As a child of the early ‘90s, I’m not at all unlike the vast group of gaming fanatics who possess a nostalgic fondness for the days when acquiring a new video game was a true event. It was a procedure habitually met with waves of feverish anticipation that helped elevate the new purchase to a level somehow higher than such a simple act should attain. Whether it was a weekend rental from the nearest Blockbuster or a visit to the late, great Funcoland, there existed no shortness of methods by which to seek out new & used gaming media, with plentiful amounts of independent shops sprouting up like an unexpected wildflower amongst the retail giants.
However, the dawn of the new millennium soon led way to a rise in digital distribution, a method that now has become as common as the once-abundant brick-and-mortar locales that previously dotted our urban landscapes and which has made the process of getting a new game no harder than a few taps of your console’s controller so as to authorize the purchase and begin the game’s download directly to the system itself. Though there’s no denying the convenience of this phenomenon and the slew of talented game developers it’s introduced to the world, the same could also be said of retail’s demise, chiefly when referring to gaming. It’s been seen in the decline of the massive GameStop and the tiny Mom & Pops alike, and will continue to be a trend as time surges forward.
Admittedly, this spectacle might not be the most original premise for a feature length film. And this change in moneymaking dynamics could easily be applied to any number of industries who’ve undergone this shared paradigm shift, but for those of us who remember what it was like to leave a store clutching a new game or peruse the latest issue of Nintendo Power for the latest information on how to defeat the previously undefeatable World 5 boss, Not For Resale: A Video Game Store Documentary serves as a passionate love letter to what already feels like a bygone era.
Not For Resale is told through talking head interviews ranging from numerous independent game store proprietors to the likes of author Blake Harris (Console Wars) as well as game-based YouTubers such as James Rolfe (Cinemassacre) and Pat Contri, who also acted as executive producer. It succeeds in its apparent intention to capture a moment in time, seen from the perspective of the children who came of age during the heyday of physical media and who now act in something of a position to preserve those halcyon days for, it’s repeatedly hoped, generations to come. Though largely opinion-based, there’s no denying the knowledge running rampant throughout the course of the film’s 127-minute runtime – there’s a plentiful amount, and it’s a joy to take in.
As the film opens, a frequently-seen image materializes onscreen, that of the somewhat dusty, cluttered store and the person in charge who passionately refuses to let go of the past. Nostalgic waves begin flowing almost immediately, with musings on game shop advertisements once gracing the likes of the legendary GamePro and Electronic Gaming Monthly. Including the decidedly quirkier elements like the 24-karat Xbox on display at one particular shop, each store is just as much a character as those who keep it alive.
However, it doesn’t take long before emotions begin to rise as topics are tossed around like a wayward baseball ranging from such simple elements as the feel of a game’s instruction manual and the importance of such, digital distribution logistical issues and even how different parts of the world handle the universe that is retro gaming. Apparently, the market outside the United States is a lackluster one at best, and the more rural areas have to deal with abysmal internet speeds that seemingly prevent those in such a situation from actively gaming during physical’s decline.
Additionally, a heavy emphasis is placed on the impersonal feel produced from the purchase of an e-game, with store owners talking about that relationship built with their customers over visit upon visit, as well as a variety of head scratching by many onscreen over who exactly owns a digital copy of those boxless, cartridge-less games once the purchase has been approved. We even take a trip into the Library of Congress, where digital’s rise couldn’t be more clear as the current slowdown of their physical game collection is shown prominently, along with those sadly musing over the vast amount of media lost to the ages as time has surged ever-forward.
While a handful of indie game developers share their own thoughts as well, even they can’t deny the thrill of entering into a game store and seeing their product on shelves. Truly, no demographic or industry professional seems immune to the mentality that, for those of us who cherish the time, it remains just as important now as it always did.
Not For Resale: A Video Game Store Documentary could be seen as a spiritual companion to acclaimed docs such as 2012’s Indie Game: The Movie, 2007’s Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade or even 2008’s The Rock-afire Explosion, the latter two featuring the demise of cultural landmarks such as, respectively, the arcade and a once-successful restaurant chain. Not For Resale succeeds beautifully in its request to take in today while never forgetting what came before, even as points are made to support both sides of the debate from, for example, how we currently listen to our library of music, to the recent resurgence of such media as vinyl years after the glory days of records stores and the like.
Unfortunately, the credits can’t help but offer a sad update on several of the film’s subjects, some of whom have had to regrettably close their doors in the time since production wrapped. Maybe the film does point towards an unavoidable overall shift in game-buying dynamics. And though Not For Resale clearly leans in the direction of keeping physical gaming around for another decade or more, there are several wonderful moments where those who run today’s retro shops comment on how even they don’t know how long they’ll last, but seem content with finding out. Or those who comment on how the memories these stores produce in their patrons result in one’s childhood being literally sold right back to them.
No phrase could sum up Not For Resale any better, and any time I walk away from a film satisfied that there exist those who live for making the old new once again, I’ll consider it an unequivocal triumph.
Not For Resale: A Video Game Store Documentary hits blu-ray, digital & streaming services on Tuesday, February 11th, 2020. You can learn more by heading over to www.gamestoredoc.com.