We've all been there, waiting for out parents to drive us to the video game store once a month to buy a game. Way before Newell blessed us with Steam we actually had to move away from our computer to buy games. Nowadays the most one walks is to the mailbox to pick up the game ordered from one of many online game retailers.
������� I remember it like it was yesterday; 8 years old running to the store 15 minutes away from where I lived, picking out a game for my birthday. Checking the boxes one by one to see if they're in bad condition not to be picked up; Finally I pick my first game for my PC. Command and Conquer : Renegade was the game, that one FPS C&C. Restless on the ride back home all I wanted was to just dash upstairs and pop the disc in the CD drive and play it. One might say it was a hype train from the moment your parents call you downstairs to go to the store until you launch the game from the autoplay pop-up window when you finish installing it, one might also say he's damn right about that. It was a nice feeling, one that sadly isn't experienced anymore due to online distribution of games.
������ However as much as I loved this experience it wasn't always as simple. There were many problems that arose from buying discs from stores. These problems helped me in the long run when it came to purchasing games. As you most definitely know the cases usually had the CD keys either on the game manual or the CD holder. People used to come in, copy the key by opening up the box and writing it down, hiding it behind the other games, locking the key on the copy they had on their PC and making it unavailable for everyone else to use. A more crude way of stealing was that they sometimes took both the key and just took the CD, leaving the case empty. Later on stores put safety tags on them which could only be opened by the shop owner which helped with this. Arguments between shop owners and my parents happened because it happened with 2 games. In hindsight you can't really blame the shop owner, we could have easily been the thieves who installed the game and just wanted a "refund" on a game that "didn't work". On the bright side those were the pretty much the only things that I have ever had problems with so they don't really affect the way I look at them as much. Just made me more cautious is all.
����� Despite the problems mentioned before I have a lot wonderful memories of these stores. A store that I used to go to was closing down because he could not pay the rent on it. Now as bad as that sounds we still got something from it, the shop owner was doing a clearance sale and he saw me browsing around the store. Now this story took place back when I still looked cute and adorable at a young age of 9 and gave me 2 games for free saying that it's a thanks for the support I gave him from buying from his store. He was a nice guy and he still is, although nowadays he works as a manager in a sweet old cafeteria (quite the leap from store owner to cafeteria manager) but he was one of the people that shaped up my taste for games and also the reason I am a massive ARPG fan.
������ The store I used to frequent also hosted a wide variety of tournaments, from FIFA 2000 to Quake 3 Arena to Mario Kart 64 / Crash Team Racing and any other game that was requested by at least 8 people in order to form a proper set of best out of 3 games. These tournaments were held every Saturday afternoon at 4PM and ended at 8PM. I myself remember practicing for Tekken 3 back in the day sporting my Hwoarang to the Semi-Finals were I lost in a heated battle against a Heihachi player. Although defeated I still enjoyed the rest of the games and basked in the atmosphere and company of my friends. After the tournament was over the winner would usually be awarded with a 10Lm (Lm being the Lira Currency Malta had before switching to Euro) voucher which could be used to purchase games from the store. Sometimes some nice equipment was given instead of the voucher such as a signed football from an Italian or English team (those are the teams mainly rooted for by Maltese football fans since our National Team isn't really all that). The players used to come for the competition but used to stay for the company, that and there was a McDonald's and a super market close by so it was a nice place to hangout.
����� All in all video game stores back in the day had character, they were what a candy store of gaming kids like me. It was a place of character and good times where everyone just went in to appreciate the wonderful growing world that was video games, a place where mostly everyone accepted the fact that they were art and a method to escape reality... and homework.
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