"Ireland would be amazing if you could put a roof over it" is what I've been told several times during the course of my ex-pat life here on the Emerald Isle. Never hath a truer word left the lips of a local. So it was a handful of weekends ago, during another glorious 48 hour downpour (the kind that miraculously evolve in to birds chirping, bright sunshine and cloudless aqua-colour skies at approximately 7:30am on a Monday morning), I ended up browsing the aisles of a well-known supermarket giant.
For clarity I'll call it Tesco.
Without sounding like a reporter from the 1950's, or an episode of Chris Tarrant's 'Stop, Look and Listen', it isn't often that we blokes get let loose in a supermarket on our own. Sure, our significant others entrust us to hand over currency, credit cards, lists, car keys and whatever other paraphernalia contributes towards a successful shopping trip. But rarely are we allowed to venture on our own to such a grand building, armed with a list of must-get items to feed, clothe and clean a family for a week or so. More often than not, upon entering a supermarket, the first thing we do is head to either a) the electrical section, b) the magazine section (for a free read) or c) beers, wines and spirits.
I'll be honest and tell you right now that I couldn't go in to my local Lidl for bread and milk without heading back to my car with bread, milk, a pair of skis, a lathe and a rowing boat.
Like the unpredictable gentleman I am, upon entering the supermarket I made a beeline for the video games section. Tesco in particular is usually a good place to pick up cheap games. In the past I've managed to pick up Golden Sun for the Nintendo DS for €5. Metroid Prime Trilogy for the Wii, again for €5. Solatorobo, Dragon Quest VI and XI, that Pokemon Typing thing and countless others, all for €5 a piece. On this visit though, not only were there no deals to be had, it appeared to me that their video games section overall had shrunk. Massively.
Gone were the shelves filled with Nintendo DS/3DS, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3 and XBOX 360 titles. In their place was a bunch of discount music CD's (you know the sort, Best Of Pan Pipes, Now That's What I Call Pan Pipes, Happy Hardcore Pan Pipes and a couple of compilations by The Carpenters, Gabrielle, Daniel Bedingfield, Bread and Will Young) and five copies of Psyvariar for the PlayStation 2.
Disgruntled, but ultimately relived that I wouldn't have to 'plan ahead' at sneaking anything that wasn't on the list in to the house, I left the deserted plains of the Sound & Vision department and went about my business, albeit somewhat more bored, lonely, hungry and frightened gathering the items on my shopping list.
Clean up in aisle five please...
Are video game shops going the way of the egg custard?
Now, another thing we all like to do when we're out shopping, is pop a little something nice in to our baskets and trolleys. By something nice I'm referring to one of those clear plastic cases of long cream and jam donut things. Or a Marathon (sorry, Snickers, pfft!) and some Opal Fruits (sorry, Starburst, pfft!) that, despite your best intentions to have them later, are inevitably set aside the moment they're swiped though the checkout and promoted straight to your jacket pocket or the very top of the last bag you've packed once you've paid.
A sudden urge took over my entire being. An urge I hadn't experienced for some time. I wanted an Egg Custard.
It may surprise those of you living in the United Kingdom, but believe me when I say this; "Egg Custards are harder to find outisde the UK than a Blast Wind (Inazuma Savor) arcade PCB". I put that in quotes because you can damn well quote me on it.
I tapped the rotund bakery lady in a 'How Can I Help?' t-shirt on the shoulder and asked politely "excuse me old crone, why don't you have any egg custards?". I was greeted with a cold, blank stare. Probably because I called her an old crone, but more likely because she hadn't a clue what an egg custard was. They genuinely are impossible to find outside the UK.
It got me thinking, and at that moment I made a mental comparison that I genuinely don't think is that bizarre. Are video game shops going the way of the egg custard? Like Chas out of Morph, supermarkets and the high street seem to be leaving them aside and they're slowly becoming forgotten about.
The dwindling game shop population
When I was a young, buxom pup, the local video game shop was the place to go at the weekend. There, laid out in front of you would be row after row of exotic looking jewel cases and boxes. All well out of the economic reach of all but the richest of rich schoolboys (the ones who brought back pirate tapes from holidays in Malta and always seemed to say stuff like "my dad got me this WWF ring from America" or "my dad's friend works in Denmark and got me this Starcom space station, it's not out here yet"). Thunder Spirits. £64.99. Night Trap. US Import. £79.99. Marky Mark. Make My Video. Imported for the weird kid that everyone knew hated Pilotwings. Mega CD. £59.99.
It was all there. Right in front of us.
Boxes to pick up and gaze adoringly at, pretending you were, like everyone else, reading the blurb. Even the battered, wooden arcade cabinet tucked in the corner of the shop, proudly blaring out WWF Wrestlefest had an air of nobility about it. We could while away hours (these days it's called loitering) talking about everything and nothing, all within the metric area of a small building on the local high street that used to be an Andy's Records.
Video game shops are beginning to disappear in their droves, swallowed up by big chains such as CEX, GAME & GameStop...
I don't see that at all today. Video game shops, and display space in stores stocking video games are beginning to disappear in their droves. Swallowed up by big chains such as CEX, GAME and GameStop et al. But even these big names are struggling and dwindling. It may hold a moot point with some of you reading this but I think the inevitable eventual extinction of bricks and mortar in favour of the online marketplace removes an important social element for today's youth. In my opinion I believe it would take away important development, interaction and relationship building. You can't recreate these kinds of treasured moments by simply staring at a screen, watching someone yap about a game on Twitch and then head to Amazon et al and click BUY. Where's the joy in that?
Like the humble egg custard, which I believed was enjoyed by all and sundry the world over and one of the UK's leading exports but in reality passed everybody by and is now nearing extinction, video games, and their high street presence at least; appear to be heading the same way. Does that mean once bricks and mortar as a distribution channel is gone for good, and with no immediate physical impact on the high street, video games in the way we remember coveting them at least, will, like Chas from Morph, be forgotten? How will we covet them in terms of collectability when they cease to exist in physical form?
Is this the end as we know it?
Do you work in a bakery and can you export several trays of egg custards to me on a regular basis? What do you think about the future of video games and video game shops in their physical and high street forms? I'd love to read your comments on this so please do pop in with some lively discussion in the comments below. I'm hoping for some juicy hot chat about egg custards too!
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