Previously on “Confessions of a GameStop Employee,” Ben chastised customers for not taking care of their games, demystified shrink wrapping, and lost a showdown with Soccer Mom. And now, the conclusion of his saga.
A few days later, I was working the register when I spotted three kids acting suspicious in the “Used Games” section.
I did a quick loop around the store, making sure that the kids saw that I was watching them. I was distracted by another customer for a moment and lost track of them. All of a sudden, one of the suspicious kids was now waiting in line with an armful of used Nintendo 64 and PlayStation games with the GameStop price tags – tags that I myself had applied – now visibly ripped off.
We don’t do this anymore, but back then we still sometimes left the older used games boxes, manuals and discs sit out on the floor intact. The kid had obviously taken these N64 and PlayStation games off the shelf, taken off the GameStop price tags, and was now attempting to trade them in for store credit. Not the worst caper in the world, I have to admit.
When the kid got to the front of the line, he said, “I’d like to trade these games in for store credit, sir.”
I said sure, yes, of course, no problem. “I just need you to fill out this trade-in form,” I said, handing him a pen.
The form (you know the one) requires you to supply your name, address, phone number and other basic biographical information. To my surprise, the kid went ahead and filled it out.
When he handed the pen back to me, I decided it was time to bring this caper to an end. “I’m sorry, but we can’t accept these games for trade-in,” I said.
He asked what the problem was.
“The problem is,” I said, “that we don’t usually give store credit for games that are already ours.”
The kid suddenly looked like I’d just tasered him. He tried to deny that the games already belonged to the store. “These are the store’s games and you know that,” I said. Then I took the stack of games, put them behind the counter, and said, “You and your friends should leave if you know what’s good for you. Now.”
Once they were gone, feeling self-righteous, I decided to do a quick inventory of the rest of the store. I spotted empty packaging for an N64 headset, a semi-obscure peripheral which was used for the N64 game, Hey You, Pikachu! I searched everywhere, but the headset was nowhere to be found. It was obvious: the kids had stolen it.
What I did was this: I located the kid’s trade-in form, wondering if he was dumb enough to fill it out with his actual information. I dialed the phone number he had written down. A man answered.
I patiently explained the situation to the man: what the kid had done, how the headset was now missing, etc. “He might still have the stolen headset with him,” I said to the man.
It turned out that the man who I was talking to was actually the kid’s dad. I couldn’t believe the kid had given me his real home phone number. So much for his life of crime. The dad turned out to be great. “I’m sorry for the trouble,” he said. “When [Kid] gets home, I’ll get to the bottom of this. If he actually did take the headset, I’ll return it, I promise.”
Not more than 20 minutes later, a man the size and shape of Hagrid from the Harry Potter movies lumbered into the store and placed the missing Hey You, Pikachu! headset on the counter in front of me. “I’m so sorry for this,” he said. He explained that his son would never be allowed back in the store.
“Kids do stupid stuff sometimes,” I said. I thanked him for his help.
Once Hagrid was gone, I set to repackaging the headset. Only now, in this moment, did I realize that the headset was a combo deal and that it included not only the headset but also the Hey You, Pikachu! game cartridge itself.
The kid still had the best part of the package: the game. Maybe he wasn’t such a terrible criminal after all.
We couldn’t sell the headset alone. After a few minutes of introspection, I decided to dial the number again. Again, the dad answered. Again, I set about trying to explain the situation to him.
The dad, this time, was practically sputtering with rage. He very calmly said to me, “I’ll be back shortly with the game.” Just before he hung up the phone, I heard him shout, “OK, WHICH ONE OF YOU HAS HEY YOU, PIKACHU?”
Twenty minutes later, Hagrid silently walked into the store. He placed the Hey You, Pikachu! cartridge on the counter. He walked out.
One truly valuable skill I gained during my stint behind the counter was that I learned how to talk to strangers in a way that made them actually listen to me. I learned how to say “No” without seeming rude, learned how to get a crowd of people to line up in an orderly fashion during the holiday season; even learned how to effectively ask sugared-up children to stop running and screaming around the store. I still find myself constantly using what I call my “GameStop voice” – this voice of polite authority, this voice that I certainly didn’t have before I worked at the store – in my day-to-day life.
Being a gamer, I still have to go into GameStop once in awhile. I hate it. I try to avoid it at all costs. But the end is near for GameStop. Digital distribution is already chipping away at their business model. A day will come when the lights go out on GameStops everywhere. It will happen. It’s inevitable. Might be next year. Might be in 10 years. But make no mistake, it’s coming.
And, as strange as it is for us to imagine using a Telegram to send a message to someone, a hundred years from now people will recall a quaint time when we used to have to actually get off our couches and go to a place to purchase actual physical copies of our videogames.
Decades from now, I’ll gather my kids or maybe my grandkids around – kids no older than the scamps who stole the Hey You, Pikachu! headset-cartridge combo that day – and tell them stories about my time behind the counter.
And they’ll listen, of course, because what I will tell them will be interesting and strange and dramatic, and because I’ll be telling them using my GameStop voice.
Scott Jones is the co-host of G4/Tech TV’s Reviews on the Run. You can read more of his writing at The Jones Report. He currently lives and works in Vancouver, British Columbia with his two cats and a healthy amount of self-doubt.