Hath Hell frozen over?

I never thought I’d say this… but a Gamestop employee really impressed me this weekend.

I know, I know. I constantly rag on the retail game shop for their unethical practices regarding trade-ins and the resale of used games. And they’ve still got millions of gallons of virtual blood on their hands for those things, as far as I’m concerned. But I actually witnessed a valorous act on the part of a Gamestop employee, and I was so moved by it, I feel compelled to share it with all of you.

I stopped into the Gamestop location on the 3rd floor of the Mall of America on Saturday to pick up Grand Theft Auto IV. My buddy Nick recently purchased the game for PS3, and I’ve been getting burned out on CoD4 lately. Besides, even if the review scores are inflated, I haven’t played a game in the franchise since GTA III, so I was curious to see what if it lived up to the hype at all. More on that later…

Anywho, I was browsing around in the store, still debating in my head whether I really wanted to buy the game, when I overheard a conversation taking place at the register. A father had come into the store with his four kids, ranged maybe 6 to 16, and he was going to purchase GTAIV, presumably for his older boys. Not so uncommon. In fact, it supports the statistics that most parents are with their kids when they buy video games.

What was incredible to me, though, was that the guy manning the register actually told the customer about all of the violent, sexual and drug-related gameplay elements. He even talked about soliciting “ladies of the night” as tactfully as he could, considering all of the small children walking around. He explained that some of the adult content was optional, but that all-in-all, the game was made for adults, hence the rating. The guy essentially spent a good 7-8 minutes explaining all the reasons the dad shouldn’t buy this game for his kids. He was willing to sacrifice the sale so that the parent could make an informed decision.

I was really proud to be a gamer at that moment.

The father ended up buying the game anyway. I really wanted to shake him and tell him that the opening scenes of the game involve a dominatrix whipping the shit out of a Russian guy standing around in his underwear. THE. GAME. IS. FOR. ADULTS. DUMMY. That’s why it’s rated “M – For Mature.” And even if your 16 year-old is mature enough to handle it, chances are it’s not appropriate for his younger siblings, who will inevitably see it.

I didn’t. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t feel it was my place. In the end, they’re his children. As their parent it is his right and responsibility to decide what media they are or are not allowed to consume. That’s how it’s supposed to work. And the parent already made the decision to buy the game in spite of the detailed description the Gamestop guy gave him. Even as he was handing the game over the counter though, the clerk was encouraging the parent to go online, read some reviews and watch some gameplay videos. Then he could decide whether to give it to the kids, or bring it back unopened for a full refund.

After the dad walked out of the store I approached the counter with my copy of GTAIV. He jokingly started to launch into the same speech about the adult content. I made a point to tell him how much I appreciated what he’d just done. He then proceeded to annoy me with a story regarding his nephew and the same game, which I wasn’t able to follow due to his incoherent storytelling and the fact he was spitting all over the place.

You win some, you lose some, I guess.

Overall though, the experience was a win for me and for gamers everywhere. I wish Jack Thompson had been present, just so I could rub it in his face. The dad was given every opportunity not to purchase a game for his children very obviously made for adults. Rockstar and the ESRB put the rating on the box, along with some details of what garnered the game that rating. He could have just read it. Then the clerk reads it for him and gives him a detailed description of what to expect. By the way, it was clear the dad hadn’t read the box at all before he stepped up to the register by his reaction when the clerk first started explaining the content to him. Then, he bought the thing anyway, even though he obviously has reservations about it.

What else do you expect from the industry’s end? Seriously?

On a related note, my first impressions of the game are as follows:

GTAIV kicks all kinds of ass. Yes, it is just another GTA game. But I haven’t played one seriously since GTAIII. It has done an amazing job of drawing me in, i.e., hours pass and I don’t notice. The environments are great, the dialogue makes me smile or laugh out loud on a regular basis, and the combat and driving are pretty well executed. Rockstar aimed to create a living breathing city, and I think they’ve succeeded. Plus, the character development is pretty outstanding. I immediately felt a connection with the main character Niko. This was the first time I’d dropped into a GTA game and not felt immediately compelled to hijack someone, kill them with their own vehicle and immediately troll for a hooker. I think it’s because I don’t think that’s what Niko would really want. I think he really does want a fresh start for himself.

Maybe it’s also a sign that I’m 5 years older than I was the last time I played a GTA game. Though, I doubt it, considering the havoc I would wreak playing Crackdown. Anyway, I’m really excited about playing the game more over the coming months. It especially helps mitigate the symptoms of “no-new-games-worth-playing syndrome” I think we’ve all been feeling since the beginning of the year. More on the game as I experience it.

PS: My favorite quote from the game so far was a yokel saying something to the effect of “How my supposed to feed my kids, buy Pay Per View wrestling, and get a sandwich when weed costs so damn much!?” Again, not for kids.


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May 2008
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