Most people who know me well are already aware that I've spent most of the last five and a half years working in lower management for a well-known major video game retail chain while I've slowly ground my way toward a bachelor's degree. As I would imagine is the case with many jobs, the degree to which I like and enjoy my job has varied from season to season, but one of the components that has remained consistently interesting is the reaction of old acquaintances and new friends when they learn what I do for a living. Most of them realize that it's just another largely unrewarding, low-paying job in retail and accept the fact with the appropriate amount of underwhelmed head nodding or shoulder shrugging, but there's always somebody who finds the idea of spending 30-40 hours a week immersed in video games and the culture around them to be an endlessly fascinating prospect (in the interest of full disclosure, I am this person whenever I learn someone I know is a police officer. I can sit around for hours listening to cops tell stories about the most mundane aspects of their day to day work). I try to indulge their curiosity with as much good nature as I can muster, although it's a safe bet that the very last thing I ever want to talk about when I'm not at work is my work.
Sometimes this can cause moderate irritation to me. Normally it's nothing too serious; old high school acquaintances who have Facebook friended me and otherwise haven't spoken to me in years will message me out of the blue asking "how much can I trade in a Wii for?" or "do y'all have ________ in stock?" without so much as a "hey guy, how's the family?" first, or a regular customer recognizing me when I'm at the park with my kids and trying to tell me, in excruciating detail, all about his last six hours in Skyrim or his recruiting strategy in NCAA. Because these are relatively minor inconveniences and not serious problems, I usually face these situations with as much social grace as I can summon; after all, replying to a message on Facebook generally takes all of 30 seconds of my time.
The catalyst that caused me to decide to write this piece was something that took place over the weekend. An old work acquaintance from a lifetime ago who I'm friends with on Facebook but haven't really spoken to in years came into the store when I wasn't there, trying to convince my store manager that she was my sister in order to solicit my employee discount. My boss- who knows my actual sister- understandably called bullshit on this, and IDed the acquaintance in question to let me know what was going on (fortunately for me, my boss is a really cool guy. Had this happened in the wrong store with the wrong manager, I could have been terminated for this person deciding that she was entitled to a discount by virtue of simply knowing me). I was pretty furious when I found out, but I decided to let it go (honestly, she probably didn't even think about it, and I didn't get into trouble, so why get mad?) and write this up instead to lend some perspective on what I do and how you shouldn't- and should- act toward me and any video game store employee you may know, both inside and outside of the store.
Sorry, but we can't just get you hired at the drop of a hat. You're more than welcome to use me as a job reference while applying to my store or company- hell, if you ask me in advance, I'll probably even say something nice about you, even if I have to reach a little- but I don't have the magic pull to just "get" you a job. Most people that work for my company only work one or two short shifts a week anyway, unless they're in management, so it isn't the cure-all to your financial struggles that you might be envisioning, and turnover tends to be pretty low, so openings are scarce. It doesn't mean I don't like you- it just means that there's not a spot for you, or that an open spot went to somebody who was more qualified.
Speaking of qualifications, let's clear something up right now- there is way more to the job than just knowing about video games. Product knowledge goes a long way in a specialized store, but product knowledge can be taught- social skills can't. So if you're a perpetually grumpy misanthrope, poorly groomed and self maintained, or otherwise lacking in areas of proper social interaction, look elsewhere for employment (there's already an ugly and unfair stereotype about adults who play video games that we largely try to avoid perpetuating). Same goes for people with ridiculous availability (thanks, but we don't really need anybody who is only available from 1:30-4 on Tuesdays) and hourly payrate expectations. Don't even get me started on how you should present yourself when you come in to ask for an application- if you're of the age to be seeking a job, you shouldn't need me to tell you that it isn't a good idea to roll in with three of your buddies, wearing a dirty wifebeater with a half-smoked cigarette tucked behind your ear, using profanity, etc.
Don't Facebook/Twitter message us with questions that we could answer with a phone call to the store. Like most others, I'm on Facebook primarily to see how much weight girls from high school have gained and to laugh at funny LOLcat pictures, not to work off the clock for you because DMing me is more convenient than making a phone call. If we talk regularly, I don't mind so much (although frankly I'd prefer an email or a text), but I cannot emphasize enough how aggravating it is to get messaged by someone who you haven't talked to in five years suddenly interested in how you're doing because their kid wants a preowned game. If it's during store hours, call the store and I'll be happy to help. If it isn't during store hours, well, how the hell am I supposed to know what's in the inventory when I'm not there?
Also, if you're a customer with no other ties (e.g. high school, mutual friends, etc.) that wants to add us on Facebook, feel us out first. Most of us conduct ourselves very differently online than we do at work. There are some customers we're comfortable sharing that aspect of ourselves with and some that we aren't. We get to decide that, not you. If you're interested in knowing us on a more personal level, send us a friend request (and probably a note reminding us of who you are- and if you really want to NOT come off as a creeper, ask us first if we'd mind, even if it's an awkward conversation) and if we think you're cool, we'll add you, but we're under no obligation to do so, and you're in poor taste to say things like "hey, when are you gonna accept my friend request?" about it. Weirdly enough, this is a situation I've had to deal with more than once over the years so I felt like it needed to be addressed.
We don't even get to take games home early for ourselves, we're certainly not going to do it for you. Publishers take the street dates on unreleased games very seriously; selling games before their release results in very stiff fines for us. Yes, we do sometimes get that big AAA title everyone is waiting for in stock a few days in advance; no, we aren't allowed to take it home early to try it out and we're not breaking that rule for you. Don't ask because the answer will never be "yes".
We don't get to play EVERYTHING that comes out. This really laughable notion exists that because we work in a game store, gaming is our one and only interest and we therefore play (or at least try out) every single thing that comes out. This is such a demonstrably false expectation that I shouldn't even really have to address it, but if I had a quarter for every time I've explained I haven't played a certain title when asked "how is this?" only to be met with a haughty and condescending "well you WORK in a GAME store", I'd have a big old wine jug full of quarters. Yes, I work in a game store. That eats up a sufficient amount of time per week that I might otherwise be spending playing video games. I also attend school full-time, plus I'm married with two children, AND, strangely enough, I have other interests. When a game comes out that I'm interested in, I'll make time to play it, but I'm not playing every single one of the literal dozens of games that come out every month just on the off chance that someone is curious about it.
We can't really do anything about your bad experience at another store. Not every store in our company is the same- you're almost guaranteed a different experience at each individual store. Some stores are relaxed and laid back; some are a chore to shop in. We totally understand that. We also realize that when you have a bad experience at another store, more often than not you just want to vent to somebody who gets what you're talking about, but there's next to nothing that we can do to correct or fix an injustice done to you by an employee at another location. By all means, feel free to share your bad experience with us- we'll do everything in our power to make sure we don't do the same thing to somebody else- but if you're looking for any kind of follow-up or corrective action, you're going to have to go through the district manager (we'll be happy to give you his or her number) or our corporate offices.
We know the system lowballs you, and we're not interested in hearing you complain about it. Yes, it blows when you spend $60 on a terrible game that you can only get $20 back on a week later while we turn around and resell it for $55. We're understanding of and sympathetic to this, but remember that we aren't forcing you to part with it, and our company has every right in the world to try to make a profit- it's sort of the way capitalism works. There's tons of backlash against my company on the Internet for this, but I feel like it's kind of dumb to call us thieves when YOU made the decision to sell us your merchandise at a price you feel is far less than what you deserved for it. To my knowledge, nobody in my company has ever held a gun to a customer's head and made them part with anything. There are lots of options for anyone who doesn't like the offer we make them for their trades- getting mad at us because you're electing for the most convenient option instead of the most valuable one says more about you than it does about us.
This goes double with older games. I tend to be a lot more sympathetic when there's a low resell value attached to a new game, but people who expect their old PS2 games to trade in for more than the peanuts they're worth are kind of silly. I understand that you paid $50 for Madden 2006 when it was new, but 2013 is coming out this year, so I have no idea why you think you're going to get anything more than a dollar for it. Yes, the Wii was $250 in 2006, but you can buy one for under $100 now. Video games are rarely collectibles; the value depreciates quickly. Plan for this accordingly whenever you decide to part with an unwanted game or system.
We don't enjoy having to pitch all that crap at you anymore than you enjoy having to listen to it. Would you like our scratch protection? What about our rewards card? Care to reserve something? Yeah, we get it. You want to check out and get on with your life, and we're holding you up by trying to sell you a dozen things you don't want. Here's the thing to keep in mind when you feel like getting hostile with us over it- you listened to us pitch all that crap once, and it took up 2-3 minutes of your day. If we're doing our jobs, we're making that same pitch ad nauseam at least forty or fifty times a day. So please stop acting like we're singling you out for the sheer fun of harassing you and just listen quietly to our pitch. If you aren't interested, a quick "no thank you" is a lot easier for everybody than "I don't care" or "I've told you 'no' a dozen times". We're asking because we have to, not because we want to annoy you (And by the way, that rewards card is actually a great deal, if you can get around the $14.99 price tag).
While we're at it, if you cut us off every time we ask you if you're interested in reserving something, do NOT be that asshole that looks for Collector's/Special Editions of something after the fact. If you don't seize the opportunity when we present it to you, you can't complain later.
Do your research. Confession: I liked my job a lot better when it was still a niche hobby. After Nintendo and the Wii made casual gaming cool and purchasing systems became less "I want this" and more "my neighbor has one, so my kids have to have one too", working around games became significantly less enjoyable. I'm absolutely behind the counter to help you in any way I can, but I get pretty resentful when you've clearly made the decision to purchase a game system on a whim and you have no idea what you actually want. When you're making an investment that can set you back anywhere between $150-400, doing just a little research on what you're buying helps us both, and it saves you a lot of anger and tears a few days later when you have to learn the hard way that our return policy doesn't cover buyer's remorse.
Also, one of the most annoying questions we get on a regular basis is "I'm looking for a game for my (family member) who is (age). What would be good for him/her?" The best thing for him/her would be for you to have a ten minute conversation with them to find out what kind of games they're interested in playing, not to ask a stranger what they might like. When all else fails, we sell gift cards.