Like many people at the pandemic’s outset, I feared returning to public places. I’d walk down the streets of my neighborhood (and I count my blessings that I live in a rural area), but that was about it.
Two months in, I realized the situation wasn’t disappearing anytime soon, and though I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of wearing a mask to a shop (who is?), I decided to re-enter consumer society. Where would I head first?
As a gamer, one store near the top of my list was GameStop. I’ve visited my local store often, and I’ve rarely tired of the experience. When I finally returned to GameStop after two months, I relished the normalcy of the trip as never before. I bought “Pikmin: New Play Control” for the Wii (yes, I still collect for that venerable machine). I was delighted to be back where I belonged, happily browsing the shelves for hidden gems and breathing in the wonderful scent of video game plastic. For a moment, I could forget about the news and lose myself in one of my favorite hobbies.
Yet I wonder how much longer GameStop will last.
Earlier in 2020, Business Insider’s Ben Gilbert reported that GameStop found itself in “dire straits”; in just a year, GameStop’s stock prices had plummeted from $16 a share to $5 a share.
CNN’s Jordan Valinsky corroborated these findings, noting that in 2020, GameStop’s executives shuttered many more locations than expected; indeed, between 400 and 450 locations are projected to close by year’s end. Though GameStop’s numbers hadn’t been stellar for years, says Valinsky, the pandemic has pushed the gaming giant to the brink. Even with GameStop’s recent stock surge, says National Review’s Jim Geraghty, “the long-term outlook for brick-and-mortar retail video-game stores is no better than it was last month,” largely because videogame consumers have shifted to online marketplaces.
This reality (stock situation aside) isn’t unique to GameStop. Doug Whiteman of MoneyWise reported that chains across several demographics, from GNC to Pier 1 Imports, closed stores, declared bankruptcy, or both this year.
Sometimes, I think numbers can numb us to reality. It’s one thing to hear about a chain’s nationwide decline, but when these numbers start affecting our backyard, we take notice. My “aha” moment happened about two months ago when I visited Concord Mall in Wilmington, Delaware. Every time I shopped at Concord, I looked forward to frequenting two stores: Barnes and Noble and GameStop. These days, Barnes and Noble has moved several miles down the road, but GameStop has permanently closed.
The eerily vacant GameStop location at Concord Mall
I suppose for many people, this closing didn’t mean much. It was just an “oh” moment when they strolled the corridor on the way to Macy’s: “Oh, wow. GameStop closed. Huh.”
But I cherish memories of this location. Here, I purchased “New Super Lucky’s Tale” (but had to wait until Christmas to open it). And here, I experienced Nintendo’s Wii for the first time. I still remember 10-year-old me whispering, “I’ll be back for you,” to the demo console as I left the store.
These specific memories extend to other former GameStop locations as well. I purchased my first “Zelda” title (“Phantom Hourglass”) and “Wii Sports Resort” at the now defunct Avondale, PA location, and I witnessed the magic of “Super Mario Galaxy” for the first time at Longwood.
What would my life as a gamer have been like without these moments? Would I still be playing today?
I recognize GameStop isn’t perfect. Among other criticisms, countless memes circulate about the chain’s borderline criminal handling of trade-ins. GameStop’s executives have created an unfair system in which they’ll buy games at much less than their actual value, then turn around and sell them for exorbitant sums. For example, the cult classic GameCube title “Chibi Robo: Plug into Adventure” currently retails for $64.99 on GameStop’s website. Yet if customers decide to trade Chibi Robo in, they would only receive (at max value, requiring a paid Pro membership) $22.60 in store credit or $17.00 in cash, according to GameStop.com’s trade-in calculator. At best, customers would receive about one-fourth of the game’s resale value. That’s not even mentioning a report from Kotaku’s Ian Walker, who found that several GameStop employees did not receive basic sanitation equipment they needed during these trying times.
Despite these flaws, however, GameStop retains a special place in my heart. It concerns me that they’re one of the many retailers struggling during this unexpected year. It’s not all “doom and gloom” for me, though; I am fortunate to have an outstanding local game store chain, Just Press Play, only 30 minutes from my house, and as my professor Yanira Rodriguez mentioned, it’d be great if local outfits like these could “fill the void” left by GameStop and similarly struggling chains in other industries. But I recognize that, even if a few local stores did emerge, not all consumers would have ready access to such locations, at least not to the same extent as they did with GameStop. Furthermore, I’d be saddened for the many employees who would lose their jobs if GameStop closed permanently, as I am when any of these chains disappear. I imagine followers of other stores on Doug Whiteman’s list, like Pier 1 Imports and J. C. Penney, will experience similar emotions over the next few months.
If GameStop does eventually close, I’ll find myself frowning as I pass the empty shells of former stores in malls or shopping plazas, remembering the “good old days” when I could walk in and explore the many games on display. I’m reminded of Joni Mitchell’s song, “Big Yellow Taxi,” in which she sings, “Don’t it always seem to go / That you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.”
Don’t let an opportunity to appreciate your favorite things, imperfect as they may be, pass.
Christopher Burroughs is a fourth-year English Writing major. CB923088@wcupa.edu