It’s been 26 years since I played my first video game. Peter Harrap’s Monty On The Run to be precise (the end credits still allude me). I’ve tried playing it since on emulators, but nothing ever beat the buzz -or high pitched squawk- of loading it up on my beloved Spectrum 48k, which died a painfully slow death sometime in the early 90s.
The games industry has gone from bedroom coders to multi-million pound developments in just over 30 years. And as such, the gaming community has grown with it. We’re like The Invaders, only it’s not our little fingers that give us away, more our well defined opposable thumbs.
When it comes to buying though, everyday gamers are pretty much bulwarked in by the restrictions of the high street stores unless we take our business online. Game, GameStation, CEX and the newer Grainger Games has created a Gamer Row of sorts on Lord Street. All seem to do the same thing: offer the same rewards, same loyalty schemes and push to sell the same games in, unsurprisingly, the same way. Older titles tend to be confined to bargain bins or tucked away into a corner.
That’s not to say the staff in high street stores are unfriendly or uninformed, but they’re seemingly more restricted by their employers as to what knowledge they can impart on customers. So hopefully a new gaming haven in the form of Level Up run by Lucy Myatt, will break the monotony. It can be found in amongst the vintage boutiques deep within the heart of Grand Central, on Renshaw Street.
Speaking with Lucy, it’s easy to see – there’s a clear passion for games that drove her to establish the shop.
“It all started back with Dizzy on my sister’s Amstrad. From there it progressed to Alex Kidd on the Master System and I was sold. I used to work for a high street game store for three years and I watched as it became more money driven, and less about the product. Games are fun and should be sold as such. I shouldn’t have to bully people into buying something they might not enjoy, so with Level Up I can hopefully help people with an informed opinion and provide a more relaxed environment.”
She succeeds, on every level. After a friendly greeting we were left to browse at leisure – no attempts at a hard sell, and no brash migraine inducing music (GameStation take note) –instead, the distant sound of The Cure being played somewhere in the building and a gentle creak of floorboard under foot.
“I hate imposing myself on people, and given the shop is quite small, I make the conscious effort to allow people to browse without obligation. People know what they want or they wouldn’t be there. If help is needed then I’m on hand to assist in any way I can. I want people to enjoy Level Up and for it to invoke childhood memories that will keep them coming back.”
The ploy works. Noticing an Empire Fights Back cassette on the shelves, instantly cast the mind back to watching multicoloured loading screens screech their way towards a game you’d be forgiven (much like my parents were when they bought it with good intention) in thinking was someway related to Star Wars. A number of days have been spent pouring over lists of yesteryear games since our first visit and a return trip is already on the cards.
But what about the games of today? Have they got a place at Level Up? Most definitely, says Lucy.
“The intention when first opening up was to deal mainly in Wii, PlayStation 3 or Xbox360 products. I was more familiar with these, from my time on the high street. But the retro market has really taken off. It’s grown to be a dominant part of the shop without needing much guidance from myself. We deal with any game from any console though, so we do strive to strike a balance between old and new.”
Regularly crosschecked with online stores, Level Up aims to be fair with the prices of the games on offer. Where retro cartridges and consoles will likely see a price hike due to their vintage appeal on the high street, Level Up know the true value and cost and tag it accordingly. Couple that with an extremely popular loyalty scheme and you can’t help but think Level Up is a real game-changer.
Despite blips involving two overnight break ins and a daytime robbery, Lucy remains determined to establish Level Up, and attributes its immediate success to the support she has received from the shop’s Facebook page – which already has a strong fan base – and is the place to go for regular offers. Not only is Level Up serving as a business, but it is also becoming a hub from which a social community of gamers is evolving.
Fancy yourself as the next Steve Wiebe or dare we say, Billy Mitchell? Then get yourself along and get involved in the weekly gaming competitions as there’s store credit to be won – an engaging idea overlooked by the high street stores to get people coming back for more. We’ll be there – our faces pushed up against the glass drooling at the Spectrum and Commodore section – regaling stories of how we once reached the kill screen of Horace Goes Skiing.
Grand Central, Renshaw Street