Thursday, August 8, 2013

Retro Gamer Memories #3 : Toys'R'Us Video Game Slips - Highs and Lows of Video Game childhood

If you grew up in the birth of the video game era like I did, you are all too familiar with the process of purchasing said video games. First it started with you clinging to your parent's legs, begging that they let you buy the latest and greatest game that just hit the shelves. Whether you just saw a commercial for it on TV, or you just happened to be at your friend's house who managed to snag a copy, you NEEDED to have it.

You work your magic. Phase one is complete. You've whined and cried your way into your parent's hearts and they have ultimately decided to take you to the store. And what store did you most likely go to in order to pick up your copy of Keystone Capers for Atari, or maybe it was Dragon Warrior 4 for NES? Of course, you went to Toys'R'Us.

Now some of you may know where I'm going with this. You remember that all too stressful trip to the toy store. Your palms were sweaty even though you continued to wipe them on the itchy seat fabric of your dad's old Buick Century. You stare blindly out the window. Your leg is shaking as a nervous twitch wracks through your body. You mentally urged your parents to drive faster, knowing that every second you wasted in the car; someone was at the store already. Someone was there buying YOUR game.

Your parents park the car and you immediately bolt out of your seat, racing out into the parking lot. You're yanked backwards only to have your parents yell at you, demanding that you watch where you're going. Didn't they understand there was no time to look for cars!? Another second has just been wasted. The clock is ticking.

You slam your feet down on the plastic mat, waiting for those irritating sliding doors to open. They always seem to open a lot slower when you're in a rush. In my case, I had to push through the doors and race my way up this slanted ramp that led into the store. Before you go into the store though, you see out of the corner of your eye a room. It seems out of place, but you're called to it. There's a man behind the counter, giving you a devious grin. Behind him you see shelves, upon shelves of something. You can't make out what they are, but there's no time. You know you'll see the man again soon.

The store is always crowded. No matter what time of day you go to, there's a swarm of kids and parents screaming at one another. Another child didn't get their way. But not you, not today. You are going to get what you came for.

You dart down one of the aisles and you stop. You've made it. Tears are already welling in your eyes. But you don't know if they are tears of sadness, or tears of joy. There's only one way to find out. You take another step forward, and enter.....the TOYS'R'US GAME SLIP AREA.

I wish I had an older picture to show you, but this was the only one I could find. The sheer magnitude of the aisles was so much more impressive back in the 80's and early 90's. Anyway, destiny.

You make your way through the rows of video games. But there are no video games here. No, Toy'sR'Us didn't work that way back then. In their place were little clear plastic pouches. Pouches that were either filled to the brim with yellow slips, or those pouches that lay empty waiting to be filled. Or worse. Removed.

Scenario 1 - If you were one of the lucky ones, you would find the picture of the game cover and beneath it the pouch with a slip readily available. In this case, everything would flow smoothly. You would grab the ticket, pay for it at the register, and return to that mysterious room by the exit to pick up the game. Inside that hidden room, laid a virtual wonderland of video games. A kid would pay to be locked up in that room over night (as long as there was electricity and a bag of cheetos). Every game out at the time, if it was in stock, was back there. I dreamed of having that job. Well, not really after I heard of the horror stories of people that actually worked back there. It was basically a glorified stock room. But when you're just a youngin, you don't think of those things. After you handed in your ticket, the video game stock man would browse through his supply, and hand it over. It was that simple. You were home free.

But, things don't always go as planned.

Scenario 2 - if luck chose not to be on your side that day, or your parents just didn't know how to floor it, an empty sleeve was waiting for you. Rushing to the store and finding that empty sleeve was probably one of the most heart breaking moments you could have as a gamer child. You had been looking forward to that moment all day. You thought you would just walk in, and return home with a game that could at least fulfill your needs for the weekend. But no. No matter how much you deny it, all hope is lost. The game is sold out. Some devious foe enough to snatch it from under you. Someone who had parents that were willing to take them the day before. There's nothing left for you to do, but go home and sulk in your misery. Or, just go find a video game rental store and try to find the game there.

However, you can tempt fate and approach the video game counter yourself, pleading with the man behind the counter to search the back for any remaining copies of the game. There were days when a stray copy of a game was found, hiding behind the newest version of California Games. Other days, I went home kicking and screaming.

Which brings me to Scenario 3 - a scenario that happens to only the most unfortunate of souls.

Imagine you find the game you want, with one slip remaining. Can it be? Have the gods smiled upon you? You race to the video game depository, slamming the slip on the table. "Hurry good sir! I have demons to vanquish." you say to the man. He smiles at you and departs into the darkness behind him. You smile at the passing child with tears streaming down his face. Not today young one. Today is your day. That is, until the man returns. Sweat rolling down his cheeks. He looks around nervously. The vein above your eye twitches.

"I'm sorry," he swallows. "We appear to be sold out."

You laugh. Surely it must be a jest. "Come now." you say. "Let us have it."

He shakes his head. Your smile fades.

The slip was a fraud.

Okay - this happened to me numerous times, and it has to be the most gut wrenching experience of them all. It's a lie. The entire slip system was one big lie.

There were tricks around the system. You could grab a slip and hide it in another, waiting to come back another day to secure your copy. It didn't always work though. Sometimes people went to the counter and asked and got the copy anyway.

Luckily for gamers who suffered through this during their childhood years, this system no longer exists in Toys'R'Us. Now when you go there, you just pick up the game in a security shell and bring it up to the register. Easy as that. But regardless of how video game stores sell their goods now, never in my life will I forget the torment that Toys'R'Us put me through.

I will see you in hell Toys'R'Us. Oh yes. I will see you in hell.



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