Video games as we know them may have been created in the 70’s, but they really became a cultural phenomenon in the 1980’s. As a kid who grew up in the 8-Bit era I remember it being truly an amazing time. Before the days when you could download the latest releases at midnight right from your living room and be playing it an hour later, the process of actually getting a new video game was much more involved and as a kid it contained a certain amount of mystery and excitement. I remember when I was young my mother would take my brothers and I to one of the only stores (certainly the only one we knew of) that specialized in video games, FuncoLand. In the days before every big box store had a video game department, this was the place to be if you wanted to see what was going on in the gaming world. I have such vivid memories of going into our local store and grabbing one of their black and white fliers that listed all of the games that they carried. A world of endless games to read and dream about. All the classics were there, Double Dragon, Mega Man, Final Fantasy. We would methodically go through the list and see what our most sought after games were going for on the used market, and more importantly see what our treasured collection sitting at home was valued at. Of course being a family on a tight budget meant that we often times didn’t buy our games, but rented them instead. That’s where our neighborhood video store, Bigelow Video came in. Before you could rent a game by having it mailed to your door and keep it as long as you wanted, you had to take your $2 to the video store hoping that they had the game you wanted in stock (they usually carried only one or two copies). And then you had to play the hell out of that game for 3 days until you would have to bring it back. Renting was a great way to try out a game you probably wouldn’t buy normally. The Adventures of Lolo, Bad Dudes & Rescue:The Embassy Mission are all games that I have fond memories of renting and getting 3 days of great fun from. Your other option back then to find a good selection of video games was at a toy store.
The first that I remember was a place called Children’s Palace, but the one that sticks with me the most is when I discovered Toys R Us. They’re obviously still around today, but 25 years ago they sold their games in a different way. That of course would be the infamous video game tickets! The way they did things was you would go to the back of the store to the gaming department (I remember exactly where it was so clearly) where you would shop the isles of games that were represented by plastic envelopes full of tickets. You could see a picture of the box art on the plastic flap and if you wanted to buy a game you’d take that ticket to the register where you’d pay for it before being sent to a locked room at the front of the store. There an employee would take that ticket with your receipt stapled to it and go into the room which had large glass windows. The room was floor to ceiling games. I would peer inside at boxes upon boxes of games and wonder what it would be like to be inside there. They’d then pass you your game through a small window and you’d rush home to play. It might seem odd but I have as many great memories of these video game stores as I do the games themselves. And it may seem weird to romanticize them so much but as a kid these places weren’t just stores, they were magical places where the adventures you could go on were endless. I don’t know if kids these days have similar feelings about the way they get their games, but I certainly hope so. As the years pass by it gets tougher to recall the little details, but looking back to those days never ceases to put a smile on my face. They helped to shape my childhood and turn me into the nerd I am today.
Do you have any favorite memories of game stores? Share them in the comments below!