Jason Fanelli is a recent graduate of Temple University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and the Assistant Manager at GameStop’s King of Prussia Mall location in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
It all started when I was young. Every time I went shopping with my parents, I’d make a beeline for the game store or electronics department. Armed with a knowledge of all the latest releases from weeks of poring over gaming rags, I would home in on the games I had read about and make sure I brought them home with me. All the while, I couldn’t help but think how cool it would be to be behind the counter, the Gatekeeper of All Things Gaming, helping people enjoy the hobby I loved more than any other. For me, getting paid to sell videogames would be the easiest and greatest job in the world.
Finally, in June 2007, at the age of 20, I joined their ranks. I started as an associate with minimal hours and eventually worked my way up to where I stand now: Assistant Manager at GameStop in the second-largest shopping center in the country, King of Prussia Mall. The job lets me experience firsthand the trends of the gaming public: who’s playing, what they’re playing and what they’ll be playing soon. I see the passion of those who line up in droves at midnight to purchase hot titles like Halo and Madden. I watch the little kids in the Nintendo sections yelling about Mario and Pokemon to their parents, and reminisce about my childhood trips to the game store. I hear the husband trying to convince his wife to let him purchase a PS3 just for Metal Gear Solid 4 and offer my input whenever it’s helpful. It’s easy to relate to these people, because not too long ago I was the one who needed the advice.
Working for GameStop is exactly how I thought it would be: We talk about, sell and love everything about videogames. Endless debates rage between Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft fanboys, employees and customers alike. The reservation database keeps me up to date with everything coming out. The in-store website informs me of all the discounts before everyone else, not to mention the 15-percent employee discount I can use at any time. If there’s something big coming up in the store, whether it’s a sale or a new trade-in promotion, I’m on top of it. I feel as if I’ve got my finger on the control panel, able to see everything that’s going on in the world of gaming.
My career at GameStop has influenced my gaming at home as well. I find that my purchasing decisions are not only based on what I like to play, but also what the people in the store are talking about. If an employee recommends a game, I always make sure to try it out for myself. Because of those suggestions, I’ve been introduced to franchises I would have never tried on my own. Series like Professor Layton, Phoenix Wright, F.E.A.R. and even Call of Duty have become some of my top picks solely because another employee showed me what I was missing.
But while my coworkers have exposed me to what would become some of my favorite games, I still feel as if I could be more immersed in the industry. Even though I’m helping to sell their products, I feel disconnected from the game makers themselves. Most of the information I’ve gathered about the gaming world (developers, personalities, etc.) I’ve had to find on my own rather than at work. Names like Tim Schafer, Cliff Bleszinski, and Reggie Fils-Aime would be unknown to me if I hadn’t seen them online. Dead Space was developed by Visceral Games, the same studio behind The Godfather; but if my knowledge came solely from GameStop, I would think it was just EA behind both titles. To some, it’s a trivial distinction, but if the fans of the games we sell know the difference, then I feel we should as well.
Occasionally, the company offers a glimpse into the industry itself. Every year in early September, all of the managers in the company meet for a week-long conference which is basically their own personal E3. All of the top gaming companies are there, giving presentations and demoing their games just as they did for the gaming press earlier in the summer. But while my manager gets to enjoy this great perk, I’m stuck staying behind and managing the store without him. As an employee, it’s understandable – someone has to keep the trains running on time in the manager’s absence. But as a gamer, it’s hard to stomach, especially when I hear from my manager about games I won’t get to play for months. Receiving a text message telling you how great Scribblenauts and Brutal Legend are while processing a 30-game trade-in back at home is excruciating.
No matter how much it’s added to my appreciation of games, GameStop is a 40-hour-a-week job, and I can’t play anything while at work. In fact, the job has detracted from my gaming habit in a couple ways: It limits the amount of time I can actually play the games I’ve purchased, and it influences my purchasing to the point where I’m overloaded with games without enough time to play them all. I find that it takes me much longer to finish a game than most of my friends because of this, which means I’m often shut out of the conversation. inFamous, for instance, was a first day purchase for me back in May, but I didn’t obtain the platinum trophy until the end of August due to work-related time constraints and other games catching my attention while on the job. (Thank you, BlazBlue.) When your gaming queue still includes titles like BioShock two years after its release, it’s easy to see just how much time goes by when you’re selling games instead of playing them.
So what now? I’ve achieved what I originally thought would be the pinnacle of game-dom, and while I know I have an impact on the actual sale of games, I still don’t feel like I’m fully a part of the industry yet. I could try and continue up the GameStop ladder, run my own store and finally be the one calling the shots, but even as a manager my access to the industry at large would be limited. Sure, I could go to a gaming conference on my own, but unless I made time in my schedule and paid my own way in, I wouldn’t be able to attend events like E3, PAX, or the Tokyo Game Show, as GameStop doesn’t have an “industry pass” that employees can use to get in. For the moment, I’m limited to selling the games that are in the store and learning about them on my own time.
But I can’t complain too much. Overall, working for GameStop has been a fulfilling experience for me. I’m in the trenches dealing with the people that keep gaming alive: gamers. I get to hear about what people are playing and apply it in my own gaming pursuits. I may be outside looking in when it comes to the industry as a whole, but I still have a pretty good view from behind the counter.