The appeal of the secondhand / vintage shop is spreading to the arena of video games.
If you’ve looked at the PopMatters front page recently, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the recent (and ongoing) set of features dealing with the world of secondhand books. If you haven’t seen them, go look at them, because each and every one of them thus far is an interesting, absorbing look into either an individual store or the culture of the used bookstore in general.
Squeee! Pitfall! Perhaps my first
video game love.
Perhaps because of the increasing age of the average gamer, or perhaps simply because there are enough different games out there to support it, we are starting to see a similar sort of phenomenon in video games—that is, more and more of the so-called “mom ‘n pop” stores that deal in games are bringing in lots of business dealing in vintage.
Being based in Buffalo, I didn’t really see this happening until recently—not until the last couple of weeks did I even realize that a shop dealing in vintage games even existed in this city, given that most of the web hotspots for locating such things (the Cheap Ass Gamer forums, the AtariAge forums, and so on) seem to leave a gaping hole where Buffalo should be in terms of shops in which to buy my old Nintendo / Dreamcast / Genesis / etc. games. As such, any travel to another town is an immediate excuse to look up the possible vintage gaming destinations. A trip to Columbus this past month revealed a number of potential hotspots, most notably a place called “BuyBacks”.
Now, BuyBacks isn’t your typical mom ‘n pop shop; at least one of their locations looks more like a competitor to Best Buy from the outside than anything else, though the Ohio State location was at least commingling with the rest of the shops in town. Even so…wow, is it a rush to have an alternative to the GameStop / GameCrazy block that I’m used to.
This makes me happy in unquantifiable sorts of ways.
I popped in to a few other shops in Columbus, and came back with a treasure trove of stuff…Metal Gear Solid for the PS1, Qix Neo for the PS1, Sneak King for the Xbox (hey, it was $1.99 and I didn’t even have to give my money to Burger King), Faxanadu for the NES…it felt like everything I’d been missing in Buffalo. There’s something beautifully tactile about walking into a vintage games shop and being able to see what’s there; there’s a certain smell in the air when there’s that much beat-up plastic in the room. Sure, I could get pretty much everything on eBay or Craigslist or even used on Amazon, but online browsing tends to be so search-based that who’s to say I wouldn’t miss out on some little secret treasure? Did I even know that Qix Neo existed? Goodness no. Would I ever have remembered the joy of Faxanadu if I didn’t see it on a shelf between Ice Hockey and Gotcha!? Not likely.
Vintage shops are where we can indulge in a minor case of arrested development and recapture the joy of walking into the toy store and seeing, say, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link up there on the shelf in all its golden glory. Even better, Zelda II won’t even cost you $69.99 (+ tax!) anymore.
Vintage gaming also invites us to
remember a time when box art had something
in common with Harlequin romance novels.
Vintage game shops will likely never approach the notoriety or the popularity of the best secondhand book stores, if only because unlike a book, the appeal of a vintage game is limited to a shrinking few who might have a console that can still play the game. There just aren’t all that many people floating around who have working Intellivision systems anymore, meaning that a store that chooses to stock Intellivision games is severely limiting the number of people who might have any interest in buying something off that section of not-all-that-cheap shelf space. The only time you see a similar issue with books is through language disparities; the truth is, most people who frequent a bookstore will at least be able to read almost anything on that bookstore’s shelves. The same can’t be said for the game shop.
Still, more and more aging gamers (such as myself) are finding joy in playing, in the most pure way possible, the games of their youth, and discovering games that they may have missed all those years ago.
Retrogaming fans might want to check out the excellent newsletters at Retrogaming Times Monthly for some good reading that’ll bring you back. Or, you could join The Brainy Gamer’s newly established (and highly informal) Vintage Game Club, if you actually want to participate in the discussion. Me, I’m off to scratch the itch at a Buffalo-based shop that copious Googling eventually uncovered. Hopefully, it’s worth the search.