Monday, October 24, 2005

GAME STORE CONFIDENTIAL ~ The sweet smell of success

Peee-yew! Fer Chrissakes, what died in here?

I wrinkled my nose and drifted over behind the counter where my dad was sniffing the air and grimacing. He leaned over and said quietly, “Which one of these people did that?”

“I don’t know dad, but seeing as how there’s about 12 billion square miles of open air right out the door you’d have thought he’d have stepped outside for a moment.”

The scourge of Idaho gaming had struck again and he was in the store right now. My dad, my daughter and my son, all part-time help at the store, had been tagged by the sneaky bastard before. We even had a name for him, The Silent Farter. But none of us had ever caught him because he always waited until the store was full of gamers and casual shoppers before floating a nuclear SBD out into the air that I paid the rent on.

We squinted our eyes and started our survey of the customers. We must have looked like a couple of U-Boat officers scanning the skies for enemy aircraft as we focused in on each customer in sequence. Neither of us really knew what to look for, we’re native Texans, raised in the tradition of the Old Southwest… the one where you don’t pass deadly gas in public or shoot someone… unless they deserve it.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to figure out which of about 15 people had passed silent gas in an enclosed space? It’s not pleasant work, of that you can be assured. And even if I did figure out who the culprit was, what was I going to do? Ban him from the store? Make a citizen’s arrest for Indecent Public Display of Odiferousness? Not to mention, there were at least three females in the store. What if one of them was the Silent Farter?

I’ve heard many complaints over the years about “smelly gamers” and how unpleasant the odor can be in game stores and yes, sometimes that’s true. At the same time, people who smell bad or get their kicks breaking wind in public don’t just shop at game stores, so it’s unfair to profile in this manner. Whichever customer had done the dirty deed also shopped for groceries, clothes, home furnishings and other items. So if he snuck out an SBD in the Piggly-Wiggly produce section just as you happened by, would you then proclaim all food shoppers to be uncouth and all food stores as being inhabited by nothing but smelly eaters?

No, of course not. But game stores are typically between 500-1000 square feet and the air can get a bit dense in them, especially on a busy day. This was a busy winter day. It was cold outside and the store was hopping with pre-Christmas shoppers. And amongst the seemingly innocent throng of Geeks was a person with an intestinal issue that he was inflicting on everybody else. So I tried a new ploy.

I walked to the door, opened it wide and announced to the general public, “The air’s a bit stale in here, you guys don’t mind of I prop this door open do you?” There were a couple of smiles and nods and even several looks of relief as I propped the door and let in the clean smelling 20 degree air.

It’s my opinion that a substantial portion of the board gaming consumer base is particularly critical of the “other gamers”. The most critical would be, based on my conversations at trade shows, internet sites and Cons, the Euro Gaming portion of the gaming public.

But really folks, to be fair, people in general emit odors. Belches, farts, body odor, perfume, cigarette breath, garlic aroma, cheesy foot smells and more. It’s not as if bad smelling people suddenly sprung into existence when the first game store opened it’s doors. But if you read the threads on you’ll find bad smells to be one of the primary justifications many Euro-Snoot gamers have for not shopping locally.

So let’s just get this whole notion of smelly gamers sorted out right now…okay? In 1968 I took a trip from Spain over to North Africa. I wanted to see Morocco. Oh, I saw it all right, but not very clearly. That’s because my eyes wouldn’t stop watering from the thick, putrid aromas that assaulted my nostrils. Add to that the wonderful experience of the Moroccan toilets… basically a hole in the ground and a wash basin to clean up with afterwards, and even the bathroom in the seediest game store I’ve ever entered was pleasant by comparison.

Yet I don’t hear gamers complaining about how smelly Moroccans are.

And I don't even want to get started on the corner Pissoir's in downtown Paris. I've used one of those in the summer and it made me wish for the fresh smelling aroma of the Bullfighting stadium in Juarez every time I had to relieve myself.

I got on an elevator in the Prudential building in Boston one day and there was one other person in the same car as me. As we began our ascent I was blindsided by a horrible aroma that could be nothing else but an award-winning SBD. The well-dressed man on the elevator with me never looked at me, never changed his stance or even flinched. This reminds me of the old saying; “if there’s only two people on an elevator and one of them farts, everybody knows who did it.”

So I guess I’ll have to assume that Bostonians, and well-dressed ones in particular, are rude, smelly people. Right?

Wrong. As I’ve already stated, people in general have smells. And gamers aren’t any more or less smellier than any other group of people… well, except perhaps for the Hippies of the late 60’s. Oh man, there is almost nothing worse than three weeks of unwashed BO poorly masked by 6 ounces of patchouli oil imbued with the cloying stench of low-grade marijuana. But that’s another subject altogether. Suffice it to say I quickly learned that investing in a good stereo was a terrific compromise, it allowed me to experience the Jimi Hendrix Experience without having to experience the Jimi Hendrix Experiencers themselves.

“Don’t these people ever bathe?”

My dear old Dad was noticeably annoyed by the Silent Farter because we now had to put on coats and mittens to run the cash register and he kept hitting the wrong keys with his cumbersome thermal mitts. When the temperature in the store dropped to freezing I finally relented and closed the door. The ancient heater in the basement was running so hard it sounded like a tunnel auger was getting ready to surface in the D&D section. The customers had pretty much cleared out, making their purchases and rushing out the door.

“You know Dad, everyone who was in here bought something.”

“True. So what?”

“Well, I guess my point is that in retail we have to accept that we can’t always decide what is and isn’t acceptable from our customers. Are we going to put up a sign that says; we reserve the right to refuse business from people who stink!”

“Well, these people just don’t have their heads screwed on right.”

“I’ll give you that Dad, but it’s not as if we can run some sort of smell-check at the door and then throw out anyone who ate at Taco Time before coming in here. Though I suppose we could add a few packs of Gas-Ex to the chips and candy bar racks.”

My very non-scientific analysis of gamer-stench over the last 25 years or so has led me to the conclusion that the RPG Geeks and the CCG Geeks do tend towards having the highest number of offensive smells. So I suppose if you wanted a completely sterile game store you could draw that clean-smelling crowd by opening up in a high class mall with nothing but the highest ranked board games from BGG and the International Award committees like the SDJ Geeks in Europe.

That’d probably do the trick too. Mainly because there would be very few human beings who would ever enter that kind of game store. It’d sure be clean and fresh smelling.

It all makes me wonder though, do the Game Geeks who complain about the smelly game store crowd ever get outside their home? Attend concerts, go to a mall, a movie, a Monster Truck show, WWE wrestling, a sporting event, a fair, anything? And if they do, are they typing away on other fan oriented sites carping about how smelly the seats were at the opera? Or what an offense it was when they walked into the locker room at their gym?

I don’t think so. But I could be wrong. Coldfoot mentioned one of the BGG favorites a few days back… Aaron Potter, otherwise known as Potterama. I could imagine him doing exactly that.

But I couldn’t imagine him or Geeks like him actually lowering themselves to enter a real Game Store on a regular basis.

In retrospect, I will miss the money, the friends, the fun and the humor of over two decades of running a game store. But I suppose I won’t miss the smells. A career change will definitely make my daily life more clean and fresh smelling and that will be -

Oh crap! Look at the time! I gotta run. I need to shovel the manure out of the corrals before it gets dark!

See ya next week.


Anonymous said...

Ah, the game store. One of the few places where my lacking olfactory ability works as a tremendous advantage...

What is it that makes people feel so "at home" they decide to just let loose in game stores? I'd love to know.

After multiple attempts to visit the FLGS, it's scored 0-for-4 on the smell factor. She's not interested in trying a fifth visit to find out if it's improved.

Anonymous said...

Yaarrgh! I have the opposite problem - an oversensitive primary sniffing aparatus. I wear contacts, can't tell the difference between an A Sharp and a F Flat, don't care whether my food has salt in it or not, and probably not award-winning balancing skills, yet for some reason I've been 'blessed' with an overactive sense of smell AND a love of gaming. Quite annoying.

However, next time you're in a game store with that "Sneaky Smeller" just remember you could be locked in a small room with a stinky old man and five toddlers...

Anonymous said...

Hey, Mr. DW. I have really enjoyed your Game Store Confidentials over the past few months. You are a good and entertaining writer! Just thought I'd mention that. Thanks. -Joe Czapski, Boston, Mass.

Anonymous said...

The part that is really bad is that some of these people do not even realise they smell.

I was at a gaming tournament the weekend before last and I ran into "the smelly guy". I had not seen for him 13 reek free years. He still stunk...

I still like gamestores though.

Janice said...

Ionic Breeze Quadra with just a hint of citrus Oust might do the trick.

gamesgrandpa said...

I REALLY look forward each week to your contribution, DW, and you never fail to leave me laughing.

Thanks again!

Kratrina said...

Boy ... do I ever know what you're talking about.... oh boy..

We'll miss you at the store DW. Thanks for the great run, all us gamers here really appreciatted it, thanks for the talks, and the advice, the job, and the great games over the years. Good luck to you in what you do.

Yeah all the sentimental crap I wouldn't dare say in the store. ~Heather

Theodora said...

Thanks for all the good memories, Wolf. You and the store will definitely be missed (though any weird smells involved won't).

Christopher Stogdill said...

I wonder how much of this article was inspired by IlluminatiRob's recent visit?