Is your “friendly neighborhood game store” really all that friendly?

     As a kid, my heart would leap when my folks would be headed anywhere near our local gaming store.  Whether I had any allowance saved up or not, I would ask to tag along, in hopes that we could stop for a quick visit. 

     In the early 1980s, if I wanted any new gaming accessory, there was only one place to find it.  A trip to the gaming store was not only a chance for me to buy something, but also my main source of information about the hobby.  Sure, every once in a while I might be able to get a copy of Dragon Magazine at the local news-stand but they were hard to come by.  If I wanted any real “game related news”, it would require actually setting foot in my local gaming store.

     Obviously that’s not the case these days.  With the Internet we often know about products relatively early in the developmental stages.  Want some out-of-print item?  Chances are that eBay or Amazon will be your best bet, and often be cheaper than if you found it in a store.  Hell, often even brand new items can be purchased at favorable prices online (and that’s assuming that you’re even going to buy a hard copy as opposed to a .pdf)

     With these changes, I would have to think that the brick & mortar gaming stores are feeling the heat.  They’re not alone, as video rental stores are increasingly hard to come by and even traditional bookstores are facing an uncertain future.

     With this kind of outlook, I would expect retailers to be doing everything in their power to tie themselves to their customers.  Unfortunately, in the few months since I’ve dipped myself back into the hobby, I’ve seen no signs of this. 

     As I was poking around and deciding whether I wanted to create a blog for myself, I spent a lot of time reading the blogs of other gamers.  This happened to be right around the time of Free RPG Day 2011.  In reading the pre-event buzz, I thought that this sounded like a fantastic idea.  This type of event could clearly be good for retailers.

     Unfortunately, in the weeks following, I must have read at least 20 blogs or forum reports  with negative impressions from the event.  Many complained that they had made the trip to a retailer (who had been using advertising materials for the event), only to find that the employees on hand knew nothing about the event.

     My biggest issue with the 5 stores which I’ve visited in recent months is customer service.  Perhaps I don’t look like a “typical” gamer, but when I walk into a store, I feel like I’m wearing a cloak of invisibility.  Not a single employee has greeted me or even looked up from whatever they were reading.  In and of itself, that’s not a huge problem.  I usually know what I’m looking for and enjoy browsing.  However, I AM a gamer.  I have to wonder about the scores of parents or significant others who have no idea what they’re looking for. 

     Take a moment and consider the parent of a young gamer, who comes in seeking birthday or Christmas presents.  Unless they’re into the hobby themselves, they’d likely be totally lost in a gaming store.  If confronted with a friendly and helpful employee, they’ll likely walk out of there with some heavy purchases (it’s not like there’s a rival gaming store on every corner).  On the other hand, if they’re treated rudely or ignored all together, “little Johnny” is likely to end up with an iTunes gift card for a present.

     Obviously, customer service issues can be common in any retail venue.  However, it seems to me that gaming stores and other “geek related” retailers (comic book stores & video game stores) are particularly challenged in this area.  Sadly, I’m afraid that this is directly because of the stigma which if often attached to these hobbies.

     By in large, it seems that folks who work in gaming stores are gamers themselves.  This should be a great asset.  However, it often seems that I encounter one of the three following stereotypes.

  • The Outcast:  This fellow never fit into any social group while he was growing up and he’s got a MASSIVE chip on his shoulders.  Having finally found a place where he is accepted, he views any customers who aren’t like him as “outsiders”.  Ironically, he’s doing exactly what was done to him for his whole life.  The sooner you’re out of his store, the better.
  • The Elitist:  This guy takes his job very seriously.  Oh he’ll talk to you, but he’ll only tell you what he wants to spout off at the moment.  He’s quite certain that he knows everything about everything (after all, he does work in a gaming store).  Interested in a product that he doesn’t like?  You’re in for a 10 minute soliloquy about why your game sucks.  In the meantime, he will make certain that you’re aware of his “gaming credentials”.
  • The Nerd-Rager:  This poor soul has his mind made up about everything (Star Wars vs. Star Trek, DC vs. Marvel, 3.5e vs. 4.0e).  He can actually be quite charming, as long as your views align with his.  However, should you be interested in a product outside of his particular likes, he will immediately become condescending.

     That’s not to say that there aren’t some awesome gaming stores out there with really sharp employees.  More than anything, it’s just to wish that I had one nearby.  I love this hobby and I love browsing through a good brick & mortar gaming store.  I just hope that they’re always around for us to enjoy.

     What’s it like in your neighborhood?  Do you still frequent an actual gaming store or do you make all of your purchases online?  Have you had any really positive (or negative) experiences?  I would love to hear your stories.

     Thank you for reading.  Good Gaming!





Filed under Random Stuff

The monster that lives in my house


     My life as an enthusiast of role-playing games may be newly reanimated.  That said, there is one hobby of mine which I’ve managed to keep close to me since my earliest days.  That hobby would be my love of Halloween.  Even now, with the holiday just under a hundred days away, I’m gearing up for my favorite time of year. 

     The thought occurred to me that by their very nature, fans of Halloween and fans of RPGs might have a good number of common interests.  Because of this, I’ve decided to take a moment and tell you all about the monster that lives in my house.

     I grew up in the reasonably typical suburbs of Rochester, NY.  As a kid in the 1970s, my folks would dress me up in whatever costume struck my fancy each year (Planet of the Apes, Gandalf, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, and a Cylon Centurion all come to mind).  Looking back now, it’s rather clear by my choices that my “inner-gamer” was just dying to come out.

     Like any kid, I loved the candy and the costumes.   However, I really got into the mood of the evening.  Halloween night just feels creepy and sparks the imagination.  This was only added to by the occasional neighbor who would be playing some creepy music and have extra special decorations.  In much the same way as I do when role-playing, Halloween always let me escape.  It’s like a great game of make-believe, except on this one night it seems like everyone’s in on the game.

     By 1982, I was 12 years old (and a bit tall for my age).  I suppose I wasn’t too old for trick-or-treating but was starting to get concerned looks from folks who saw my size and figured I’d be back later to vandalize their house (an activity I never chose to take part in).  Earlier that year, the Chicago Tylenol murders had occurred and the resulting panic had many people worried about receiving or being accused of giving tainted treats.  Halloween was almost non-existent that year, and for a few to come.

     Without trick-or-treating to look forward to, and already a big fan of RPGs, I turned to gaming for my Halloween fun.  During those years, I would run my games at the local public library.  For our Halloween sessions, I would ask all of my players to come in costume and I would run a one-shot murder mystery adventure.

     Years passed, my gaming group dissolved and I sadly found myself without an outlet for Halloween.  That is, until I met the monster. 

     I can remember it as clear as day.  I was working at a bookstore in a small outlet mall, in October of 1988.  It was a slow night and I was sitting at the desk reading a Piers Anthony novel.  Suddenly, I heard a couple of children screaming and looked out into the hallway, just in time to see two little kids go running by the front of the store.

     We never had any type of commotion there so I sprung up to see what was going on.  Reaching the entrance to the store, I looked down the hall to my left.  There I could see the pair still running and turning the corner into the busy part of the mall.  It was about that time that I became aware of a peculiar creaking sound coming from the hallway behind me.  I turned around to see what it was and was immediately breathless. 

     There, towering over me (I’m 6’4″) was a 9′ tall Frankenstein’s monster!  Obviously I knew he wasn’t “real”, however, the suddenness of it all really threw me for a loop.  With wide eyes, I stared in wonder at the thing, not at all accustomed to meeting anyone who was even a little taller than me.

     The monster just stared at me with piercing eyes and slowly bobbed his head.  My rational brain came to the conclusion that he must be a man on stilts, though at the time I was only familiar with old-fashioned peg-stilts, which these were not.  I must have looked quite silly standing there and about the time that I realized this, I noticed that the monster was holding out a piece of paper for me to take.  Slowly, I reached up and took the paper.  Upon doing this, the monster patted me gently on the head (as you would a small child) and then walked off down the hall.

     I stood there and watched him leave.  Only after he was out of sight did I stop to glance at the paper.  It was an advertisement for a Haunted House, being run by a local charitable organization.  On the bottom of the page, in bold letters, the text read “volunteers needed”.  Instantly I knew how to enjoy Halloween again.

     The following day, I showed up at the haunted house to volunteer my services.  The woman in charge thanked me for coming and asked me to wait just a moment, as she had some issue which demanded her immediate attention.  I sat there in the dressing room with amazing costumes lying all about.  A few minutes later, she returned.

     “Do you know how to walk in drywall stilts?’ she asked.

     “Umm, you mean like the big Frankenstein guy?” I responded, “I don’t know how to walk on any kind of stilts.”

     “Oh, it’s easy.  You’ll be great”

     Always a rather timid person, her reassurance wasn’t having  much of an effect on me.  “You don’t understand.  I can’t even roller-skate.”

     She proceeded to explain to me that “big Frank” was their marquee attraction.  Unfortunately, the fellow who normally played the monster had fallen ill and that of all of their volunteers, I was the only one who was big enough to pull off playing the part of the monster.

     I protested a bit more but before I knew it, I was strapped into the stilts and monster costume.  Her husband and brother held my hands and I timidly made my way to my spot in the haunted house.  There, they leaned me up against the wall and told me to just kind of stretch out my arms and moan when people came through.

     Well, I won’t go into great detail here but let me tell you this.  Regardless of your age, if you ever have the opportunity to work in a haunted house, DO IT!!!  Bit by bit, I got the hang of the stilts (they’re really not bad at all).  Oh my, I had so much fun that year that I still smile when I think about it.

     At any rate, I proceeded to work for the haunted house for the next few years.  In my early 20s I saved up enough money to buy my own stilts and monster suit.  I would go out to the costume parties at bars as the monster and dance the night away.

     Over the years, I actually turned it into a small business of sorts.  As “Monster For Rent“, I hire myself out to entertain at birthday parties, Halloween parties, grocery stores, farm markets, and different companies who want to draw some attention to their business during the Halloween season.

     As things grew a bit, I took my show on the road to as many Halloween destinations as I could find.  In 1996, I had the honor of being named “King of Halloween” at Haunted Happenings, in Salem, MA.

     At any rate, over the past couple weeks, I’ve prepared myself for the upcoming season.  While not directly RPG related, I thought you folks might enjoy reading about the monster that lives in my house.

     If you’d care to stop my and visit Monster For Rent, you can find me here.

     Thank you for reading.  As a gamer, do you also share a particular love of Halloween?  Has Halloween played any role in your gaming experiences over the years?  I would love to hear your stories.


Filed under My Background

Do your friends and acquaintances know about your hobby?

     It wasn’t long after I discovered gaming that I realized there was a certain stigma attached to it.  Even in my early teens, it was clear that allowing certain people to know too much about my hobby would open me up to all sorts of ridicule.  In the early 80’s, this often took one of three different forms.

     First, you had the classic high school peers:

“He reads books?  He must be a nerd!”

     The religious relative angle:

“Oh, don’t let him play those games.  Those games are the work of the devil.”

     Finally, the overly concerned neighbor who happened to watch Mazes & Monsters

“Is that the game that causes children to want to murder their parents and commit suicide?”

     If it’s true that ignorance is bliss, then I reckon that the 80’s were a very happy decade for folks.

     Luckily for me, I was born to parents who didn’t have their heads firmly planted up their asses.  My parents actually took the time to engage me and see what my interests were.  When I had my first brush with Dungeons and Dragons, they looked into it.  While I can’t say that they totally understood it, they were quite comfortable that it would foster my love of reading, wasn’t urging me to summon demons, and in no way suggested that I kill my family members.  As such, I got the green light and was a happy young gamer.

     I’ve never thought of myself as much of a conformist but I will admit to largely keeping my hobby to myself while at high school.  It just wasn’t worth all the nonsense to me.  For example, one day I saw a fellow gamer roll into home room with a Monster Manual in tow.  This prompted a look of horror from the teacher and students which would have been what I would have expected if he’d produced a severed head from a bowling bag.  Yeah, I didn’t need that kind of attention.

     As I got around to dating age, I experienced this even more.  I loved gaming but teenage hormones clearly won that battle.  It was fairly clear to me that talking about paladins and clerics was going to do little for my dating career.  Typically, I would keep my hobby to myself until I had been with someone for a while.  I would then kind of casually bring it up as I became certain that they wouldn’t run screaming from the building.

     In my professional life, I was often too busy for the subject to come up.  I’ve noticed, over the years, that gamers often operate as if part of some secret society.  On many occasions, a coworker will make an obscure reference and then wait.   If someone happens to pick up on it, then it’s suddenly “oh, you’re one of us”.

     At this point in my life, most of my acquaintances know about my hobby.  There are some who don’t but largely, that’s because we’re not all that close.  I’m not terribly proud of the fact that I spent such a large part of my life remaining relatively quiet about something I enjoyed.  However, it certainly made for a smooth ride and I don’t feel that I missed out on anything due to it.

     My question is, did any of you folks experience similar situations with your hobby?  Have you always shouted your love of gaming from the highest rooftops or have you had a more cloak & dagger experience?  Please leave a comment and let me hear your stories.


Filed under My Background