Tuesday, January 01, 2008

What are they doing in there ?

There is a Tom Wait song called "What is he building in there ?" who's lyrics involve someone wondering what the hell a neighbour does every night when all he can hear is nails banging, the occasional soft moan and the fact that he is seen some nights on the rooftop signalling to someone with a flashlight.

Well, I have a similar question of something that is omnipresent in shopping malls now...

War Game shops, or Role Playing shops as they sometimes refer to themselves...

What are they doing in there ?

You will have seen them, of that I am sure, you may not recognise that you have seen them for your first human instinct will have been to glance quickly into their open fronted interior, immediately register "geek", and walk on.

But think hard and you will recall those small shopping mall outlets, usually towards the periphery of the mall where units are cheaper to rent, a minimum of spend has been made on the interior where the walls are simply lined with shelves so that the maximum spend can be made on the hand painted sign above the frontage - it usually resembles something that a year 11 art student would have done given unlimited quantities of primary poster colours and involves non-human characters dismembering each other with ray guns or huge scimitars - those shop signs are a science fiction geeks nirvana.

But don't hurry away, stand across the aisle of the mall at a safe distance and observe what is going on inside the shop.

Nothing is going on inside the shop, that's what is going on inside the shop, nothing.

And yet the shop is full of people.

When I say people I mean the male of the species for rarely is a female to be seen anywhere near an outlet that does not retail clothes, and these Role Playing shops do not retail clothes, or at least if they do they won't be the sort of clothes that you'd want to wear for that golf club function you've been invited to next month, you know, the one where you simply must have a new outfit but you just can't think what it is you're looking for yet.

You do occasionally see a woman loitering outside the shop signalling frantically to some bespectacled spot-ridden-face youth as its time for their bus, the youth will be doing his damnest to ignore his mother while the other shop inhabitants will be smirking behind their hands at him, relieved that its not yet their turn for their mum to come for them.

And yet don't let me mislead you that these outlets are full of spot-faced youths who's mums leave them there while they shop, this is not even predominantly the case, these outlets are more often filled with obese middle-aged men who all bear a remarkable resemblance to a grown-up version of the Milky Bar kid, a Milky Bar kid who believed too much in his products nutritional benefits, and its these men too who check the shop frontage for the signal from their mother to pick up their big leather shopping holdall and accompany her to the bus.

The War Game or Role Playing outlet is usually crowded with spot-faced youths and wobbling 40 year old Milky Bar kids, but none of them seem to buy anything and none of them seem to browse the shelves, instead they all simply gather around a large table in the centre of the store and stare at the little soldier models laid out there.

Occasionally one will reach out and move one of the little soldier models to another position on the table and then there will be a general glancing around, a rubbing of chins, a nodding approval of heads, and then the room settles down to stare at the board for a bit longer.

Its one of my New Years resolutions to discover exactly what these shops are all about for I see no visible evidence of any retail activity at all which of course begs the question "How do they pay the store rent" and "What are they doing in there ?"

In my research, and in a Pete Townsend stylee I will claim that this was all done in the interests of research when the police call, I have uncovered several of these "Role Playing" or "War Gaming" webs sites where a person could buy whole armies of small plastic soldiers, humanoid or otherwise, and my best guess is that the spot-faced youths and elderly Milky Bar kids do this and then take their little soldiers down to the shopping mall to fight with them every Saturday.

I say best guess because that s what it is , its my best guess, I really haven't a clue what they are doing in there, but I base my best guess on what me and Ned used to do with our little plastic soldiers when we were small children, although it has to be said that our War or Role Playing games usually ended up with one or both of the armies perishing in a huge ball of fire caused by the easy accessibility we had to cans of Ronsonite lighter fluid and a box of matches, I have yet to see one of the shopping mall outlets be engulfed by a lighter fluid inspired inferno, but on the other hand I haven't really observed them properly yet.

2008, the year of investigation, first target Role Playing Shops - What are they doing in there ?


grannymar said...

So now we all know where you will be next Saturday. Purely for research! :lol:

Dan said...

I am proud/ashamed to say that I am often one of those middle aged milkybar kids.

My roleplaying shop of choice, traveling man in the corn exchange, has recently closed down so I am currently homeless.

I do still roleplay about once a month, but haven't done any wargaming since my late teens.

Rhea said...

So, you're having New Year's in the U.K., too, only later. Or something like that. I get all mixed up. I'm an American, after all. Happy New Year's, Jerry!

Gary said...

Rhea : yes, it comes four to seven hours earlier here depending on where you are in the States, Happy New Year to you too :)

Dan : So whats the commercial deal with all that role play stuff then, do you pay the Milky Bar kid for the use of his table or do you just promise to buy all your soldiers off him - and when they get killed can you re-use them - and how do you move them on the table, do you have to throw a dice or something ?

So many questions, so little time.

Grannymar : I feel I'm just scratching the surface of the investigation here, I may have to go undercover...

Dan said...

i think you're talking about Games workshop here. They are a wargaming shop rather than a roleplaying shop. They have chains all over the world and only sell their own line of games and little men.

They have an incredibly successful sales strategy which involves overly keen staff entrapping youths by supplying them with a free place to try out various games and a place to generally socialise. then they sell them their massively overpriced merchandise. It's a bit like a drug dealer giving the first hit for free or perhaps some sort of cult preying on the socially awkward.

Just try going into one of those shops and you will be pounced on instantly by horrendously over friendly shop staff. You have to beat them off with a stick. The advantage the chain has over most retail places is that every one of their staff is genuinely obsessed with the stuff they are selling.

Roleplaying shops are a little different. The games they sell are rarely played in the shops but generally in someones front room. But again it's a social hobby and so the shops tend to become a meeting place for like minded geeks to meet and discuss the merits of a elf barbarian over a gnome illusionist. Again the good shops actively encourage an active community of like minded geeks which then results in higher sales.

There is probably a blog post in this for me somewhere.

Dan said...

oh... and Wargaming you need little men to move around. Roleplaying is often just in the imagination with a over all judge (or gamesmaster) creating the story, playing the villans, and dictating actions consequences.

It can get very geeky indeed if you let it, but myself and my friends have got over that stage (having done it for over ten years) and it's generally an excuse to socialise - a bit like the difference between a casino poker game and a friendly game at a friends house playing for pennies.

ladykpk said...


Gary said...


Erm, right,OK.

I think my research is done on this topic, no need to actually go to a store now, oh no, I, erm, I think thats about it then...

{exit stage left}