when I saw some kids get their hands on a Nintendo Switch for the first time. Not many places can emulate that experience.

Maybe the store isn’t for you and that’s OK. But before you pop champagne over its tombstone consider the impact of its end. Dial back on your unrealistic standards and you may begin to see that GameStop, while flawed, is many people’s entry point into this expensive hobby that we all love.