“Steam? What’s that?” asked Alex Horvath, owner of Get Your Game On, the recognizable local video game store that recently moved to a new location on South State Street.
Steam, in so many terms, is an online service developed by Valve Corporation to sell games and downloadable content at ridiculously cheap prices. It’s almost singlehandedly the reason PC games have skyrocketed in popularity over the last couple years, and in a context more relatable to GYGO, one of the most important reasons why local game shops might become sidelined in the years to come.
“We’re pretty much the only store in the area that does retro gaming,” said store manager Stuart Parnes. “For the people that want classics like Nintendo, Super Nintendo and Sega, you can’t really download it off of Steam, so there’s that whole collectability aspect, which I think a lot of our customers are into.”
A loyal customer base, composed mostly of University students, provided the initial impetus for the move to a more accessible location. Previously, the store had been located on State Street and Packard Street — out of the way but still drawing a large amount of students interested in purchasing old-fashioned videogames, card games and board games.
“Most of our customers would walk in and say that we needed to move,” Horvath said. “There’s been an almost immediately noticeable effect on business because we’ve retained the old customer base and managed to let more people know that we’re here.”
And yet, competition still exists in the form of larger, chain names like GameStop. But Parnes stresses that catering to a niche helps eliminate a bit of that direct struggle for customers.
“This in particular is very different from a lot of businesses in the sense that I know a lot of our customers on a first name basis,” Parnes said. “People come in not just for the store but also to have a conversation. It’s a retail store but a place to hang out as well.”
The sense of community comes from a collective nostalgia that many college-aged gamers associate with their first experience holding a controller. According to Parnes, that nostalgia is what has allowed more personal stores like GYGO to maintain customers willing to walk in and talk with fellow gamers.
“I hear all the time when people come in, ‘Oh I had all these games as a kid, but then my mom sold them at a garage sale,’ ” Parnes said. “They want to go back and play all those games that they used to have when they were kids, and a lot of it is that nostalgia.”
At the same time, the market continues to remain dynamic as new students filter into college.
“College kids, right now, are really into Nintendo but in a few years maybe it’ll be Super Nintendo. I think that it’ll keep shifting up,” Parnes said.
A few minutes’ walk down to East Liberty Street lies a different kind of community — one that remains anchored in the same unapologetically nostalgic gaming culture that Parnes described. Confined within the basement of a shared workspace, Digital Ops, now a part of All Hands Active, is an amalgamation of Local Area Network gaming center and makeshift electronics lab.
In one corner of the room rests a large couch occupied by high-school students, intense eyes locked on a flat-screen TV as they close out a tightly contested Smash session (“Super Smash Brothers: Brawl” for all the n00bs). The other half of the basement is littered with circuit boards and tools. An elderly man, choosing to give only his first name, Bill, sits hunched behind a magnifying lens, soldering iron in hand.
“Originally it was the gaming,” Josh Williams, education coordinator for All Hands Active, said when asked what got him involved in the organization. “And nowadays, it’s the idea of creating an atmosphere where geeky people can just hang out. You don’t have a lot of that in reality. Where else can you find a place where someone interested in physics or math or programming or electronics can just come and talk?”
The LAN center gets most of its revenue by renting out a ring of five PCs to college students who regularly gather on weeknights to play co-op games.
“There’s lots of ‘League (of Legends)’ being played right now,” Williams said. “We’re only open to the public for 40 hours a week; other than that it’s member access, but you can find someone here almost every night after 9 p.m. on one of the computers playing ‘League.’ ”
In the past, the organization has hosted and sponsored large “LoL” tournaments showcasing The Cube, a large robot-like contraption built specifically for five versus five-team-oriented games, where players sit on top of and inside the machine, which is attached to five functioning PCs. As the organization is largely run by volunteers, funds collected from such exhibitions are used to maintain the organization’s philanthropic efforts in the community.
As a part of All Hands Active, Digital Ops is contracted by Eastern Michigan University to reach out to at risk youths. The program, commonly referred to as Bright Futures, is meant to further facilitate the idea that Digital Ops can be a place for students to foster an interest in technology related fields.
Katherine Wiykovics, after-school teacher for All Hands Active, held up a small pin connected to two LED lights. The pin, in the shape of a robot, was used by Digital Ops staff members to teach elementary- and middle-school students about the basics of circuitry and electronics.
“This place is about building a community around doing things on your own,” Wiykovics said. “It’s about teaching kids how to build these things I had no idea even existed when I was their age.”